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Getting Fired: Answering “Have you ever been fired?”

Hi BrighterMonday,

I need your advice. I lost my job 2 years ago as a result of a downsizing exercise as the company was not doing well. Initially, the company offered to help us find jobs but we soon learnt that that was not to be. I have 3 years experience in as an accounts officer and I know how to use all the accounting packages in the market. I also have a CPA IV and degree in accounting but despite my qualifications and experience, I find it hard to get a job. One of the questions I am routinely asked during interviews is why I left my previous job but despite my best explanation that the company restructured, I do not get the job. I believe that this is what has made it hard to secure a job and I would like your advice on how to answer the question on employment termination.



Hi Essy,

Thank you for writing to us and congratulations on your qualifications and skills. Do not despair due to your current predicament as it is just a matter of time before you finally land one. First of all, it is commendable that you do not blame your former employer or yourself for your current situation. Blame game is not helpful and it is also commendable that you do not lie about the fact that you have faced employment termination before. That said, here is how you can approach the question in your next interview and win:

Handling the question on getting fired during an interview

First of all, you are not alone. Getting fired has become rampant in recent years as the world experienced an economic recession. New technologies have also replaced human beings and those who did not adapt lost their jobs. Additionally, as the economy slows down, many companies have found themselves having to restructure which involved employment termination for those jobs that were not considered core. This situation has left many people devastated but, there is light at the end of the tunnel and you still have a chance to bounce back.

Apart from economic reasons, people also face employment termination due to poor performance, an unfavourable working environment which makes it hard to perform optimally, lack of support or maybe, a disagreement with co-workers that was not correctly handled.

It is not easy and neither is it advisable to lie about employment termination as you recruitment manager may have insider information about your past employment. Most interviewers ask this question to establish whether you have an error of judgment which can influence how you work. Put in mind that employers have many candidates for any available position and they use all ways and means to weed out candidates.

Tackling the elephant in the room

While interviews can be nerve-wracking experiences, the question about getting fired can throw you off balance and ruin a good opportunity to present yourself as the best candidate. If you find yourself being asked, “Have you ever been fired?” do not start shivering and telling lies. Face the question head on and the interviewer might just be impressed by your honesty and ability to move on from a bad situation. Here is how to go about it:

  1. Process Your Thoughts


For you to answer this question well, you need to be calm and this can only happen if you know the details of what happened. Think about or even write down what transpired and take note of what role you played in the events. In your case, you might find that you could have done more to control expenditure so as to save the company some money.

Taking stock of the events that led you to being fired helps you to be honest with yourself. Even if the firing was unfair, you need to acknowledge what happened in order for you to tackle this question effectively during an interview. It also helps you to make peace with what happened so that you can move on and avoid breaking down during the interview.

Once you accept what happened and deal with it, you are better prepared to face the interviewer confidently and answer this question objectively. It may have been one of the darkest moments in your career but, you can only rise above the situation by critically analysing your role in it and your former employer’s role in it.

      2. Don’t lie

It is so tempting to lie. It is even more tempting when you think that a lie is the fine line between your current, jobless situation and your next job. But, before you say you have never been fired, you might want to consider the fact that lies often have to be covered up with more lies and that is not how you want to start your next job.

On the other hand, while signing a contract, you swear to the fact that all the information given prior is factual and verifiable. If the employer finds out that you lied to get the job, you might just be fired, yet again and that is not a situation you want to find yourself in, again.

Even if the reason for getting fired was that a person was not performing well or did something that was akin to gross misconduct, you should learn your lesson and demonstrate this during the interview. You can, for example, say “I was fired because of not hitting my sales target and I have since learned to package the product to suit each client to increase my chances of selling.” This truth shows that you have dealt with the problem and are willing to move ahead constructively.

       3. Talk To Your References and former employer

As a minimum requirement, you are supposed to have at least 3 referees on your CV. It is important to talk to them and ensure that you are all on the same page, especially with regard to your job loss. It is important to seal any information gaps as these can result in disqualification.

Additionally, you may not want to face it but your former employer can make or break your chances of getting your next job. In your case, the employer terminated your employment on the basis of tight financial times. It is, therefore, important to have a word with your former employer to ensure that he/she can vouch for you in the event that you next employer gets in touch with him/her to better understand you.

Some recruiters do background checks on potential employees as a way of ensuring that they get the best. In the event that a person was let go, the recruiter may want to find out the exact reason for the termination. Speak to your former employer so that he/she can put in a good word in case the recruitment manager makes contact.

        4. Demonstrate your growth from the experience

A big advantage of analysing the situation is your ability to objectively look at things from a neutral point. This will enable you to show what you have learnt from the experience and how you can apply your knowledge in your future job.

The point is to make yourself look like a great candidate based on your experience. For example, you can say that you should have realized that there was trouble with expenditure, a matter that you should have raised with your supervisor sooner that you did. This makes you look like a person who will be more dedicated to your job and willing to take action as soon as you realize that there is a problem. It is an opportunity to show that you are a better person, having learnt a few things from the experience.

        5. Script Your Answer

In order for you to give a good answer, you need to know what exactly you need to say. Write down your answer and practice saying it. You can even ask a friend to help you by conducting a mock interview. This will help you come up with a succinct answer which will be both desirable to the interviewer and to yourself. It also helps you to talk more about your successes and how that can be applied.

For example, you can say “I had a great time working at XYZ and I gained invaluable experience from the 2 years that I served in different positions in the accounts department. I improved how the books of accounts were kept and increased transparency through diligent work. However, I have learnt that whenever I realise that there are expenditure problems, I should immediately suggest ways of reducing this by suggesting cuts on unnecessary expenditure. This can save the company some money, especially during tough economic times.”

The aim is to ensure that getting fired works in your favour by showing that you have learnt something new that can be applied in your new job. While at it, keep your answer short and precise. Do not go into the details about why you think you were laid off.

         6.  Do not be tempted to speak negatively about your former employer

You might be bitter from the experience and you may even think that you were unfairly fired. But, an interview is not an opportunity for you to show why your former employer was in the wrong. This will only leave the interviewer with questions about your ability to handle difficult situations.

Even if the directors of the company misused company money, this is not the chance for you to make your case in the court of public opinion. Instead, show how you gained experience that can help you in your next job and what you learnt. Your personal issues with your former employer should not play out in front of your prospective employer.

Of course, you are not under any obligation to bring up the employment termination question. If it is not asked, do not offer information as it might not have such a rosy outcome. On the other hand, the fact that you were let go from your former job does not mean that you cannot get another job. Be confident during your interview, prepare thoroughly for your interview and ensure that the question about getting fired is well answered.

All the best Essy.

Njeri Karanja
Njeri is a reading and creative writing enthusiast who is neck-deep in research writing. She is well versed in researching and writing on various topics.
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