Explaining Why You Were Fired or Let Go

It may sound cliche, but the truth really does set you free.   Be honest, first with yourself then with any potential future employer about why you were let go.  Be prepared to admit your mistakes and talk about what you learned and how the experience has improved your management and leadership skills.   

The following was compiled from several helpful sources and will provide additional insight into how to best handle your "transition".  While these are addressed to the typical local government manager, they apply equally to other management fields. 

  1. Really understand why you are in transition - Be sure you fully understand what action(s) led to your termination so you can better prepare yourself for the future.  It can be helpful to gain perspective by consulting a trusted third party observer familiar with the circumstances
  2. Be clear and concise - Explain exactly what happened, but keep it brief.  When discussing why you left your last job, keep your emotions out of it.  If you are still upset, you are not ready for an interview
  3. Get over it; may need professional help to do so. - The emotions you go through after being fired are similar to those a person goes through during the grief process following the death of a loved one.  When you are in a deep emotional state, it is difficult to keep the emotions out of your answers concerning your former position.  It is important to come to peace with what happened.  You may find that the help of a professional counselor is needed to help you get through the grief and/or anger stage of your job loss in order to move on
  4. Talk to someone you know and trust who can help you word a response. - Talk about how you were terminated with a good friend or adviser, one who will not hesitate to point out anything you might have done better under the circumstances.  You need to work out the emotions of the termination and put them behind you before you can move forward
  5. If the prospective employer is using an Executive Search firm, find out what they know and how they are explaining your situation. - The executive search firm will share information about your termination with potential employers.  Talk frankly with them so they understand your perspective, and find out what information they will be providing.  You want to be sure that the information you provide the potential employer is in sync with the information they've received from the search firm.  If you don't know what the executive firm has told the prospective employer, you might say, "I do not know what you've been told by the executive firm or by others, but here is my take on what happened"
  6. The interviewer likely already knows that you were fired.  They are more interested in how you answer the question than on what happened. - Keep in mind that the potential employer probably knows you were fired.  They may even know why you were fired.  The council will appreciate honesty.  They want to hear your side of the story and are looking to hear how you present it
  7. Rehearse your answer. - Practicing what you will say when asked about your job loss will help you to formulate an intelligent answer that is void of your emotion.  It will also help you to keep focused and on the point an intelligent answer that is void of your emotion.  It will also help you to keep focused and on the point
  8. If it doesn't come up in the interview, bring it up. - If the interviewer doesn't bring up the subject of your being terminated, you need to bring it up.  If they don't know now, at some point in the future, they very well may find out.  If they find out after you are hired, it will appear that you either with-held information from them or lied to them.  Don't let this happen, as it could lead to more problems down the road.  Remember to be subtle; you don't want to make too much about it.  Maybe a comment like, "I imagine you are interested in why I left my last position.  I am disappointed things turned out that way, but felt you should know as you make your final decision.  If you would like more information about the experience you could contact_____."
  9. Don't place blame; there is usually blame on both sides. - Though it is easy to place all of the blame for your job loss on your former employer and possibly former staff members, keep in mind that the blame is most likely shared in some way by both you and the employer.  Regardless, it is important to explain what happened without placing blame.  If you speak poorly about your former employer during the interview process, the prospective employer may develop concerns about what you may say about them in the future
  10. Find a third-party who can answer for you and serve as a reference.- A reference on your behalf from a member of your former council and/or another leader in the community will go a long way.
  11. Above all be open and honest with the prospective employer and yourself.
Some actual responses
  1. "There were value conflicts.  I had (insert) values and the council did not".
  2. If you were let go over a specific issue, say that.  You felt X was important; the Council did not
  3. "I serve at the pleasure of the council and I didn't establish the relationships needed with the city council”. - This is one honest answer that may explain what happened to you, particularly if you were terminated after a new council was elected who wanted a change or which had a different platform than the prior council.
  4. "I was hired by a council whose primary goal was to push for growth. I think all of them and the business community will tell you I did an outstanding job. After seven years of this, a no growth council was elected which resulted in a 3-2 council that wanted change. That became apparent so we parted company on an amicable basis".
  5. "I simply misjudged the situation. It was poor communications on my part in this particular situation. I learned a lot from this and I am confident it won't happen again."
  6. If you sense that humor may be helpful in explaining the situation: "I resigned for fatigue and health reasons. The council got sick and tired of me.... "