Finding Work After Being Fired (Without Lying About It)

Getting fired from a job is unpleasant enough in its own right. Concerns about future employment prospects are often quick to follow. Fortunately, being let go from a position doesn’t mean that your career is over… but you do need to be smart about your next steps.

What Were You Fired For?

How you approach your job search after your dismissal depends on what you were fired for, suggested career management consultant Karen Kodzik. If it was for gross misconduct, embezzlement, or some kind of illegal activity, it’s important to be up-front about it—both with prospective employers and recruiters. “Sometimes people try to pretty it up and spin it in the positive, and that can be dangerous,” she said.

If you gloss over what you did and a prospective employer finds out the severity of it, they’re not going to think well of you. Instead, Kodzik recommends fessing up with honesty and humility, as well as an explanation of what you’ve done differently to move past the incident.

On the other hand, if you were fired for other reasons, such as not getting along with a manager, the key is to have a story around the incident without placing blame on your former employer. Instead of railing about the evilness of your ex-boss, for example, you can point out that your styles were incompatible and that you had a difference in how you wanted to accomplish common goals. You can also list ways that you tried to fix the issue and work with one another before splitting.

In both cases, Kodzik recommends keeping your explanation fairly brief during an interview.

To Include or Not to Include

It’s tempting to simply leave certain jobs off your résumé entirely, and that’s something you can probably do for a position that only lasted for, say, six months. But if you’ve been at a job for fifteen years, you have to weigh the pluses and minuses of having that large of an employment gap.

Even if you do leave certain positions off your résumé, Kodzik recommends including them in online applications. “The application is what is used for the background check and employment verification,” said. If a job shows up on a background check or employment verification and you didn’t claim it on your application, “that would be suspect and could be grounds for them not hiring you.”

Be Specific

Whether you were fired for a good reason or a bad one, career management expert Laura Lee Rose recommends being very specific when describing the incident during a job interview.

For example, she explained, if you were fired after ignoring emails sent during your vacation or late at night, “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, my boss was unreasonable,’ say, ‘The hours they expected me to work seemed unreasonable to me—I was expected to respond to emails immediately after hours.” You can then follow up by saying something along the lines of: “I understand there may be certain times I need to work extra hours, but in this position, it was constant.”

But if the new position expects the same types of hours, this explanation may not help you land the job. In a similar fashion, Rose recommends not saying a position you were fired from was “a bad fit” if you’re applying for the exact same type of position. That would make it difficult to make the case that the position you’re interviewing for is a good fit.

Keep the Conversation Moving

Try not to spend any more time than necessary discussing the position you were fired from. “I would continually focus on the new position and ask questions to keep the interview moving forward,” Lee advised. After briefly answering questions about the last position, ask questions about the current job opportunity, what the company expects from the person filling the position, and what characteristics they’re looking for. You can then explain how you fit those criteria.

Lee also recommends practicing fielding the questions you’re likely to be asked until you feel more comfortable discussing the situation with someone.


Companies have different policies about what information they provide to prospective employers. Many will only verify the dates of your employment and perhaps your salary. However, recruiters sometimes ask whether you are eligible for rehire. Keep in mind that they are looking for a pattern—so if you have multiple previous employers and good relationships with most of them, they may view the problematic one on your résumé as an outlier.

As far as references go, it’s important to use people who will speak highly of you. If you are unsure whether someone will make a good reference, Kodzik said, you can proactively ask them what they’ll say. It’s better to have glowing references from less-recent jobs than a mediocre one from a more recent one, so make sure to include people who will speak to your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

Bottom Line

Though it’s important to craft what you’re going to say about why you were fired ahead of time, Kodzik points out that this is often a bigger deal in people’s heads: “As long as your story is short, precise, true, and forward oriented—focused on what you’re going to do next—you’re going to be fine.”

14 Responses to “Finding Work After Being Fired (Without Lying About It)”

  1. Shelby

    I do technical support for customer service and so there’s a possibility I can be fired for receiving too many negative surveys from the customers. There is no way to pretty that up is there ?

    • Yes, there is. I did the same job as you for a major mobile carrier; I could often not provide satisfaction because policy said so… if a customer action voided a warranty, no exchange of the damaged device, for instance.”There were times when policy and customer expectations were in conflict, such as not exchanging an intentionally damaged device, issuing bill credits, and the like. That reality can sometimes result in unhappy customers, which in turn can result in negative customer reviews.”

