explaining that you were fired
September 29, 2015 8:12 PM   Subscribe

Does admitting in an interview that you were fired ever turn out to be a job offer in the end? Especially if it involves getting fired from a job 4 years ago or even longer? I do want to tell the truth, but telling the truth does not seem to be practical, since companies are ready to write you off very quickly with such an answer. I once admitted it in an interview and the hiring manager looked shocked all of a sudden, left the room, and said that the next person who was going to interview me was too busy and had a work emergency. I think that admitting being fired is only safe when you have good experience and credentials, so that employers would forgive you for a little blemish in your career.
posted by pieceofcake to Work & Money (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I do want to tell the truth

Then tell the truth: "It wasn't a good fit/I outgrew the position/I left to pursue other opportunities"

You should consider a question about the circumstances under which you left a former employer to be similar to a question about why you got divorced: something that is fundamentally none of the interviewer's business. You worked there, you did some stuff, you left.
posted by deanc at 8:27 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

If they point blank ask you "have you ever been fired before" you should mitigate your affirmative response by explaining that it happened when you were less experienced and that you've since used that experience to learn how to make sure you always do X now (where X would prevent whatever caused you to be fired).

Do also note that firing is a word typically associated with employee fault/misconduct (stealing, sleeping on the job, etc.) and that if you were merely downsized or told you just weren't a good fit, you were not fired but instead let go or laid off.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:35 PM on September 29, 2015 [19 favorites]

At a friend's company, they interviewed a job applicant who had gotten fired over some shady sounding stuff at his previous job and he actually got hired. So it does happen, though he came recommended by a current employee at the company and he was honest about it. Good luck!
posted by kat518 at 8:35 PM on September 29, 2015

Then tell the truth: "It wasn't a good fit/I outgrew the position/I left to pursue other opportunities"

If I am interviewing you and ask why you left company X and you tell me it's because you outgrew the position, and then we call company X for a reference check and they say you got fired (or "aren't eligible for rehire") then we we won't hire you, because you lied to me.

You should consider a question about the circumstances under which you left a former employer to be similar to a question about why you got divorced: something that is fundamentally none of the interviewer's business. You worked there, you did some stuff, you left.

This is nonsense, sorry (and even the metaphor doesn't hold up - if you get engaged to someone else, are you still not going to tell them why your previous relationship ended in divorce?). Why you left your previous job is a big deal and says a lot about your work skills and personality. If you left your previous job because it was too stressful, say, that is a sign you might not be a good fit for a new job that is also stressful. On the other hand, if you left the previous job because it was too stressful - even if you got fired because you couldn't keep up - that might be a sign you're a good fit for a job that is very 9-5 and maybe a little boring. The point here is it's not the sole determining factor, but it's an important part of your history at that job, just like the work you did during the course of your employment there.

vegartanipla's comment has the right way to talk about your firing, assuming it really is a firing. And whether it was a firing or a layoff or a voluntary departure, you should honestly think about what happened and whether you learned anything from it, and if there's anything you're going to do differently in the future because of it.

Note that everything I say here only applies to "professional" jobs - if this is a bar job or whatever where they're not going to check references, then who cares, say whatever you want.
posted by inkyz at 8:59 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

Ask a Manager's take: http://www.askamanager.org/2008/09/answering-have-you-ever-been-fired-in.html

... there’s a lot to be gleaned from the way the candidate discusses it now. Do they just seem bitter and angry about it? Have they learned from the experience? How has it changed how they conduct business?
posted by jessca84 at 9:13 PM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

I tell them I was downsized or that my company reorganized. It's true but it would also be true to say I was fired. It all depends on how you can spin it.
posted by irisclara at 9:39 PM on September 29, 2015

I have hired people who had been actually fired for cause (or were about to be fired, with internal candidates). When I did so, it was because the person was (seemingly) transparent and was able to speak to what had changed. I also disagree with advice not to share the reasons, particularly if it would come out in the references.

Also note that the kind of cause in "fired for cause" can vary. I hired one guy who got into a public screaming fight with his boss. His explanation (paraphrased): "I am really sorry about my reaction to him. At first, I thought since he was awful to me then I was justified in how I reacted. Since being a manager myself, however, I realize that you really can't use someone's bad behavior as a reason for your own bad actions."

If you were fired for a cause which is more linked to dishonesty, then the reaction from the hiring manager will be different. That's a fact. I still wouldn't lie about it if asked or try to hide it. In that case, I might even bring it up proactively to the hiring manager and ask if you would still be considered, but YMMV.

As noted above, if you were let go for not being a "good fit" or if you were downsized, for sure say both of those things and don't use the F word. It means something specific.
posted by frumiousb at 10:22 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's about presentation and what story you can honestly tell, and if you learned anything. The one person that told me they had been fired did it in a way that made me go, yeah, I would've fired you, too, and it's clear that you didn't grow from this, and no, you're not getting this job.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:23 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

In questions like this (and ones about collecting unemployment), there's always this weird belief that "fired" is some sort of technical term.

"Fired for cause" is a technical term meaning there was (allegedly) serious misconduct, as opposed to "We think he did a bad job." When someone is fired not for cause, because budget cuts, because the position was relocated, or because they just didn't like that person's work, people usually refer to that as being "laid off." However, that person was "fired." "Fired" is just a more blunt way of putting it that implies certain things. Except for weird employment law about plant closings and such, "laid off" has no special meaning, except as a polite way of saying "fired."

So, if you're actually using the term "fired," people might interpret it as "fired for cause" and think you did something like steal or assault a co-worker. Assuming you weren't fired for cause, using a term like "laid off" or "let go" is not lying, it's just a nicer turn of phrase for the same thing.

