How To Explain Being Fired

How To Explain Being Fired


Dear J.T. & Dale: I loved my last job as a teller at a bank. I was there for four years when they brought in a new manager. Instantly, I could tell I wasn’t going to last long. Nothing I did made him happy, and I went home in tears most nights. Finally, I made a mistake he could use, and he terminated me. Do you know how to explain being fired? No matter what I come up with, it makes me look bad. - Jessica

DALE: First off, let’s put being fired in perspective. Harvey Mackay, best known for his book Swim With The Sharks, devoted a later book, Fired Up!, to stories of people bouncing back from being axed. He writes, “If you’re under 30, the likelihood you’ll be fired in the next 20 years is 90 percent.” That sounds a tad high, but the point is that the person interviewing you probably has gone through the experience. Remember that, and you’ll relax into the topic.

J.T.: However, why you left your last job remains a crucial question, one that could determine the outcome of the interview. You need to highlight what you loved about the job and then be objective about what ended it.

Something like this: “For four years I loved my job as a teller. In the final months, a new manager was brought in. I’m not sure why, but we didn’t connect. I did my best to support him, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually, I was let go. In hindsight, I should’ve realized we weren’t meshing and looked for a new job. I held on in the hopes that I could fix it. Now, I want to find a place where I can get back to doing what I love – caring for customers.”

DALE: Well said. Resist the temptation, Jessica, to say more. Just be so positive and upbeat that your attitude says: “Hey, it happens. No big deal. Not a problem.”

© 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale at or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

J.T. & Dale

“JT & Dale Talk Jobs” is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country. J.T. O’Donnell and Dale Dauten are both professional development experts.


  1. Sorry, but this article is in a perfect World… I think just about now, we’ve almost all been fired in one way or the other… that’s how the world works these days… no humanity, no compassion, no professional leadership, just numbers, and poor leaders who have to show very short term results, to their bosses, and find scape goats.

    Being fired one time is nothing, and nobody will ask questions, especially not after having manage 4 years the same place.

    When you sit with the next hiring manager though, always be honest, and just say it as it is, or as you think it is, but no reason to explain yourself… being fired has only very little to with you as it is your boss’ job to make it work between the two of you as well, and he didn’t do a good job, or simply didn’t care.

    I have seen many bosses of some of the biggest companies, who become the CEO of their new work place, and then fire almost all managers as he/she don’t trust them, and don’t care to get to know them… then he/she pulls in all his own network of managers, etc… So all these people getting fired having spent perhaps 10-20 years in the company are fired, but it has nothing to do with them.

    I was myself fired once because my wife got possible cancer. The company fired me a month later on the grounds that my performance had gone down, and that we couldn’t bring in personal life and business, etc… two months before I had just gotten a raise for good performance.

    I then went on later to another German company, who hired me as the CEO, but from day one didn’t trust me, didn’t support me, and didn’t care what I did… However, after 1 year, out of the blue, they fired me with the excuse that they lost confidence in me, despite the fact that I hit all targets, etc.. There was a lot of nepotism in this small company of 1000 people, and the owner was a strange 35 year old guy. BUT, what’s worse is that they refused to pay my big severance pay that I had on contract, and they refused to give me a recommendation… in their eyes, I had let them down…

    Now having been fired twice in a row, like this, how do you explain that, and what happens when the hiring manager of headhunter can’t contact anybody for a reference?

    • It happened to me. Twice in a row. That’s an earthquake in someone’s life, and the damage it does to the psyche is absolutely devastating. If you live in a mid-sized (or smaller) city, and you had a high profile position, you will probably have to leave town, as I did. The opportunity here is that you get to re-create yourself. That’s really all you can do, see it as an opportunity to become something new. First thing I did was stop TRYING to get another job. I went to live in an ashram for a while to heal. Then I accepted a job doing something different, but it paid well and gave me more skills so I could broaden my field. Finally, after 5 years, I got back into my field (Higher Ed), though doing something slightly different as a result of my broader experience. In interviews, I learned not to talk about those jobs unless asked, and as the article suggests, I reframed the “story” so that it didn’t come across like the bombshell it was, and no bitterness seeped out. As you say, most firings are not about the employee, but when it happens to you, it feels deeply personal. You have to heal from that before you can be convincing when you tell the story. Reframing the story can help speed up your healing, though. As far as references, I asked a different supervisor to vouch for me, and the CEO gig for me was so short that I don’t even mention it.

      • Wow, that’s a good solution to getting fired… You are absolutely right, once you got fired, get away from it all for a while…

        I was stupid enough, to engage in finding a job only 2 days after I had been fired, but I was so negative, and almost exploded in front of the headhunter… The Headhunter was actually very nice, and understanding, and just told me that actually there are unfortunately, so many companies (even the big ones, where I also worked) who don’t care much for their reputation and image, since they are so big, and nothing can hurt them…. Most often, in almost all of EU, and even more so in Asia, but seems USA as well, employees, have no protection at all…. and have to go through hell, to get what’s was agreed.

        The company I was fired from due to my wife’s illness, fired me for no reason etc., and refused to pay my relocation back to EU, although they had sent me to the other side of the world in Asia. and many more issues…

        The recent company, as I said, I was fired without pay and severance, without explanation or warning, after having passed their 6 months probation, and hit all targets, and more.

        All I can do, and am doing, is always to ensure that business disappears from these companies, and with my new even higher position and network now, that is quite easy for me.

