How To Navigate An Interviewer Asking Why You Were Fired (You Don't Have To Overshare)

Sometimes, career paths can take unexpected turns, and things don't work out at certain jobs. Being fired can feel like a difficult thing to have on your resume. This means that there's the uncomfortable moment of having to explain in a job interview why this happened. But not to worry: There are ways to navigate these interviews gracefully while still landing a new job.

It's a common protocol that prospective jobs will ask you if you've ever been fired from a previous job. It's best to answer honestly but without oversharing. Keep the interview positive, and if misconduct was the cause for your termination, express in plain language that you've learned from your mistakes. Just because you were fired in the past doesn't mean your chances of a successful career in the future are shot. In fact, there are several strategies to use to ensure your interview goes favorably and you're able to navigate a bright future.

Recognize what went wrong

Before you're ready to move onto another job, make sure you understand the reasons for your termination. It's often a complicated situation that may or may not have been your fault. Sometimes jobs don't give enough training and onboarding to their new hires to allow people to properly succeed and thrive at their place of employment. There are also circumstances that could have been out of your control. Perhaps your boss was toxic or the work environment wasn't supportive.

Understanding why you were fired is the best first step for discussing it later in an interview. Without blaming or slandering your former employer, let the interviewer know why you weren't able to succeed at your previous job. "If you can speak to the external circumstances that weren't about you — whether it was new leadership or a change in direction that wasn't right for you — and then redirect the conversation to how the new role at the company you're applying for is a better fit for you — most times, people will understand that and respect that explanation," career coach Jay Colan told LinkedIn.

It can also lead to a positive conversation about what helps you thrive at a company. If the new position you're applying for has many of these positive attributes, bring them into the conversation. "I've noticed that your company offers a thorough training period," can be a great way to show that this new job is the right one for you.

Be direct without oversharing

While honesty is great, oversharing isn't necessary when it comes to acing a job interview after being fired. Changing the way you speak about the termination is crucial in finding a new job. "There's loads of different reasons why people can get fired, but I always say to my clients, the first step is to not say the word 'fired' but rather 'let go,'" career coach Suzanne Penny told LinkedIn. "The first thing is to implement that positive language."

There's no need to over-explain. Keep it simple and positive. The issue could have been as simple as an unmatched skill set. Demonstrate how the skills and talents you have are a great match for this new position. "I realized that the company wanted someone with several years of experience, however, I was in the early phase of my career," you could say. "Now I'm careful to apply for jobs that match the experience level I have while still leaving room for growth." It shows maturity and self-awareness to be able to state clearly what happened and to express how you've grown from it. Let that experience shine through in a positive way.

Keep your focus on the skill sets and attributes that your potential new employer is looking for. "After carefully looking over this job description, I feel confident that this is a much better fit for me because I know I can hit these targets," is a great way to channel the interview in a winning direction.

How to handle a misconduct firing

Sometimes, when discussing firings, you do have to address the issue of misconduct in your past. These situations can be tougher to navigate, but there are still ways to frame that part of your past in a positive way. Explain succinctly what happened, with enough information to allow the interviewer to see the situation. Perhaps your previous job didn't allow cell phones, but you were having a family crisis. Acknowledge that this was a breach of company policy, but illustrate that it was an extraordinary circumstance.

Avoid placing blame on others, but do offer context if it would clarify the reason for termination. Avoid getting too emotional about the explanation. Then express remorse, and illustrate how you've learned or grown from it. If external circumstances have changed — say the family crisis has sorted itself out — be sure to explain that too. This way, your future employer will know that it won't affect your future job performance.

It can be helpful to practice this response before your interview. Rehearse your answer with a friend or family member. Even saying it out loud in front of a mirror can be a good way to polish your language before the actual interview, so that you go in confident and empowered.