At my first job, the environment was very stressful, had short deadlines and too much workload and was understaffed. As a result, I could not perform sufficiently and was fired.

At my second job, I moved into management, but had a different philosophy than the other manager and had my complete and working work undone. The CEO fired me.

How do I deal with past jobs and reason for leaving in a job interview?

I don't know what my ex-coworkers will say about me if they followed through with references, even though I got assurances from my last CEO and the manager they will put in a good word for me.

  • 3
    possible duplicate of How do I explain getting fired for a very bad reason to potential employers?
    – Jim G.
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 4:11
  • 4
    @Jim, the other was being fired from a single job, and it was for a very different reason (that is far more difficult to explain). While the question is similar, it is not an exact duplicate.
    – jmac
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 4:26
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    @javastudent: Seems you are still missing something in the middle. Overworked --> fired doesn't seem to make sense. You are overworked/stressed --> X; X --> fired. You might want to identify X (and possibly Y and Z), learn to recognize it early and then learn to manage it before anything gets out of hand. For example, we had to let go of what I think was very smart engineer because under stress he would forget the most basic communication skills, and us being remote team, if we can't talk to/reach you, that was a deal-breaker.
    – DXM
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 6:49
  • 1
    Hey @javastudent, you can merge your two accounts by contacting [email protected] and giving them the URLS to both of your user profiles: programmers.stackexchange.com/users/43823/javastudent and workplace.stackexchange.com/users/13163/javastudent. Please be sure to follow these instructions: workplace.stackexchange.com/help/merging-accounts Good luck!!
    – jmort253
    Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 17:32
  • 1
    @DXM: I believe he means: Overworked -> Could not deliver everything that was required on schedule -> Fired. Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 13:08

4 Answers 4


Executive Summary

  1. Be honest
  2. Don't make excuses
  3. Find the right position

Honesty is the Best Policy

Don't try to hide that you were fired. The most basic of fact checking will discover that you were, and you don't want to have to overcome a label as a liar in addition to any stigma from having been fired.

Avoid Excuses

Your question seems to suggest that getting fired was not your fault. That probably isn't going to impress future employers. Most companies go through great lengths to not fire people as it is not a fun process for the company or the employee. If you got fired, you should understand why you were fired (no, it wasn't their fault), so that you can show that the same issue will not come up again.

When someone has been fired twice in a row, the simplest explanation is that it's because they have significant faults -- not that they were in a bad situation. Be very careful not to say things like, "There was different philosophies that emerged ... CEO decided to go with manager's decision" -- if it was just a difference of opinion you may have been transferred, or if your skills were no longer required you may have been laid off, or you would have even been offered to resign. Getting fired is definitely about something more than "different philosophies".

You need to be able to show that:

  1. You understand what you did wrong
  2. You grew from the experience
  3. You know how to avoid similar mistakes in the future

Excuses torpedo any chance of showing that right out of the water.

Find the right position

If you cannot handle long hours or high-stress jobs, don't apply for jobs that require long hours or lots of stress. If you have trouble with authority, try to avoid a job where following directions without questioning them are important. You have had two jobs. You were fired from both. You do not want to make your track record even worse as it will close even more doors.

Make sure that one of your goals for the next company is to have a good positive relationship with your employer, even when you leave, so that they will act as a positive reference to show that despite being fired from your past two jobs you are able to be a positive and productive member of a company since you learned from your mistakes.

As my grandmother always told me, "If you can't play nice with others, nobody will want to play with you anymore". The same applies to work.

  • 9
    "The most basic of fact checking will discover that you were" I disagree. Disclosing the conditions of someone's termination is a breach of privacy and claiming someone was fired can be defamation.
    – user102008
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 2:40
  • 3
    Truth is a complete defense to defamation; libel; slander. Of course, you may still have to prove it in court.
    – Legato
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 18:23

My answer is different than the others and some people may not like it. The answers people have provided you are very idealistic. Sure, you may get lucky and get hired based on your "honest" answers and self discovery that you have realized that you need to communicate more effectively and give yourself breaks/vacations. While this is definitely a good thing that you learned, it probably won't get you the job.

You're not the only candidate

Look at it from the employer's perspective. They are interviewing other people besides you. Maybe a lot more. What they want to do is narrow down the pool to a few people and pick the best one. If they interview 10 people and of those 10 five were previously laid off, fired, have extremely short work duration, etc. after the interview there resumes will go in the garbage. A couple of the interviewers don't like the personalities of two of the five people. Those two go in the garbage. That means seven of ten resumes went in the garbage. Now they are down to three and will pick one of those people. Bottom line you are not in the final stack.

Twist the truth

I do agree with the other respondents that you cannot lie. What you are going to have to do is twist the truth to your favor.

