Fired: What to say on a job application

What to Do after Being FiredShould I give a detailed explanation on my job application about why I was fired? The answer is NO – that is unless you really don’t want the job! You will have to put down a reason why you left your last job on a job application and if you were fired, then what you put down is really important. Depending on how you explain why you were fired will either spark an invitation for an interview or your job application will be rejected and put into the “do not call” pile.

It is important not to lie on the application as it is a legal document. People have been fired after being hired because they falsified something on their application.

Your reason for leaving your previous company should be short and to the point. This is not the time to try to explain why you were fired and why it was not fair. To be honest, don’t even try to explain why it is not fair at any time during the job application or interview process. You will lose 99% of the time, even if the termination was not justified. Just because there is a space for an answer on an application doesn’t mean you have to fill it out. If it is an online application and it is requiring an answer you can always use:

  • n/a – not applicable
  • Open to discuss at interview

Another way you could answer the question about why you left a previous company is to say you were let go – this could be the result of being fired or laid off. Both of these reasons are considered involuntary terminations. In fact, you could just say you were involuntary terminated. If you say you were let go or involuntary terminated, you will have greater chance of getting an interview because lots of people have been laid off over the last several years. Expect more questions about the involuntary termination in your interview and be ready with a solid and confident answer.

Here is a video from my YouTube channel that goes into more detail. Subscribe to the channel to get the latest videos.

Please note: I get a lot of questions on this post for specific advice. I generally respond to anyone that writes a comment, however, do not expect to receive advice that is 100% relevant to your situation. There is always more to the story and that requires me to work with people individually in a coaching session. If you do not have the funds to work with a career coach, you can 1) research other articles on Elephants at Work and glean an answer that works for you or 2) consider purchasing either of my eBooks, put in a little elbow grease and craft your own answers. Bottom line: making it work takes some kind of investment of your time, money or resources.

  1. I was not given a clear reason as to why I was terminated. But I know that it was due to an student intern came to me with concerns about the director grabbing her behind and sending her inappropriate text messages. I didn’t know what was going on when she handed me her phone to read a text message he had just sent her. As she did so he was watching from a distance through my glass door. I referred her to her instructor, the coordinator, and the local police department. The next day the coordinator call the director and told him everything the student had expressed to her. The student informed me that the coordinator had called her a liar and told the student that she knew the director personally and he would not do such a thing. I was terminated the following day. So what do I say in my interview?

    • Jessie, the first step is to ask the HR department for the reason or to look at your termination paperwork if they gave you any for the reason why the company has let you go. When you ask the company, tell them you have to put something down on your application that is accurate so you need to know what they will say.

      After that, I would suggest getting my eBook – What to Do After Being Fired. I walk you through what to say and how to say it on your application and during an interview. If in fact, what you state is the reason why – you can work through how to say it. If it is something else, you can tailor your conversation differently. Good Luck!

      • Jessie – I gave you some general steps to take. I do not give out specific advice on this blog because everyone – including your situation is different. I spend hours writing articles that provide people with guidance – not always answers as a courtesy. I excel at what I do because I am thorough and that means asking questions and understanding the circumstances around a situation (more than a paragraph) so that I can provide sound advice. That process takes time – time that my clients pay me for. So…to be blunt, continue to do some research and try to figure out what to do on your own or pony up and pay for advice from a professional (it doesn’t have to me) and invest in your future. Good luck.

        • I think you were very profession in your response considering she was ungrateful and rude. That may very well be why she was fired.

          • Very well said, I know some would expect more because this blog has almost a direct contact with you but at the same time, like you stated, you are a professional. It wouldn’t be expected for an attorney to give sound advice without some type of reimbursement for their time, why should it be any different for you?
            I look forward to reading your book.

          • You have a lot going on. I don’t think you will have any problem telling a prospective employer (as long as it is in a different type of workplace) that the jail was a not a good work environment for you. That being said, you may want to reflect on the way you handled the situation (since that is all you can control) and reflect if there were other ways you could have done things to mitigate or not escalate other people’s reactions to what you are saying or doing. It’s all about organization politics – and that is not always what is “right”.

