How To Answer "Have You Ever Been Fired" Interview Question

Being fired is obviously not the most positive experience to handle during your employment. It’s even more difficult to justify or to explain to the next prospective employer. Firstly, don’t panic and secondly, don’t act immediately to the situation as you are likely to act irrationally rather than pragmatically. Take a deep breath and plan some positive damage limitation.

It’s not the best of situations however it may not be the end of your career. This is obviously dependent on what you did to get fired and what sector you currently work or would like to work in the future. For example, if you’ve been fired for fraud and you worked in the Financial Services Industry it’s unlikely you’ll be hired again in this sector. Depending on the severity of the conduct and the punishment received, then the incident may remain on your records permanently. In this case it’s a good idea to understand your rights under the Rehabilitation Act.

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That said there are many reasons for being dismissed that do not involve having a criminal record. For example, poor performance, too much time off work, late for work, unacceptable behaviour (telling inappropriate jokes, harassment, gossiping or spreading rumours, not following instructions, violating policies or procedures, breaches of internet or email usage or generally misbehaving, etc), or an irreconcilable break down in your relationship with your manager. In fact before you’ve completed two years of service with a company you don’t have any permanent rights and as long as the dismissal was conducted in a fair manner then there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it (unless you suspect and have evidence of being discriminated against.)

Be Honest


The natural survival instinct (to protect ourselves or our ego) is to cover up any past incidences (lie) and pretend it never happened (denial). Unfortunately, this tactic is unlikely to work these days in employment – many companies now outsource their background checks to experts (HireRight) and it’s usually and quite rightly very thorough. The best policy is to be honest from the outset.

I worked in the financial services sector for six years and there were several incidents where candidates had disclosed having County Court Judgements (CCJ’s) on their records. You’d be forgiven for thinking that having a CCJ in a financially regulated industry was going to be unacceptable however this wasn’t always a clear cut case. Any disclosures of this nature were handled on an individual basis. If someone had gotten into financial difficulty and were making every effort to get out of debt or managing their finances more closely then allowances could be made. Alternatively, a different view was taken if someone had carelessly racked up debts on luxury goods (well over their means to afford such items) and of course if they chose not to disclose at all.

Related: Top Ten Most Common Interview Questions And Answers

Show remorse


You must be genuinely remorseful for the resulting outcome of a situation. Your aim is to gain the interviewers respect, understanding and ultimately their forgiveness towards your actions and the situation. Be sorry and mean it – not sorry you got caught!

Showing remorse doesn’t mean beating yourself up or being a victim – it’s about taking responsibility for your actions. It’s about showing real emotion to express how sorry you are about the actions leading up to the outcome (whatever that was). It’s all about being sincere not dramatic! Remember you are in an interview so you need to remain professional and explain the facts leading up to the dismissal. It’s important you practice the delivery of this difficult message and communicate concisely.

This is not a time to waffle on and on as you’ll likely tangle yourself up in loads of negative words and this will just leave the interviewer either concerned or very confused with the ramblings. Leaving an interviewer with more questions than answers will most definitely not lead to a positive outcome for you. You must spend the time planning, drafting and reading out loud your answers to the “Have you been fired?” question.

Don’t blame


Again it’s easier in most situations to blame someone else or blame the company to deflect away from any personal responsibility. “It wasn’t my fault!” This is only going to look bad on you for not taking ownership of your actions. It’s okay to explain the context in which the incident happened – for example, if you were asked to leave due to poor performance.

Explain the nature of the job and the environment and possibly the targets set for the role and how you found it difficult to meet the high expectations and demands. You may want to explain why you originally made the decision on accepting that job and how it may not have meet your original expectations either. Again don’t point the finger but take ownership for recognising what really motivates you at work and what you’ve learnt about your skills, knowledge and your possible limitations. You may also want to think about what management style suits you and/or what managers in the past have motivated you to be the most productive and get positive results.

Lesson learnt


It’s always good to take a little time to reflect on past experiences to be able to move on positively, learn something new about yourself and your capability and avoid making the same mistakes.

Related: The 10 Trickiest Interview Questions And Answers

For example, if you were fired because you were always late for work. Ask yourself was the job really right for you? Were you de-motivated in the role and that’s why it was an extra effort to get out of bed? What type of management style do you prefer? What type of environment gets the best results from you? Where and when have you been the most productive and satisfied in your career to date? Did you take on too much at work or at home and were just experiencing burn out or exhaustion?

If you start to ask yourself questions about the situation and how it ended up with the result you may well learn the reasons (route cause) for being fired and therefore, can learn from this experience and consciously avoid this happening again in the future. I’m a bit of a workaholic and tend to ignore the early warning signs and try to work through – it’s in my nature to work hard and be extremely conscientious – this can have a price to pay (long hours, lack of social time, less able to deal with stress, no time to relax etc.)

We all have busy lives and it’s important to make time to reflect and learn from our past experiences. What worked and what didn’t. What went well and what did not get the best or desired outcome.

Take time to act and react to situations and you’ll end up making a better more informed decision.
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