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How to Explain Being Fired

Dear Deb,

Q. I was fired from my last job because of a conflict I had with the manager.  He did something that I felt was unethical. When I found out, I went over his head and told his superior. He was able to twist the situation and next thing you know, I got the boot. I have decided not to take the company to court; but I was wondering what your thoughts are on how to best explain this during an interview.

J.D, Houston, TX

A. Being fired from a job is never easy to explain.  The fact that your boss was unethical adds an additional dimension of complexity.  You should not lie about being fired; however it is not always necessary to reveal every detail.  Here are a few tips to get you through the difficult task:

  • Explain that you had a conflict with your immediate supervisor and that it was unusual because that has never been the situation in the past. Let the interviewer know that you have a history of working collaboratively with superiors, colleagues, and subordinates. Don’t spend a lot of time explaining as you run the risk of looking like an ‘excuse-maker’.
  • Never bad mouth your former employer.  If the interviewer asks what the conflict was about, simply say that you and he had differing views about some confidential aspects of the business. Don’t get into the details of the situation. That will only reflect negatively on you.
  • Use the opportunity as a springboard to let them know how important you feel it is to keep lines of communication open and how committed you are to maintaining a strong work ethic.
  • Consider telling them that while the situation was unfortunate, you are actually relieved and excited about the new potential opportunities that lie ahead.  Make lemonade out of lemons! Your positive attitude will be infectious.

Maintain an optimistic and positive approach, which will allow you to segue into more important matters – like how you will be an asset to a new organization. It is best to prepare what you are going to say beforehand. You may want to work with a professional career coach to help you develop your message. Be brief, confident, and sincere. 

The sooner you are able to change the topic of conversation, the better.  Once you effectively demonstrate all of the positive attributes you have to offer, you will move on to greener pastures! We all have experiences – yes ALL that did not represent the most ideal fit. Handle your questions with grace and self confidence as you move on to your next role.


If you have a question for Deb, please email [email protected]. The Ask Deb blog appears every Friday on the Careers Done Write website at http://www.careersdonewrite.com/blog.

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