  2. Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for the article. My situation is a little different. I am currently employed and have been for the last 6 years, but the employment I had previous to my current employer is where I was terminated. Now I am looking to move on and I am looking for work, but I notice with all the applications I come across I am asked the question, “were you terminated?” Sometimes the application will ask this and not even provide a room to explain the situation.

    All of the applications I have been filling out (online and paper applications) have been very straightforward with this question and leave no wiggle room. The incident of termination is not even related to my current employment. What is the best way to answer this on my application? Do I still put down that I was terminated even though it was some years ago and not related to my last/current employer?

    I was not terminated for anything unethical at all and I’ve learned and grown from that and that has never been an issue again, but still, years later, I’m not sure how to manage this when applying for work now.


    • Yes, you have to state the reason for why you left. I cover it all in my eBook: What to Do After Being Fired – how to say it and what to put down on the application. If you want to talk about your specific situation directly, I have a 90 minute coaching session where I help you work through all your concerns.

  3. I was in a position for 8 months, and then given the option of resigning or being fired, based on my job performance. I chose to resign. Do you have any specific advice on how to address this situation? What about at the job interview? I’m not sure what a good, solid answer would be in this circumstance.

    Thank you.

    • Scott, the truth always prevails unless you are throwing your company or boss under the bus. Everyone’s answer is a little different because circumstances are different. I would suggest getting my eBook What to Do After Being Fired – it walks you through how to have this very discussion. There are a number of exercises in there for you to work on that will help you craft your unique answer. If you are looking for personal one-on-one help, work with a career coach and nail it down fast because that is what will get you back to work sooner.

  4. I was let go for taking medication needed for my ADA protected disability which is not physically obvious. I have filled a claim, but I still need a job. What do I put on an application, and if by the grace of God I get an interview, what do I say when asked.

    • Hi Jared,

      I have also been fired. I was looking for counsel (a lawyer) to help me with my wrongful termination. They said due to the employer not discriminating against sex, creed, DISABILITY, or gender I did not have a case. I was a whistle blower for being bullied with a substantiated case against my boss.

      You have a case if you so choose to push the matter. They are not allowed to discriminate or fire you because you take ADA medication on the job. I know there is always more to the story than what one writes on these blogs. I was doing it the old fashioned way, pay for it, the lawyer. I tried a different avenue, per a friend’s advice, to contact a personal injury lawyer. It didn’t cost me a dime. You are going to have to dig and work on this. But even though tons of people have been terminated, it still does not make it any easier explaining the reason.

      Good Luck!

  5. I agree 100% with your article. I recently had an over the phone prescreening with a potential job applicant. This applicant was so bitter towards the company that laid him off I couldn’t interview him.
    Just for me to learn that his whole division closed. I spent 20 minutes lecturing on interview skills.

    I enjoy reading your articles!

  6. I was fired from my job for venting on social media about my job person went into another person page to get to my page, copy it and turned it into a manager. A week after I got fired from my job I found out I had breast cancer. So on applications when it ask, Reason for leaving: illness. Do you think this is the wrong answer to put down.

    • If a new employer calls to verify why you left that employer and they said you were let go or fired, your new employer will most likely rescind their offer because they can not trust what you say is accurate.

  7. I was fired after being employed 6months because one of the supervisors did not like me. He had already tried to get me fired on one previous occasion. A big part of my job is driving truck and safe driving is a high priority. Everyone I’ve driven with has stated I was a good driver and that they had no complaints. I lightly nicked on of the wheel wells turning into a gas station and my partner I was working with told me not to fill an incident report. The supervisor used the incident to get me fired and made it sound like an unsafe driver. What do I put on my job applications when they ask if I’ve been fired?

  8. I was fired in 12-2014 on hearsay that was not true. I went to the unemployment hearing & when my employer with his attorney came & saw me they walked outside then left before the hearing. I testified before the judge under oath what really happened & won . The judge said my testimony under oath weighed more than their hearsay. They said I was fired because of disciplinary regarding my work. the judge in the decree stated that was not true & there was another reason but she was not sure what that reason was. I have applied for 250 jobs since my termination & have been completely honest about it on all of my applications & phone interviews but nothing. I am qualified for the jobs I have applied for and I have won many customer service awards. I really have no answer of why I was fired except people lied & those lies were believed ,what can I say? . I usually say ” I really don’t know” then briefly explain what I just told you .I have my old manager & assistant manager on my side & use them as references . They were shocked that I was fired & said if they had a say I would still be there,btw I was at that job almost 3 years .

    • Chris, as with many of the questions that people ask, yours is complicated. It is important what you say, how you say it to the prospective employer and how you state it on the application to get the interview. I would suggest you pick up my eBook, What to Do After Being Fired to work through the exact wording or read some of the other articles. If you have the funds available, I would suggest you work directly with an career coach to work through the kinks.

  9. Hello Lynn~
    I was let go from my recent place of employment. I will be having an interview with a new company. Here’s the dilemma: I had to had a few more in depth things to my work description (they previously have my resume from another department before I was let go) they were waiting for me to send the new resume. I quickly added all of the in depth items to mail it to them, but forgot to put the let go date on my resume.
    Would you update the resume and send them a new one or would you update it and have it with you for the interview and bring it up (I am sure they will notice it)
    Thank you.

    • Connie, Bring the updated resume with you to the interview. Don’t make a big deal about it, just give to them when you meet them. It should not be a deal killer. Good luck!

  10. I was fired because, I got sick 4hrs into my shift. I asked my supervisor if I could go home,he said yes. I got to work the next day and was told,””I couldn’t take anymore days off”. I still had 24hrs of vacation time up and he took me to his office took my ID and walk me to the door.

  11. I was an At-Will senior level manager working for a local municipality for over 8 years. Less than four months after the new executive manager was hired, he fired me referring to my At-Will status. He was my 3rd manager and both previous administrations gave me stellar reviews and merit raises. The city gave me a severance and as Iong as I signed my life away, the option of saying I voluntarily left my position. Prior to this termination, and for almost 30 years, I had never left one job unless I was going directly on to a better opportunity. My old position has not been posted and the rumor is that the executive manager will post it as a different position/title. Several people have told me to say my position was eliminated, but I am hesitant. But, I also don’t know what to list as my reason for “leaving my position”. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

  12. I was terminated from my job, on of the co employees reported to HR that i had Help a relative with a transaction. This Person used to give me a hard time at work, I related this to my manager , but she never did anything. I started collection unemployment, but they appealed , I appealed too, while in front of judge, my ex manager say that I was a very good worker and that she never had a problem with me. the judge dismiss the claim. I got my unemployment, but still i dont have a job. I am too embarrass to say i was fired.

  13. Lynn,

    First off, thanks for the info and articles you have posted. Second, I was “let go” due to tardiness issues (I own it, it was my fault,) my question is what is the best way to explain, when asked, “Why were you let go or Expound on why you were let go,” when it has to do with tardiness?

    • Allison,

      You have to own it. Explain what you learned about the experience and how you plan to be on time. If you need more help on figuring out what to say, I recommend picking up my eBook.


  14. My son was just let go because he did not put that he passed a bad check 9 years ago. Do you think if he went to the person in charge and tried to explain he forgot about it and ask for another chance, it would do any good?

    • Liz, There are some jobs that companies will not hire someone who has had issues with fiscal responsibility. If that is the case, there is probably no recourse. Also, if the company has a precedent for terminating a similar situation, they will uphold the termination. He can ask, he may get lucky.

  15. My son was let go of his first job in a specific field after a year because he was slower doing the work. He does have an interview with a new company for the same type of job. What can he say in the interview about why he was let go to make it sound like he has learned and from this and is now a good candidate for the job?