Find out if you're eligible for rehire

The first thing you need to do is call the HR departments of your previous companies and ask if you are eligible for rehire. This question does not mean that they would necessarily hire you back but is more of an indication if you left on good terms. If you are eligible for rehire that is a really really really good thing because it essentially means you were not fired. When HR from the company you are applying with checks references this is a key piece of information they ask about.

At the same time a lot of companies will not give out this information and will just provide dates of employment. Reason being they are fearful of lawsuits. If you are not eligible for rehire, and the company does not provide this information, this is a very good thing for you. If you are not eligible for rehire, and the company does release this information to reference checks, this is not a good thing and you will have to come up with explanation(s) of why you were terminated. This is where the information other respondents provided comes in. From my experience most companies do not release this information.

Ask former coworkers to be references

The next thing you need to do (and it sounds like you have already done it) is ask your former supervisors and coworkers if they would mind serving as a reference for you. If you had a good relationship with them, and no performance problems (with that particular individual) you may get a good reference from them.

Make sure the references will be favorable

If you are unsure of what they will say about you I would recommend utilizing a referencing checking service (or if you are light on funds have a friend who is not in the industry call) to call your reference and ask if you are eligible for rehire. Yes, I know that you checked with HR for the official answer but this is something HR, or the person checking references) may ask your reference to get a sense of your reputation, skill set, etc. Essentially do some research on reference checks, come up with a list of 5-10 questions, and have your reference checking service (or friend) ask them.

If the responses come back favorable you know to use that reference. If they do not then see if you can substitute someone else as a reference. As an example, if the person who gave you a negative reference was a supervisor you did a lot of work for, but you also did work for another supervisor (and had a good relationship/project with) try using the later. Backtracking a a bit, in your self reference check with HR also ask who they have your direct supervisor listed as. That way you will know if that information is available to the reference checker if they ask.

Deal with unfavorable references

Let's say you have a supervisor who gives you a poor/unfavorable reference.

If company policy states that they do not provide references other than position title and dates of employment, you can reach out to the HR department about the poor reference you received. Most likely HR will then talk to the supervisor/reference and remind them of the policy of not providing references outside of the aforementioned attributes (or to direct all reference inquires to HR). If you are still feeling uncomfortable about what your supervisor will say do a follow up reference check to be sure they are not bad mouthing you.

If there is no such policy, or they still are bad mouthing you, you can get an attorney to send a cease and desist letter to tell them to stop bad mouthing you and if they don't you will take them to court. This will you about $250-300, so it's not exactly cheap.

Note: This is more of a threat to the company/individual. In most cases, unless what your reference said about you is factually false you would lose the court case. Slander/defamation is extremely difficult to prove. In example, if the reference checker asked your reference if you were trustworthy he could say no. You being trustworthy is just his opinion. If your supervisor observed you carry an office pen out with you he could deem that as not trustworthy. If he observed you pick up a been off the office parking lot pavement and not turn it into lost and found but pocket it instead that could be viewed as untrustworthy. At the same time, if the company says they don't provide reference info other than dates employed and job title will not want to deal with a lawsuit (even if they will win in the end) as they cost the company money and time. It's easier just to tell the person providing the poor reference to shut up.

Final note

My answer is based on my own experience. I have over twenty years of work experience. My last two jobs did not end of the greatest terms but know my stuff well and what I do. Unfortunately I had to use the techniques above, but they did end up working (guess I had some luck too). I feel the people who provided responses to your question have never been in your situation before. I feel it's easy to provide the idealistic advise they have given you when they have not been in your spot. I tried the stuff they said and had door after door slammed in my face when I gave my explanations.

You sound like a smart guy. Unfortunately, communication skills and knowing/asserting when you need to take a break/vacation are not skills taught in the classroom. Some of us learn these lessons the hard way as you (and I) did. Other people are just better communicators and to be honest know how to better play the game. Although things did not work out perfectly for you it sounds like you gained a lot of valuable insight/knowledge on corporate culture which will serve you well in the future. I am sure you will land on your feet and excel in your future endeavors. Best of luck to you my friend!

P.S. From rereading your post it sounds like the reason you were let go from the second job was more of a layoff as it seems the company/management wanted to go with a different approach (that of the other manager/supervisor) than you were using. Sounds like you could just state you were laid off rather than fired (assuming your record states you are "eligible for rehire").

  • 1
    What is this answer actually recommending one say during the interview? I only see "twist the truth" (which sounds like lying to me, but I digress) - it doesn't go into detail about how to do this, but rather focuses on how to make sure the lie isn't caught out. Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 9:45
  • If a supervisor is giving a bad reference, wouldn't you just stop using them as a reference instead of trying to get the reference to be less bad? (It still won't be good) Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 10:01
  • 1
    The part about favourable references applies even if you resigned or were laid off, and you don't "twist the truth". It's always useful to make sure you have good references. Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 10:52

First of all, don’t lie. Honesty is the best policy. And don’t volunteer to offer long explanation during the interview unless you are asked to do so. