Interview questions can be both awkward and difficult. One of the most challenging questions for someone who’s been fired is “why did you leave your last job?” It’s challenging to know whether you should disclose a job termination, and if so, when. So, we’ve rounded up answers from the pros by asking them:
What advice do you provide to a job seeker who has been terminated in terms of their resume, LinkedIn profile, and/or interviewing? Should they disclose, and if so, how, where and when?
We urge you to review all the answers as there’s at least one plot twist on how to handle this sticky situation and we want you to know all the facts and have all the options going forward!
“Each situation is unique. If you left a company due to no fault of your own (e.g., a layoff, quit to care for a family member, pursued additional education), it’s almost always advantageous to address this in your resume and in interviews. If you were terminated for cause, an employer will want to know what you learned from the experience and/or how you will be sure the same situation doesn’t happen again. This is typically best addressed in an interview setting or well-worded cover letter.”
– Angela Watts, MyPro Resumes & Recruiting
“When it comes to interacting with a future employee, it’s important to tread carefully and avoid giving them any reason to avoid speaking with you. One key strategy is to refrain from offering up any unnecessary information, unless specifically asked. This ensures that you’re not inadvertently putting your foot in your mouth or saying something that might come back to haunt you later on.
However, if a potential employer does ask you a difficult question, it’s essential to be prepared with a thoughtful, conciliatory answer. This not only shows that you’re professional and well-prepared, but also helps to put the employer at ease and build a positive rapport. By demonstrating your willingness to listen and your ability to respond in a constructive way, you can help to establish a strong foundation for a successful working relationship with your future employer.”
– Clair Levy, Precision Resumes Solutions
“I worked with a client who committed a minor traffic offence and was subsequently terminated from their employment. The advice I gave at that time was to disclose this information at the right time and during the interview. There would be a question where this client could disclose this and my simple advice was, tell the truth but be sure to explain what you learned from that experience. The client went on to a second panel interview, a group test, a psychometric test, another interview and finally got through all the hoops to land the job of their dreams. It always pays to be honest. If the employer doesn’t hire you because of it, they’re not for you.”
– Athena Ali, The Get Noticed Coach
“I tell my clients to be honest, explain what you learned and what you might do differently and to never throw anyone under the bus or badmouth a former employer. Keep answers as short as possible and don’t make excuses. Own your mistakes.”
– Debbie Marshall, Thrive Consulting
“They do not need to disclose this information on their resume. If asked at the interview about why they left a position, it’s important to tell the truth that they were terminated and continue with statements about what was learned from that experience because this put them in a position of needing to find another job. Therefore, the person hired a professional and learned how to target the best job fits based on his/her natural strengths based on the Communication Style and Behavioral Strengths DISC Career Management Assessment and the career exploration process. This is why the job seeker now knows the position for which he/she is now seeking is a great match for him/her to leverage his/her natural strengths.”
– Jane Roqueplot, JaneCo’s Sensible Solutions
“It depends in which field or industry the job seeker works. I usually do not advise my clients to immediately disclose. Wait at least until the second interview. If it does come up earlier, never badmouth your previous employer. Just make a statement to the effect that the corporate goals (or vision) do no longer align with yours.”
– Myriam-Rose Kohn, Reimagine Your Career
“Looking for a job can be even more nerve-wracking after your confidence has been through the wringer when you’ve been fired. It is not necessary to state that you were fired on a resume, Linkedin profile or cover letter. Your resume and LinkedIn profile contains start and end dates for your previous positions but never details why or how you left. Interviews will definitely require a bit more care and forethought than they did before. You need to prepare for how you’re going to handle direct questions about your previous job.”
– Renzo Maurtua-Neumann, Area CV
“40% of people have been fired at some point in their career, so you aren’t alone. The most important thing to a potential employer is your attitude and seeing that reflected in how the experience changed you. Bad mouthing your ex-boss and deflecting blame can be deal-breakers. But if you explain the situation, take responsibility, and highlight the contributions you’ve made in the past and would like to make again going forward, it can put you ahead of other candidates.”
– Ari Shaffer MSE, Ari Shaffer Coaching & Consulting
“Never disclose a termination on your resume, LinkedIn profile or elsewhere, ever! In fact, if it wasn’t big enough to be on the news, get that information off the internet, even in your personal and private posts.
Then, don’t bring it up yourself under any circumstances but be prepared to be asked. When asked, have worked out an alternate strategy whenever possible. PR and attorneys will tell you – it’s ALL in how you spin it!
Here’s a strategy that has worked with numerous clients with rocky backgrounds:
- Find out what the company will say about you. You can contact human resources and ask and speak to your former boss IF there is any relationship there to salvage. However, you SHOULD also consider having someone run a reference check. There are companies out there that will do this for a small fee and return to you what the company is saying. Often times they won’t disclose anything negative due to fear of legal action.
- Find an alternative reference within the company. Sometimes being terminated has nothing to do with you and can be political or office dynamics or simply that the woman whose job you took who moved cross-country has now divorced, come back and wants her job. When you have someone in HR or a higher boss, etc., that person’s information should be what is on your reference page. You should also strive to get letters of recommendation from anyone above you in the company that you can also pass along.
With this kind of strategy, you know nothing negative is going to be said, you can push the employer to positive references and then you can fill in the blanks however you wish.
Example: “I left my job to move back home and support my mother while she went through a difficult divorce. She’s in a better place now and I’m eager to begin working again” vs “At my 90 day point I was told I did great work but wasn’t great with the customers. After I did my due diligence about what was going to be said about me I discovered that the woman whose job I took, who was going to be a stay at home mom after 15 years with the company, decided she wanted her job back.”
– Laura DeCarlo, President @ Career Directors International
What This Means for You
Evidently, opinions vary here and it’s up to you to decide what approach fits you best. Where everyone does agree is to not jump the gun on sharing about being fired. Always focus on the positive, maintain a professional attitude and look for your spin whenever possible.
Get ready to conquer the professional stratosphere and claim your well-deserved spot at the top. The sky’s the limit, and we’re here to help you reach for the stars!
Need help taking this important step?
CDI is a global professional association of the industry’s top resume writers, career coaches and other career professionals. Our robust directory will let you search for the perfect practitioner to make your successful transition. Each of the participating professionals featured in this post can be reached via their links or by searching the directory.
Special thanks to Ari Shaffer, MSE of Ari Shaffer Coaching & Consulting for curating these tips.