  16. I am a high school student and I play 3 sports but I needed a job for my car I was working at a fast food restaurant over the summer and it paid pretty good and I had alot of hours once fall sports came around I told my boss I couldn’t work as much and gave them my schedule one night and i figured it would be alright well I went to practice and during practice I got a call from my boss saying to show up or I’m fired the word never got to my other boss that I wasn’t coming in and by the time I got the message on my phone practice was over and it was 3 hours later so I got fired and they don’t really like me anymore because they thought I walked out well now I’m applying for another job and they want me to put my recent employers down and that’s my only one what do I do if they call and talk to my previous boss I’m sure I won’t get the job

    • Josh,

      I applaud you for wanting to work, however, many companies will not work around sports schedules, especially if they are short handed. If you do find a company that will accommodate your schedule, communicate with them way in advance. There may be times when they can not accommodate and you will be forced to make a decision about work or sports. The company’s first priority is to serving their customers and they want employees who are willing to be there.

  17. in my situation all blame was mine management and safety inspector where against me Your behavior was witnessed by several individual’s as abusive ,violent, and intimidating and your employment has been terminating effective today. I don’t now what to do? ——–by the way I was working for the company 19 years and am 57 years old.

  18. I was terminated due to the fact that I shared my employee discount with family members and because I had more than one rewards account. What can I say on a next job application?

  19. Worked at a store that gives back the personal check once ran through our system. I was terminated because this specific transaction the check should’ve been kept. I was totally unaware. But on the seperation form she filed “inability to perform job” in the reasoning spot. If asked to explain why I was fired during an interview do I give them the reasoning she wrote?? Or? Please help

  20. I’m an STNA and have been for 9 yrs. I worked for a company for 8 yrs and was fired due to an incident that occured with a fall from a resident. It was justified that I wasn’t the cause of the fall but failure to provide care after the fall and that it took 3mins. That’s what they say? But I clearly did what I suppose to do which which was which was make sure that the resident was safe and went to report it to the nurse. Im in the middle of a litigation against the company with my union. HELP!!! I NEED HELP!!! I’m so nervous and scared that this will affect future jobs.

  21. Hi Lynn,
    Thank you very much for your article and advices.
    I was terminated for watching unappropriated content in the company laptop. I talked to HR and they told me they wont release the reason of termination or even that I was terminated. They will just release the dates of employment, my last position title and my last salary. What should I answer in the application form to the question reason for leaving? And what about in the interview?
    Thank you very much

  22. I was told that i was being terminated by the “AT WILL ” Employment contract. I received a letter of Severance Agreement & General Release. I did not notice another form that says Discharge but no reason.
    What can i say for reason for leaving on my next application. I was thinking of putting: Severance Agreement & General Release received as part of AT WILL employment or Severance received as part of AT WILL employment . Would that be enough?

  23. I was terminated because an acquaintance sent an email saying some not so nice things about management. He called them idiots and said they had no people skills and could use more training in how to deal with their employees and members. Instead of deleting the email on accident I forwarded the email to my entire department, not good. Management read the email and I was fired two hours later.

    When applying for a new job what do I put down as ‘reason for leaving job’? HR said it was for ‘poor personal judgment’. to me that seems like I was drinking or being wild at work. I was there for 8 years and back in December during our yearly evaluation I scored very high.

    I feel like a fool fro what happened and I do see where I messed up.


  24. I just got fired from a childcare position because i lost a child. the reason they put in the letter was “violation of association procedures pertaining child abuse prevention training” aka: i lost a child and it was a big deal. (dont get me wrong, it REALLY was a big deal) im applying for a job and it requires me to put down past employment with reason of termination. could you possibly help me with what to put down on paper and what to say at an interview?

  25. Question, if the interviewer asks about prion discipline, and you are currently under your second discipline in 10 years, what would be the best way to go.

    • Jon,
      It is not customary for someone to ask about disciplinary action unless they have cause to do so or you gave them the impression that you were under some stress to leave your current organization. If you opened up the can of worms, then come clean. Ideally, you don’t want the question to come up.

