What Do I Say When I’ve Been Fired?

By February 16, 2015 No Comments

By: Taunee Besson

exitQ: “I was fired from my last job. How do I handle this in a job interview?”

A: First, let’s talk about what you mean when you say, “I got fired.” In today’s fast-paced, unforgiving economy, your company may decide to terminate you because of a merger or acquisition, reorganization or stockholder unrest. All of these situations are beyond your control and have little to do with your job performance. Recruiters know this and will rarely hold it against you. In fact, many of your interviewers probably have found themselves in your shoes.

A bona fide firing occurs when an individual has done something illegal or unethical, is clearly falling below her job’s requirements or can’t get along with colleagues, especially her manager. While explaining your termination under these circumstances can be awkward, it’s doable.

Unless you’ve done something truly awful, your former employer will want to facilitate your moving quickly into a new position. To make this easier, seek her involvement in developing a mutually agreeable reason for your leaving. This conversation will save you from obsessing over the specter of a poor recommendation and help you get on with your life. And, should your interviewer want to know why you left your last job, you’ll have an answer ready to go.

Whatever you say, keep it short, then move on to the next subject. Long, excruciating explanations focus your interviewer’s attention on a subject you don’t want to emphasize. Any of the following reasons sound truthful and non-defensive. “I left XYZ company as part of a companywide downsizing, which eliminated my department.” “My division was acquired and the new CEO wanted to bring in his own team.” “My position was realigned. Both my manager and I realized my job no longer matched my skills or interests.” “I had done what I set out to and was ready for a new challenge.”

A word of warning: never make disparaging remarks about your former company or management. It’s only human for a potential boss to identify more with them than you. No one likes a complainer.


Taunee Besson headshotTaunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979, which works with individual and corporate clients in career change; job search; executive, small business and life coaching; college major selection and talent management.

“One of the smartest minds in the career field,” according to Tony Lee (VP of CareerCast Operations at Adicio and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal’s Online Vertical Network), Besson began writing for the Dallas Times Herald in the early 80s. Having read several of her columns, Lee asked her to contribute regular articles to the Journal’s National Business Employment Weekly (NBEW) as well. Since then, she has been a triple award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com  and Senior Columnist for CareerCast.com, as well as WorkingWoman.com and Oxygen.com. At Lee’s request, Besson authored five editions  of NBEW’s Premier Guide to Resumes and three of its Premier Guide to Cover Letters. She has also written articles and/or been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money and Yahoo among others.

Taunee has worked on community nonprofit boards and committees for over 30 years including Girls Inc., Women’s Center of Dallas, Girl Scouts and Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Volunteers of America and Mortarboard, among others. She was a member of the Leadership Dallas in 1987 and Leadership America in 2003.

In 1994, the Dallas Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development chose her as its “Professional of the Year”. Her NBEW columns were selected for the “Ten Best Article Award” in 1990, 1994 and 1997.  
In 1999, Alpha Gamma Delta, a 200,000 member fraternal organization, named her as one of three “Distinguished Citizens” at its biannual international convention.

Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.  

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