I have been let go from, I think, five jobs now, once for the position being relocated, a couple where they let groups of people go, and a couple where they just didn't like me personally and let just me go. I always use the term "laid off" to describe what happened.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:34 PM on September 29, 2015 [12 favorites]

I was fired from my last job, said so plainly in the interview, and was hired.

It was complicated by the fact that I couldn't give the real reason I was fired. (I was in QA at a drug company, and discovered a serious -- like FDA would get involved, serious -- lapse in our QA system on a Friday, and was fired without a reason given on the following Monday) To reveal that would be badmouthing my previous employer, which you can never do. So I just said that I was fired, without a reason given. They said, "You were laid off?" I said, no, I was fired, but because there was no reason given and all the employees in my department were being replaced by temps (which was true) I could only assume it was a cost-cutting measure. But other than that, I said, it was a good experience, I learned a lot and blah blah blah.

I think being frank about having been fired, without saying the slightest little thing that could be construed as badmouthing your previous employer, is the way to go. At least, it worked for me. If you were fired for cause, you could emphasize what you learned from that... and that the job was otherwise a good experience, you learned a lot and blah blah blah.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 1:26 AM on September 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm with those who said to be honest:

- Say you were "let go" or "laid off". As long as the correct phrase isn't "fired and arrested" you can make it sound better without lying.

- Focus on what you learned from the experience, or maybe what you could have done differently.

- Whatever you do, DON'T blame somebody else. If you say "I got fired because my manager was a jerk", you'll look like someone who's going to cause trouble.
posted by mmoncur at 1:28 AM on September 30, 2015

As someone who interviews and hires:

I had a candidate a while ago who had been fired from a previous position. It was obvious (for reasons I won't get into). When we asked them about it, they danced around it without admitting it, and when they finally said they were fired, they wouldn't give a straight answer about why and what they had learned from the experience.

If they had done those two things without the fuss, we probably would have hired them. Having been fired in the past isn't a deal breaker for more people. But the fact that they clearly hadn't learned anything from the experience, and didn't own up to it, was a huge red flag.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:16 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

What were you told in the exit interview when you were fired? Employers who fire basically good people whose work they did not like or who were otherwise a bad fit for the job or office culture often tell people, whom they are firing, that they will not tell references that they were fired. As mentioned above, "fired" tends to carry with it a connotation of misconduct or gross incompetence and people are often told to leave their jobs for vague feelings of "this person does not belong here." The latter situation does not necessarily indicate a bad employee or a bad risk--it simply shows that the hiring manager selected the wrong candidate or the candidate said yes to the wrong job.

In the latter situation (and indeed, everyone I know who has been asked to leave a job that was a poor fit, or "fired", has handled it this way), it seems pretty standard to say you were let go, laid off or "left that job because it was a poor fit for [reasons]." In the follow up conversation you can clarify whether you were suddenly and unexpectedly asked to leave or the much more common situation where you both knew it was coming, you just had not managed to find your next job first. Then you discuss what you were trying to do at the time to make it better as well as what you've done since then to avoid similar situations.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:33 AM on September 30, 2015

I was fired at a previous job. When asked in an interview about that, my statement was something like:

"It was a sad thing. I liked the job, and good people worked for me. They liked working for me. We got a new manager, and her management style and mine were incompatible. Eventually I was terminated and she put someone in my place that suited her needs."

This statement is true on the surface, but glosses over a difficult job situation and certain nuances. However, it would probably match what the previous employer would say, if anything, in and employment verification call.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:39 AM on September 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

and then we call company X for a reference check and they say you got fired

A reference will almost certainly only confirm employment dates. There are limited circumstances where you should confirm you were fired: background checks. However, in an interview, this is not likely to be asked about, and "it was not a good fit" or "we decided to part ways" is the right answer. This is the point of the non disparagement clause that you guys sign.
posted by deanc at 1:56 PM on September 30, 2015

Response by poster: These responses are really good, I need more time to reflect on them. I was actually "let go" or terminated for performance.

But another thing has come to my mind. If I admit in an interview that I was let go due to performance, would the interviewer then contact my current company and notify them that I was let go from a previous job?

It might seem like a silly question, but I am a little paranoid. What if the interviewer calls my current company for some reason?

Has this ever happened in the history of job interviewing?
posted by pieceofcake at 4:20 PM on September 30, 2015

I think it would be rare, but I could see it happening if the interviewing company calls your current company for a reference (and they can do this even if you don't give your current company as a reference, though it's polite to ask the interviewee's permission first) and asks a question along the lines of, "Now pieceofcake told us that two jobs ago, they were let go on performance grounds; is this still an issue currently or are they performing well with you?" Again, though, it'd be rare because most companies know you likely don't want your current employer to know you're looking and also a lot of companies don't do thorough reference checks and only ask a few questions if that.

Depending on what the specifics are of your termination for performance, you'll really want to think on how you can not get in that situation again so you can talk convincingly about it with future interviewers (and also so you can implement your solution once you're in your new job). So for example, if you were let go because you were hired to do A but then asked to do C as well which isn't in your skillset and you didn't excel at it, well, that's understandable and you won't have to do much more explaining as long as you've made it clear that you're once again looking for a job specifically in A because, after all, that is how you solve that problem. However, if you were hired to do A and just stopped showing up to work or were caught browsing the internet too frequently or said you had two years of experience in A but really had one month and it showed, those all look worse since they were all more under your control so they will need more explaining regarding how you've since grown and won't make those mistakes again.
posted by vegartanipla at 7:53 PM on September 30, 2015

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