  26. hello i was employed with southwest airlines for about 4 months still under the 6 month probation period. i recently got let go, and i feel like it wasn’t fair, reason they said i was let go was because the one of the managers sent out an email to all hiring manager stating that i was late to my gate which wasn’t true i was at my gate on the phone talking to dispatch for revised paper work for my aircraft, that one of the supervisor instructed me to do, in between talking on the phone and talking to my customer service agent my plane arrived without me noticing it was there, the aircraft waited for me about 2 minutes to pull the Jetway up the plane. next day they called me in to the office and suspended me and gave me a meeting date within 3 day and said that unfortunately they needed to let me go, i asked for evidenced or a copy of the email sent and they denied it.

    what can i do in a situation like this as far as suing?

    what to say in a job interview?

    • Luisa, During probation status, the employer can fire you or let you go for any reason. If they get an inkling that you may not be a good fit for the work, culture or if your manager does not like you, they let you go. On your application say, you were let go during the probationary period. What you say after that in the interview is MUCH MORE IMPORTANT. In my eBook, What to Do After Being Fired I help you craft that message. Good luck!

  27. I was recently let go of my job because of scheduling errors and attendance (my fault). The thing is I was still in in training (paid training) and had never started work. How do I put that on a resume or application?

  28. If you where fired for failing a ramdom drug test. What do you put on your next job application and how do you explain that in a interview ?

  29. I was terminated by my last employer and now I got a new job where they want satisfactory references. What should I do to get into this job without any hurdle.

  30. So i Worked at an office supply store for a year and a half. I took on 6 different positions in my time there and was only paid .25 cents over a new hire. I unwillingly gave up brakes and lunches (reported to HR Several times) and worked over my part time qualifications. And For all my Trouble i was terminated. The store hit a “high Shrink” status after the store was robbed of several thousands of dollars of ink, so i put the district offices in to lock up mode. They fired me because i took cut and torn scrap paper from the Printing department home to burn as kindling, and saw that as theft. It was a clear pre-baked idea so they can put down on paper that the issue was addressed. I have been trying to find work for a month and this seems to be the blocker. Ive been told not to put it down at all in applications but that leaves a 2 year gap of employment.

    • Ryan,

      Gaps in resumes pose problems. Future employers want to know why there is a gap and if you are hiding something. No matter which approach you take, you will have to explain either why you left or why the gap. Good luck.


  32. i was employed for 14 years at home depot and in that time i was given many awards for a job well done. The thing is, a couple weeks later you will get written up for something that happened weeks ago. I had some write ups that happened just like that and then i was saying a joke to a customer and he was saying a joke to me. When i said my joke another customer happened to hear the joke and did not understand it so she complained which escalated to corporate. Home Depot said the hoke was misconduct and to make things worse, they denied my unemployment so i ended up appealing it. The judge did not think it was offensive and reserved my unemployment. I have also tried to fight for my job back but i was told i have no case.

    • Ken,

      Unfortunately, it is unlikely Home Depot will reinstate your position. Showcase your awards in your interviews with new employers. Take the lessons you learned from this experience to ensure you do not make the same mistake again. Good luck!

  33. I had moved to a new location and waiting for a transfer to go through.Transfer didn’t go through as planned.. I wasn’t able to get back and forth to work.I lived too far away.My attendance ended up going below their standards to keep employment..Also, I decided along the time that I wanted a career change. I called employer and told him that I was having transportation issues..He said from looking at my attendance that I should quit or most likely would be terminated..I did not mentioned quitting because at this time I need some type of income. I have not received a call or paperwork yet about termination or anything..I’ve been filling out applications. On applications I ended checking off that I’ve been fired but for reasons, I don’t have no idea of what to say. I need your help. Thank you

  34. I was fired for insubordination, I don’t know what to put on my reason for leaving my job, and would I give them permission to contact my former employer. What should I say if I get a interview. How do I explain the reason I was terminated.