The Carlton Connection

The Whole Truth & Nothing but the Truth

By Annette Monks, CTS

President, Carlton Staffing


“The whole truth and nothing but the truth?”

A 5 Step Process for explaining why you were fired from your last job during the interview


Let’s face it, many people have something from their past employment that they would prefer not to talk about during an interview for a new job. When I am coaching job seekers, one of the most uncomfortable situations they tell me about is how to explain being fired from a previous job.

So how do we put our best foot forward when our past employment may reflect negatively on us? My personal take on this is simple – tell the truth. Here’s why:

  • Rarely do candidates actually admit to having been terminated. This in itself is refreshing if you are a hiring manager who interviews a lot of people who claim they were “laid off” when in fact they were fired. So believe it or not, this will be a positive differentiator for you!
  • If you accept a position based on a lie and the employer learns of the lie, they could likely terminate you for falsification of your application.
  • If the employer terminates you for lying, you now have a snowball effect on the previous lie. For the next employer, how do you explain that? Another lie? That could become a very vicious circle of deceit.
  • If they keep you, they may never quite look at you the same and may question how you might represent them to other employers in your future.

Employers can often handle the truth if the candidate demonstrates personal accountability for the part they played and having learned from the experience. As a matter of fact, many employers would respect your honesty, believe you to be more trustworthy than other candidates, and value the experience you took from the termination!

There are some ways of responding that are more effective than others.  If you have been terminated in the past, here is a 5 Step Process for explaining your termination from a previous job:

  1. Respond with the truth, “Yes I was let go.”
  2. Immediately take responsibility for it. Be honest with yourself here. If you were late to work all the time or missed work, messed up a report, had a physical altercation with someone or displayed unprofessional behavior, etc on the job…it is YOUR fault. Don’t deflect the blame to things like the alarm clock not going off or the bus running late or some guy stole your lunch out of the break room fridge. If there is a more complicated reason like a team effort that failed and others are involved, then it is still partially your fault. If there was a policy you were not aware of that you did not adhere to, it is still partially your fault for not seeking to learn all of the policies. Take whatever responsibility you have in it. While it may not be 100% of your doing, the likelihood is high that you own some percentage of the problem. It never bodes well for a candidate to put 100% of the blame for their own termination on their boss or co-workers, or anything else especially if this tends to be a pattern for multiple jobs. Note, sometimes there are wrongful termination cases pending with verifiable and justifiable arguments. I am not referring to these cases right now.   
  3. Provide a very brief explanation of the circumstances. I cannot emphasize the importance of brevity here. Do not provide your opinion of what happened, just the facts as you know them. Make this two to five sentences at the most. This part is not what we want to highlight so don’t belabor it.
  4. Share what you could have done differently that might have changed the outcome. Don’t beat yourself up on this, but don’t overlook it. Emphasize what you learned from the situation and how you will never do it again. The key to this method is not to highlight what went wrong but to stress how much you learned and to demonstrate your ability to take accountability for your actions or results.
  5. Ask how your interviewer feels about this. This is a hard step but extremely effective. It will let you know where you stand and possibly allow more productive conversation on the matter. Often, an employer will relate to having experienced similar situations.

Here is a simple example of how this 5 Step Process might play out. If you were fired for poor performance and asked about why you left that job, you state:

“I was terminated for poor performance and I’m not proud of it. I failed to reach my goals for three weeks in a row. I take responsibility for it. I was having trouble with the machine I was working on. It was malfunctioning and since it wasn’t a safety hazard I thought I could work with it without getting it repaired or looked at. I did not emphasize how critical the problem was for production to my immediate manager because I thought they would not have time to stop and help me. It put me behind and had a domino effect on my quota.  I learned my lesson and moving forward I will not do that again. I will be sure to point out when I am struggling with something to my manager and trust they will stop to help me no matter how busy they are.  How do you feel this will affect my possible employment with your company?”

This takes practice. Don’t “wing it” on your response in front of a potential employer.  Write down your response using all five of these steps. Then say it out loud multiple times until it becomes more natural. Have a friend listen to you say it out loud. Ensure that any evidence of animosity or frustration on your part is minimized. Keep it to the facts and your learning experience.

Be aware that some employers might say that is a deal breaker and they cannot hire you. All I can say to that is at least you know the real reason and you can walk away with your head high. There will be employers who are more tolerant of past mistakes than others. Your goal is to find those employers. Job search is a sales job in which you are both the product and the salesperson. There is no room for false advertising. There will be rejection during your process of finding the right fit for you. It is important to manage your expectations along the way and keep your eye on the prize. See my blog entitled “If You’ve Got No Stats, You’ve Got No Game” which outlines the importance of activity in the job search world. Rejection is part of the process and can be painful and unbearably difficult at times, but it is far better in the long run to get and keep a job using the power of the truth on your side.



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