    • Jeff Heyob

      You should have access to those customer surveys to see how well you are doing your job and where you need to improve. Be proactive to improve your skill and interaction with your customers. Ask your employer for available training to improve the prolem areas in your surveys.

    • I must say this is some bad advice to give workers who left a job. Everyone out there reading this post,hear me. You are to NEVER tell an employer you were Fired!!! The already know your not with the company anymore. They ask about your previous employer. Say” I was laid off”! That’s it!

      There is a difference between the word abortion and “miscarriage”. Difference between” Lying” and the word ” “misrepresentation”. Difference between”Fired and “Laid off”. Think logically when looking for work. Don’t use words that have a negative attachment.

      • Actually, you don’t want to say that you were laid off if you weren’t. I said that to a recruiter once and she asked all these questions like, “Did you ask if anyone else was being laid off?” “Did your manager talk to you after you were laid off?” And more, and it got really, really awkward for me.

        If you were fired, you can say you were let go and give a good reason, economic, changes in company, etc. It’s harder to argue those than it is being laid off. If you are smart you can probably figure out what they let you go for.

      • Actually, you don’t want to say that you were laid off if you weren’t. I said that to a recruiter once and she asked all these questions like, “Did you ask if anyone else was being laid off?” “Did your manager talk to you after you were laid off?” And more, and it got really, really awkward for me.

        If you were fired, you can say you were let go and give a good reason, economic, changes in company, etc. It’s harder to argue those than it is being laid off. If you are smart you can probably figure out why they let you go if it wasn’t for something unethical or illegal. Sometimes. In HR, I do know that you are let go for one reason but really, it was for another reason. It is a dirty trick because no one wants to be sued.

  2. I diasgree with much of this. In the world of big-business (I have worked only for Fortune-100s for 20.years and am currently with a Fortune top-20, three companies in 20 years) employers will NOT disclose anything about a separation other than to verify employment dates and with written authorization, salary. The details of a separation are nobody’s business unless they are so egregious that they became a public record (like you assaulted your boss).

    It’s enough to just say you got caught in a RIF (mass layoff) and leave it at that. You certainly don’t need to apologize because your last boss was an assclown and you didn’t get along.

    Keep a close group of people who can vouch for you and just keep silent on the details if you get fired, or as I did in my last job, quit in anger.

  3. This article is mostly innacurage. Most if not all employers today will not comment at all on former employee. My two past employers tell any prospective employer or recruiter who calls its HR department that the person they are inquiring about must sign a release before the company will release any information.

  4. BMWMetro

    I was once fired for refusing to falsify the documentation of fire alarm inspection reports. Guess which company was never specified in the bid documents produced by my next employer! What goes around comes around.

  5. Stacey Vaughan

    How do you explain your boyfriends misbehavior at the job. He argued with my VP and threatened , as a result I was fired because I was very high up on the food chain. In Texas the laws state we can fire at will and they did let me go.

    I have a major interview next week with another great employer… Help!

  6. There are many inaccuracies in these comments. I have a certificate in advanced human resource management and have been terminated from a job and would like to share the following:

    1. To be “laid off” means that something occurred beyond your control and you may be eligible for rehire should the situation change. If you were terminated don’t say you were laid off or you will be questioned.

    2. If a potential employer asks if you were ever fired and you say no and they find out you were fired after hiring you, lying is grounds for immediate termination. Also, if you indicate on an application that you were terminated, be prepared that you may not get the interview – or a call back from an agency – they will go to the next candidate. Honesty is still the best policy.

    3. Although HR is only suppose to verify dates of employment, they sometimes disparage a terminated employee’s reputation/name or prevent one’s rehire by the tone of voice or choice of words used when answering recruiters’/potential employers’ questions (i.e. “is s/he eligible for rehire”) or saying (i.e.”I can’t release any additional information without a release letter” or “I have to ask my boss if I can say anything else so I don’t violate any policies”); this subliminally indicates that the person is a problem, and of course this can’t be proven in a court of law because you won’t be privy to this conversation.

    Hope this helps.

    • I wish HR departments would consider that some companies drive their employees to the breaking point. There are “un-workable” conditions at times; yet, HR power hogs dont ever consider this…
      To HR, youre just some other shmuck who’s getting paid more than them…