        You should never talk bad about your last companies, as it also reflects bad on you… but for example, in my company today, we need 2000pcs. of a specific product every year, and the cost for that is about 10 million EUR. We should have bought this from the company I just happened to be fired from 4 years ago, but instead, I redirected this business to their competitor, simply because of how I was treated that time…otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it…

        I have done some soul searching, and found my brand now, and am a new person. I can refrain from talking about my last companies, which in fact, I never think about anymore, unless I can take business away from them, and I now am even more positive than before.

        A good friend told me last night in fact, that either a company is full of bad people or good people, but never a mix of good and bad… because if that’s the case, the bad people will ensure the good ones leave.

        What a sad World, primitive, jungle law, stressful, pitiful, and a total lack of good labor law all over the World…hence the thousands of useless lawyers, who also only see money, to take and loose the case anyway.

        I just heard of another case in China…. A German company hired their CEO, with extremely high pay, and severance pay on the contract… they tricked this CEO into working hard for them for 2 years, setting up the business they didn’t know how to setup themselves in China, and so he did, then one day they fired him out of the blue, without pay, just as what happened to me….

        They used the Chinese law, stating that if the company don’t give the work permit to their foreign employee, even they, the Company acted illegally, the employee has no case, and can’t claim, in this case over 1 million EUR, and instead the employee is fined 500EUR, and the company 4000eur… There’s another law in China they said, that states the company must get this work permit within 15 days after hiring their employee, but Labor committee never apply that to the case, as the employees then win the cases, which makes no money for the Chinese Government….

        So, many companies in China choose to go the illegal way, as they can avoid everything that is stated in the labor contract with their employees, since the Chinese law protects them in this way…

        So, again, what a crazy world, which I mentioned in my first comments some weeks ago… lack of passion, integrity and honesty in every single company… Good companies do not exist… it’s only all about money and stepping on good people, who act out of honesty, and who are not smart enough to cheat, or know when they are cheated or tricked….

        Just the fact that you got fired, proves to me that you are a GOOD person, of highest integrity, and it is the only kind of people i can personally respect… when I meet Big CEO’s and GM’s I have a hard time to respect any of them, because most of them got there due to their total lack of social skills, compassion for people, integrity and honesty.. these people are hollow inside, tricky, short tempered, probably had a hard childhood, and are most often not really liked within the company.

  2. Hi Jessica,

    As a former personnel director, I can tell you that I always contacted all references. Even if a company has a policy of not giving a “real” reference, there were many times that I was able to get a former employer to give me enough information so that I could “read between the lines.” I highly recommend that you reach out to your former supervisor (the one with whom you worked well) to see if he or she would be willing to be a contact.

    If you are still concerned as to what type of impression your most recent supervisor will give, you should ask a friend to call as a perspective employer. Just be sure that the voice mail for the phone sounds professional, since there’s always a chance that he or she will need to leave a message when reaching out to the bank. If the feedback is less than neutral, at least you’ll know what to expect and can plan accordingly.

    Good luck!

  3. I agree that the company will NOT reveal the reasons for dismissal. After a solid 4 years on the job, I would not worry too much. I would even get a reference letter from the prior manager. Track them down!

  4. That is the case about strict rules but there is one question H.R will answer if asked that tells perspectives what they want to know. Would you rehire them in the future? The “No” is all they need to know. The employer claims they released no information but basics, but you keep finding hit hard to get bite at apple until someone tells you because you will never prove it anyway. Is ever a good time to just request your employment history file and say no to that question can contact your previous employer. Get great references and try and move on?

  5. It’s fairly easy to get references. It might not be from the HR dept or direct manager. Employees are expected to give references that can be reached, and often it’s dependant on getting a job, to get good references from those who worked with you. In fact to get a good hire, you should do you best to ferret out references and follow-up. I’m always amazed when people don’t do reference checking at all. It shows sometimes why these fraudsters go from place to place and rip off, get caught, move on. On the other hand, yes, the big companies have this policy when you work for them, and not everyone follows them. And there is churn in all companies these days, and a direct manager today may be elsewhere tomorrow–giving references for past emmployees and colleagues. As well, the grapevine is alive and well everywhere. It’s best to make it as positive as you can, brief and move on. And do NOT discuss a firing ad nauseum (or at all!) with former colleagues and professional associations–it will taint you quickly.

  6. Perfect answer. You need to make the best of it; don’t dwell on what went wrong, and never say negative things about the company — or even the manager — that let you go.

    By the way, please remember that there are many companies — usually the major Fortune 500s — with extremely strict rules about what manager and supervisors can and cannot say when contacted for a reference. Some companies, in fact, are so strict that managers or supervisors simply say, like robots, “I’m terribly sorry by we have a strict policy that only Human Resources can provide information about former employees. Please call ___________.”

    These same companies usually have equally strict policies for Human Resources, which forbid giving any information about a former employee other than verifying — NOT providing — dates of service and job title. They will not verify salary or the reason the person left. When asked for a reference, they will say: “I’m sorry, but we only verify dates of service and job title.” When pressed for salary or reason for leaving, they will say: “We don’t provide that information.” Period.

    The reason they don’t give any but the barest info? They don’t want to be sued by former employees, who could accuse them of making it impossible to find future employment. For most companies, once an employee is gone it’s not their business to carry out an eternal vendetta and make it impossible for that person ever to work again. Why on earth would they care?

    If you are ever fired — terminated “for cause” — please check with the HR department and find out what their policy is on giving references. It’ll make you feel a lot better, and more secure, to know that what happened is not going to haunt you forever…or a lot less than forever!

    • This isn’t always the case. HR will not disclose information but I have seen and heard my past supervisor give negative references. I A prospective employer contacts your direct supervisor, there can be issues as not everyone follows rules.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *