Looking for work after you were fired

Last updated: July 17, 2024
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Rochelly Fajardo
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Looking for work after you were fired
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People look for work for a range of different reasons. Some are restless and want a change. 44% of people with a job are either looking for a new role or will be soon.

Some have been out of the workforce for a while. Others were fired and found themselves back in the job seeker pool.

If you were fired, it can feel like you’re starting from scratch. Moving forward can be daunting, but you can use this as an opportunity to reassess your career.

Today, we’ll give you the dos and don’ts of what to say in a job interview if you were fired.

Plus, we’ll share our top tips to help you find a new job.

Why do people get fired?

You can get fired for almost any reason. In the US, most workers are at-will employees, meaning they can be let go at any time. They can also quit at any time.

People lose their jobs under lots of different circumstances, so your personal experience will be unique. For example, you could be let go for taking personal phone calls at work or regularly turning up late.

Sometimes there are more serious issues. People can be fired due to work-related misconduct, such as theft, vandalism, or bullying. Employees could be drunk on the job, fail a drug test, or get arrested for a crime.

Or you might not be a good fit. Your values or work style might not match with the company, or your skills may need a boost.

It's illegal to fire someone due to discrimination or as retaliation. If you're fired for either of these reasons or your employment contract has been broken, you should seek legal advice.

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Is getting fired and being laid off the same thing?

Getting fired and being laid off aren't quite the same thing. If you're fired, it's usually because of something you've done.

If you're laid off, it means it isn't your fault. The company might be downsizing, or there might not be enough work for you. There could have been budget issues, or the company may have been taken over by new management.

You're more likely to get a severance package when you're laid off. However, this depends on how long you worked there and your job title.

If you put in a claim for unemployment benefits, being laid off can be an advantage.

Whether you're laid off or fired, the outcome is the same. You'll still be out of work and looking for a new job. Try to stay positive because your next challenge could be just around the corner.

Explaining why you were fired

We all make mistakes, and being fired by your previous employer doesn't have to be a deal-breaker.

Here are our top tips for each step of the application process to help you look for work after being fired.

How to explain why you were fired in a job application

When you first fill out a job application, you may be wondering how to bring up the fact that you were fired. The answer will depend on the type of job application it is.

For example, if the employer wants you to submit your resume, you don't need to mention your termination just yet. You should still include your recent employment in your job history, but you can focus on your skills and duties.

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Some application forms will ask for basic information. There could be a checkbox asking if you’ve ever been fired, and you should tick this. The hiring manager will ask for more information if you make it to the job interview stage.

Other application forms will be more thorough. The employer may want a few extra details before inviting you to a job interview.

Keep your answer short, take responsibility, and try to be positive. For example,

I was let go because I lacked the skills required for the position. I have since completed a short course to help me overcome this skills gap.

If they want to know more, they can ask you for more information during the interview.

How to explain why you were fired in an interview

Made it to the job interview stage? One of the questions could be "why did you leave your last job" or "why were you let go from your last job?"

Here's what to say and what not to say.

DO take responsibility when it was something you did

When you answer the question, keep it short and sweet. Take responsibility and offer a solution.

Here’s an example of what to say if you were fired due to being unreliable.

“My employment ended because I was often late for work due to a lack of public transport in my area. I have since bought a car and can now be punctual every day. Being reliable is important to me.”

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DON’T blame others when it was something you did

You should never badmouth your employer or blame other people.

Here’s an example of what NOT to say.

“My annoying boss was always complaining because I was late. It wasn’t my fault that I live in an area with no public transport. I don’t think being on time is a big deal anyway”.

DO say this when it was something out of your control

If you were laid off due to something that wasn’t your fault, keep your answer brief.

For example, if you lost your job because of the pandemic, you can say this:

“My previous employer had mass layoffs due to the recent health crisis. I’m moving forward and excited for a new opportunity.”

DON’T say this when it was something out of your control

If it wasn’t your fault, your previous employer may be happy to give you a reference. It’s important to be positive and look to the future.

Here’s an example of what NOT to say when explaining your layoff details:

“Those people didn’t handle the pandemic well at all. Instead of valuing their employees, they let us go. Surely the managers could have paid my weekly wage out of their own pockets. I have nothing good to say, and I hope they realize what they have done to me.”

Tips to help you get a job after you’ve been fired

We all make mistakes, and being fired by your previous employer doesn't have to be a deal-breaker.

Here are our top tips to help you look for work after being fired.

1. Be honest

Don’t try to hide the fact that you were fired. Prospective employers will be able to verify your information, and you don't want to get caught lying.

You should choose the right time to bring up the issue. Unless you're asked on your application, wait for the job interview.

We've already given you examples of what to say and what not to say above. You can also read this list of common interview questions and answers.

2. Keep it positive

If you've lost your job, you may be feeling down. Try to be positive, and use this as an opportunity to start fresh.

Potential employers don't want to know about drama in the workplace. They want to know that you're a hard worker and good at what you do.

Keep the emotions out of it, and don't badmouth anybody. For example, don't talk negatively about your previous boss or co-workers.

Your cover letter provides employers with a strong first impression. Read our top cover letter tips to help make it a positive one. Plus, we have cover letter templates ready to go. Focus on the good things, and try to be positive throughout the hiring process.

3. Consider your career path

Think about why you were fired. Maybe it wasn’t the right job for you, or your skills would be better suited to another career field.

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The company might have been the wrong fit, and you want to stick with what you know — but with a different employer.

Either way now is the time to think about what you want to do next. You can do our What Job Should I Have Quiz and talk to friends who work in different industries.

4. Change your language

Sometimes, changing a few words can make a big difference. If you say "I was fired" or "I was terminated," it can sound negative.

Instead, look for gentler alternatives. Try these:

  • I was let go

  • My services were no longer needed

  • The company had to downsize

  • My contract wasn't renewed

  • I was relieved of my duties

  • We parted ways

5. Improve your skills

If a lack of skills let you down in your previous role, you can upskill to prepare for your next job.

Before you apply for a new position, read the job description. What skills do you need? Does your experience level match the minimum requirements?

For example, you could look at additional training to boost your computer, driving, or business skills. Or you could sign up for a community program or take a short course online.

The effort you've made will impress future employers. You can mention your training on your resume.

6. Use your network

Employers will be more understanding of your circumstances if they know you or if you have strong employment references.

Look at your professional network. These are the people around you who want you to achieve success in your career. For example, they could be fellow employees, friends, family members, teachers, and previous managers.

Do they know anyone who is hiring? Can they give you advice to help you get into a new position? Or can they write you a letter of recommendation?

Can you get unemployment benefits when you get fired?

​​If you're out of work, support may be available from both state and federal governments. Your eligibility for unemployment insurance can depend on your zip code and individual circumstances.

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For example, you might meet the minimum benefit eligibility requirements if you were in the workplace for a long time. If you were laid off, you'd also have an advantage.

If you are approved for unemployment insurance benefits, there will be a waiting period week where you won't get paid. After that, you can get a weekly benefit payment as long as you keep looking for work.

If you have a medical condition, you may be eligible for disability insurance.

What is a re-employment service?

If you meet the minimum eligibility requirements and have a successful unemployment claim, extra help could be available.

Re-employment services work with you and help you find a new job. If you've been laid off and your industry is no longer in demand, these services can support you in transitioning to a new career.

Plus, if your job search attempts aren't going anywhere, you can get advice and an employment plan. These are personalized services from the Public Workforce System. It's a network of services that have been funded by state, local, and federal governments. You can learn more on the government's website.

If you want to get work after being fired, you'll need to apply. Where do you start? By visiting our job board, of course.

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You can check which jobs are available in your area, and you can search by job title or company name. You can also look for remote roles by selecting "remote work only."

Looking for work when you were fired

Been fired? Take a few deep breaths and get ready to move on.

If you need to explain why you were fired in an application or job interview, choose your words carefully. Keep it short, and only tell them the basics. You can take responsibility and explain any changes you’ve made.

To improve your chances of getting a job, be honest and keep it positive. Change your language, and avoid words like “fired” and “terminated.” Consider your career path, and enroll in training courses to improve your skills.

Use your network because a reference could be the key to getting your next job.

Don’t forget to put in an application for benefits. Unemployment insurance can help you get through until you get hired again.

Start your job search by visiting our job board. Then, check out our resource center for more articles like this one.



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