How to Address Being Fired or Laid Off in Your Next Interview

Laid Off vs. Fired: What To Say When They Ask

How to Address Being Fired or Laid Off in Your Next Interview

Yes, there is. 

Being fired means being removed from your job because of something you did, poor performance, misconduct, bad behavior, or violating the terms of employment. If you’re fired from a job, it’s not ly that you would be rehired by that company in the future.

Being laid off means being removed from your job through no fault of your own. You might be laid off because the company you work for is having financial problems, is downsizing, is being or has been acquired (layoffs eliminate redundant positions), or is reorganizing. Un being fired, employees who are laid off may be eligible to be rehired at a later date.

In both cases you have been terminated. This is a neutral term used to indicate you’ve left your job, though it doesn’t tell someone whether you were laid off, fired, or retired. 

What it means to be terminated

Termination is a general term used to refer to the end of a worker’s employment with a company. For example, if you were on a 12-month contract, the end of contract and your departure from the job is your job’s termination.  

Termination can be involuntary (you were fired or laid off) or it can be voluntary (you quit or retire or complete a contract).

What if I was fired or laid off for the wrong reasons?

Discrimination in the workplace is very real, and sometimes people are fired or laid off for discriminatory reasons— race, pregnancy, parental status, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability—under the guise of poor performance or downsizing. This is called wrongful termination or wrongful dismissal.

You might tell your boss you’re expecting only to be “let go” a month later because of a “reorg” (even though no one else is laid off). You might notice that you and several colleagues over the age of 40 are fired because of “poor performance” even though your numbers are stellar.

If you believe you have been terminated for discriminatory reasons, “The very first thing you should do is gather and preserve any evidence you can before your access is removed,” says employment attorney Susan Crumiller.

“Hopefully you have been documenting as you go, but if not, collect any emails, performance reviews, online chat messages, whatever you can. Also, do your best to figure out what relationships you want to preserve and reach out to those people.

It can be invaluable to have witnesses (or even just ears) inside the company after your departure.”

Armed with your evidence, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a private employment attorney to discuss your options.

Does getting fired ruin your career? Can I say I was laid off if I was fired?

“Being fired does not ruin your career,” career coach Bessy Tam says. “Companies understand that there are always going to be changes in teams or expectations. Most importantly, you should always feel supported, heard, and encouraged in your current job. If that's not the case, then you would not have thrived in that company or team either way.”

As long as you can find a positive way to talk about your reasons for leaving a job when a potential employer asks, you can bounce back.

Is it better to resign before being dismissed?

Tam advises employees who are feeling a firing or layoff is imminent not to jump ship just yet, but start looking at opportunities within the company or elsewhere while you’re still employed. 

“If you feel that there's a misfit in your current job, make sure you don't resign before you're dismissed.

You may potentially miss out on getting unemployment benefits, having an opportunity to change teams internally (if you the company), or getting another job lined up externally.

Create a plan to get feedback from others and work with your manager to improve yourself. At the same time network outside of your current job to line up an opportunity that's a better fit.”

Laid off vs. fired: how to explain it in an interview

In an interview, you’ll almost certainly be asked, why are you looking for a new job?

How to talk about being laid off

If you were laid off, the explanation will probably be an easy one.

I was laid off with 10 percent of the workforce when the company reorganized. While it was unexpected and I was disappointed to leave, I’m using this as an opportunity to expand my career.


My company was going through some financial troubles and laid off my team. But that just means I’m free to try something new.

Or maybe you were on a contract with a defined end date.

My last job with General Electric was a 12-month contract position. That ended last month, and I’m proud of the work I did there. I’m back on the job market, looking for a new and exciting opportunity.

How to talk about being fired

If you were fired, this is your chance to show a potential employer that you’re resourceful, that you don’t give up, that you can turn any bad situation into an opportunity. 

Remember, “you don't need to mention being fired unless they ask,” Tam says. “But make sure you don't lie. Great companies often perform background checks by calling past employers so it's always better to be honest and thoughtful.”

If they do ask why you left or ask about a resume gap, be honest: “address the situation quickly but provide context as to why it happened objectively and what you did proactively to improve yourself.”

I left my last job because I was fired. I’m not proud of the situation, but I’ve had the time to think about my poor performance.

I realize now that I should have been proactive about the problem instead of letting my pride get the best of me. In my next role, I’m going to take a hard-learned lesson and turn it into an opportunity.

I am ready to identify issues early and become a proactive problem-solver.

Or maybe you were fired for misconduct.

I’ll be honest—I made mistakes in my last job. I'm not proud of my behavior, but I want to start over. I can't erase what I did, but I can do the right thing moving forward.

Or maybe it wasn’t your last job, but one early in your career.

I was actually let go from my first job. It was early in my career, and I did not conduct myself a professional. However, in the job that followed at the company, where I work now, I have logged a spotless record and have even been promoted. I learned my lesson the hard way, but now I can take what I learned and be a better leader and role model for entry-level employees.

“Never blame your company, previous manager, or work,” Tam says. “If an interviewer hears how you bad-mouth your past company, they will expect that you will do the same in this company and may be flagged as a ‘toxic person.’ Great companies know that toxic people ruin workplace culture.”

If I'm suing my employer for wrongful dismissal, can I talk about that in an interview?

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, I would say ‘hard no’ to disclosing your legal action to a new employer, for strictly practical reasons,” says Crumiller. “The reality is that many companies will see you as a troublemaker. It is better to be vague and stay as positive as possible. Focus on the new company and how great you think they are and how excited you are for the opportunity.” 

But, she says, if your former employer’s behavior was so undeniably horrible—so horrible they made headlines, for example—you may get away with talking about it.

But “don’t trust your own judgment on this—ask a friend,” she says. “There is a lot of victim-blaming in our society.

Practically speaking, in the job search, it is better and safer to keep things focused on your qualifications than to muddy the waters with extraneous facts.”

Additionally, if your case is or was public or picked up by the media, Crumiller says it’s “better to disclose proactively so it doesn’t seem you’re hiding something.”

Need more help? Here are some more resources.

Can I collect unemployment if I’ve been fired? What if I was laid off?

Unemployment insurance is money that you can collect if you’ve lost your job “through no fault of your own.” 

Unemployment benefits are regulated by state, not federally, and laws differ across the country. Generally, you can get a portion of your former pay for up to 26 weeks while you search for a new job, and some states require that you worked for your company for a certain period of time to qualify.

If you were laid off from a job because the company was downsizing or reorganizing, you ly qualify to collect unemployment in your state.

If you were fired from your job because of poor performance of bad behavior, you don’t ly qualify to collect unemployment benefits. You also won’t ly qualify if you simply quit your job or left to go back to school. But check your state's benefits to be sure.

If you need information about unemployment insurance for a job loss related to COVID-19, see this page from the U.S. Department of Labor.  

Read more: 9 Steps to Getting a Job Fast & Making Money While You Look

About our sources

Susan Crumiller is the founder of Crumiller P.C., a feminist litigation firm dedicated to fighting gender and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

Crumiller provides representation in all types of employee matters, including race discrimination, age discrimination, executive compensation, sexual harassment, negotiating severance, securing reasonable accommodations, family and medical leave, and employment agreements. The firm also has a clientele of small business owners it advises on employment matters. 

Bessy Tam is a tech career coach helping high performing professionals from traditional backgrounds land dream non-technical jobs in tech. She's been in the tech industry for more than six years and has helped clients even during this pandemic land offers at Apple, , Google, LinkedIn, Salesforce, Trunk Club, L2, startups, and more. 


The Hard Conversation You Need to Prep for if Your Job’s on the Line

How to Address Being Fired or Laid Off in Your Next Interview

One of the most shocking conversations you will ever have in your job is when your boss tells you that you’re done working for the company. Maybe it’s a layoff that completely blindsides you. Maybe it’s a performance-related issue that you were aware of.

No matter the cause, the actual event can be a total shocker. While getting fired and getting laid off may involve different things, it’s important to handle the situation professionally either way. And one way to do that is to prepare for it before it happens. So if you’re concerned at all about losing your job in the near future, this is well worth a read.

Related: Laid Off Due to Coronavirus? Here’s What You Can Do Now

Because as challenging as it may be to stay focused and present in the conversation, that’s your goal. It might be difficult to think of it as such, but this is an important business discussion. Think negotiating your severance or termination package.

Here are seven tips on how to handle yourself and what to say when you’re at a loss for words.

1. Stay Present and Manage Your Emotions

I once heard a colleague rant that they wanted to get laid off in the next round of workforce reductions. They were vocal about how they would welcome the chance to get away from their team, their boss, their job. In the next round, as luck would have it, they got laid off.

But they didn’t run around and high five everyone declaring their happiness. They freaked out. They yelled. They told everyone how unfair the system was. They loudly declared they were not going to help transition their work to someone else. There was a tacit understanding among the managers that, “Yep, we made a good decision on that one.”

You don’t want to be that person.

Even if you hate your job and are pining for a layoff notice, a job loss can knock the wind right you. The choice to leave is no longer yours; someone has made the decision for you, and that can be hard to swallow.

Instead of ranting my former colleague, take a long, slow exhale and ask for a minute to process the news. When you manage your emotions by pausing this, you help yourself stay calm, and you give yourself a chance to be present for the rest of the inevitable conversation. And by not allowing yourself to react immediately, you preserve your hard-earned reputation.

2. Keep Your Dignity

A former employee was on a last-chance performance agreement. Basically, if they screwed up one more time, they’d be fired, and they knew it. Well, it wasn’t long before they screwed up.

When I delivered the news of their termination, I could see the layers of shock, regret, and remorse on their face. They might’ve cried. They promised to change their behavior. They begged me to change the decision. (I didn’t.

) It was cringeworthy, and I was embarrassed for them.

When managers are preparing for layoffs and termination, the process is well on its way by the time you get the message. The organization’s new head count has been calculated, the separation package prepared, and workspace charts changed. Begging for your job will almost never change the manager’s mind. So keep your dignity intact and focus on the rest of your conversation.

3. Get Your Stories Straight

Ask how the company plans to represent your separation from the company. When you seek your next gig, your employer and you want to be singing the same karaoke lyrics, if you know what I mean.

You can help inform this. A simple request will do it: “I want to be sure that when you reference how I departed the company, it doesn’t hurt my chances for my next job.

Can we talk a bit about what you will say when others ask?” Ask for this in writing, so you have an official document that says you were laid off and not fired.

If you’ve been fired, your employer might agree not to mention the termination and instead simply verify the dates you were employed by the organization.

4. Inquire About Getting Assistance Finding a New Role

Many companies hire consultants to help employees find new gigs. Ask what kind of support, if any, the organization plans to provide. Determine how long that support will last, and what kind of career coaching you’re eligible for. And, again, get it in writing if you can.

5. Ask if You’re Allowed to Apply for Other Positions Internally

Company policy may dictate this. Some places will let you do so right away. Others may impose a waiting period before rehiring or allowing you to freelance for the company in the future.

If you were fired for performance-related issues, you probably don’t want to ask, and your employer probably hopes you won’t.

But, if you’re being let go because of team restructuring, it’s worth asking what other opportunities may be available to you.

6. Take Care of You

Get the details on severance, health insurance, when you can expect your final paycheck will arrive; how you will be compensated for unused vacation, sick, or personal time; when you’ll be reimbursed for travel expenses; and how you’re expected to get all of your things home. Some offices will offer to ship items to you so that you don’t have to deal with the incredibly awkward and uncomfortable packing up your area while your employees work beside you.

If you have stock options, bonuses, sales commissions, tuition reimbursements, or other extras attached to your position, ask about those as well.

In a layoff, ask if you’re going to be expected to help transition the work, what the expectations are, and how long that period will last. And if you’re getting terminated, get clear on whether you’re expected to leave the building ASAP—and will have your access to email and Slack revoked immediately—or if you can take a few hours to get your things in order.

Once you’ve got a handle on these details, you can step away for a day or two, and test the areas where you’d to negotiate. Perhaps you want more severance, a longer period in transition counseling, or a retention bonus for doing a super great job transitioning your work. Be prepared to justify any requests and outline a specific proposal for what you’d to see.

7. Don’t Sign Anything

You’re going to come up with more questions over time. Let your manager know you’ll review all the information that’s provided. Let them know you’ll revert with any questions or clarification you need.

Until all the details are hashed out, don’t sign anything. Most employers want you to sign a general release that says you’ll bring no legal action against them. Your final payouts are contingent upon you signing the documents. If there was ever a good time to have an attorney read over a document before you sign it, this is it!

Unexpected moments layoffs or terminations can feel a devastating personal attack. And there’s no doubt, they can be difficult to process.

When you’re able to step back, and ask for what you need, however, you’ll find a small sense of empowerment that might surprise you. No matter how hard the news is, stay cool, be a pro, and start thinking about your next move.

And remember to take a couple of days before you hastily (and dramatically) post a major update on your social media channels.


How to Explain Being Fired: 3 Examples

How to Address Being Fired or Laid Off in Your Next Interview

Finding a new job after getting fired can be stressful, but it is doable. I’ve helped multiple people do this as a recruiter, and I’ve done it myself early in my career. 

So in this article, I’m going to walk you through:

  • How to explain being fired for performance (with examples)
  • How to explain being fired for misconduct (with an example)
  • The pros and cons of lying about being terminated
  • Mistakes you need to avoid if you want to get hired

After reading this article, you’ll know how to create the perfect job interview answer for your situation. 

Let’s get started…

Should You Lie After Being Fired for Performance or Misconduct?

I don’t recommend lying in your job interviews… even if you were fired. Here’s why you might NOT want to lie:

First, hiring managers and interviewers appreciate someone being upfront and direct. If you explain the reason you were fired in the right way, they may not hold it against you! And you’ll earn their respect for telling the truth and being clear in your answer.

Next, employers often conduct background checks and/or talk to references. And while the receptionist at your last employer is very unly to say anything specific about why your employment was terminated (to protect the company from a lawsuit), it’s still possible that someone could say something.

And if an employer suspects that your last job was terminated for a specific reason, they’ll almost always ask to talk to your previous manager as one of your references. Your manager won’t give every detail, but they may say something to indicate you were terminated and not laid off. And if you lied, you’ll be caught!

So now let’s look at some good ways to explain why you were fired in your job search.

First, we’ll look at being fired for performance-related issues, and then for misconduct.

How to Explain Being Fired for Performance – Examples

When explaining why you were fired for performance, it’s important to be upfront and direct, and not try to avoid the question. You should acknowledge that you didn’t perform as well as you were expected to, and then show that you learned from the experience and give an example of how you’ve taken actions to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Example answer:

“I was let go from my past position because I wasn’t hitting the sales goals consistently. I was learning and improving each month, but I just didn’t get up to the full quota fast enough.

They usually hire people with sales experience and decided to hire me without any prior experience in the field, and I felt I just didn’t have quite enough time to become as good as I could have, potentially. I did learn a lot from the situation.

I learned the basics of how to sell on the phone and in-person, and I learned how to handle the frequent ups and downs of being in a sales role with quotas to hit each week.

While I am now looking to leave sales and work in customer service, I think the skills I’ve learned – being a great listener, communicating clearly, and coming to work with positive energy and enthusiasm each day, will serve me well in this customer service position that I’ve applied for with your company.”

It’s okay to explain the situation and talk about factors that led to the termination; just make sure you don’t sound you’re refusing to take any responsibility.

If you place 100% of the blame on the employer, the interviewer will worry that you didn’t learn anything from the experience. 

However, it’s okay to explain why you felt you didn’t have the best chance to succeed, or why you feel it wasn’t entirely your fault. But you should still accept some of the responsibility, and you should never badmouth the company by saying something , “the job was horrible and the employer didn’t train me at all.”

Even if that’s true, you’re better off saying it more softly, in this next sample answer… 

Here’s another example of what you could say in the job interview:

“I was let go from my past position because I wasn’t hitting the sales goals consistently after two months. I think a few factors led to this. The training felt scattered, and the hiring manager who brought me into the team quit two weeks after I joined.

So while I tried my best to get up to speed, it just didn’t feel the best environment to be learning a brand new role. It took the company a month to find a new manager for the team, so I didn’t even have a direct manager for the first month.

Unfortunately, I was let go for performance issues before I had a chance to really get comfortable in the role. I should have done a better job of asking teammates for help in the absence of a formal manager.

And I learned from the experience – I know I need to take more initiative and take responsibility for my own learning in my career. However, I think the situation wasn’t ideal, either. So that’s what led to my termination.”

How to Explain Being Fired for Misconduct – Examples

If you were fired for misconduct, it’s important to show the employer that you won’t have the same issues in your next job. So the best way to explain being fired is to say you made a mistake and you learned from it, and then give an example of how used the experience to improve and grow as a professional.

Sample answer if you were terminated for misconduct:

“The company had a policy of not using cellphones while on the job. I was going through a family issue at home, so I was occasionally checking my phone.

My manager found out and told me that the company had a zero-tolerance policy because they have a lot of proprietary info that they need to be careful to protect. Unfortunately, I lost my job from that mistake. I learned from the experience, though.

I realize now that I should have talked to my manager ahead of time about what was going on. He could have helped me find a solution while also staying in-line with company policies.

From the experience, I learned how important communication is, and I’ve learned to be more upfront and direct. I understand that company policies exist for a reason, and I will handle this type of situation differently in the future – by communicating directly with my manager.”

Phrasing your answer this will show them that you take responsibility, that you learned from the experience, and that you’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.

So this is how I recommend addressing being fired for misconduct in your job search and particularly in the interview.

More tips on how to give good interview answers: 11 smart ways to answer interview questions

Laid Off vs. Fired: Know the Difference

When using the advice above, make sure you understand the difference between being fired and being laid off.

Being fired is when the company terminated your employment because of a situation specific to you. It could be due to performance, misconduct, a violation of company policies, coming in late, or something else.

No matter what happened, they terminated your employment due to something specific that happened. They’re not eliminating your position from the organization; they’re just deciding that it’s not a good fit to keep you employed in the role.

On the other hand, a layoff is when the company strategically eliminates or outsources your position (and possibly other positions in the group/department)… and they’re not going to hire someone to fill your spot after you’re gone.

So that’s the difference between being laid off versus being fired from a company.

I don’t recommend saying you were laid off if your employment was terminated…

This could cost you the job if this next employer runs a background check or reference check.

However, only you can make the final decision. You wouldn’t be the first person to say, “My position was eliminated,” when you were actually fired. 

There’s some risk to lying, but there’s also some risk to telling the truth in your interview (the hiring manager may not your explanation and decide it’s too risky to hire you). So you’ll have to decide what YOU’RE comfortable with. I’m here to share advice and share the pro’s and con’s, but the final decision is yours.

Also, don’t say it was a mutual decision if it wasn’t…

While working as a recruiter, I had a few job seekers tell me that the reason they left their last job is that both sides decided that it wasn’t working out. They said it was a mutual decision between them and the employer. 

This isn’t very believable, because it’s not something that occurs often. So you’re going to receive immediate doubt from a recruiter or hiring manager if you say this.

So… even if you do decide to tell a “white lie” or stretch the truth when you explain why you were fired, I do not recommend saying that you and the employer both decided that it wasn’t working out (unless this is truly what happened).

If you say it, be ready to back it up.


If you read everything above, then you now know how to explain being fired for performance or misconduct, and you’ve seen examples of how a good answer should sound.

To recap: If you are clear and direct when explaining the reason you were fired, and if you show you learned from the experience and have taken actions to make sure it never happens again, then you’ll give yourself the best possible chance at getting hired for a new job.

If you decide that the reason you were fired is too damaging to reveal, then you can consider telling a “white lie” to slightly change the reason.

You can also tell a much bigger lie , “my previous job was eliminated due to layoffs.”

I do not recommend lying this, though, for reasons mentioned throughout the article. However, it is an option available to you, and only you can decide if it is worth the risk.

It may be worth trying if you were terminated for a serious misconduct issue, or if you’re trying to explain being fired for poor performance and you’ve failed many interviews in the past when telling the truth.

Every job search scenario is different. Every reason for being fired is slightly different, and there isn’t one perfect approach for how to explain it to employers.

You should consider the advice and sample interview answers above, but you need to make the final decision on what you’re comfortable with.

One final word of caution:

If you lie during an interview and the employer finds out later, you can still be terminated from your new job. Lying during the hiring process (on your resume, in the interview, etc.) is grounds for termination at any time if they discover it. They may never find out, but it’s a risk that you need to weigh.

For more help, here are more general tips for how to get a job after being fired. 


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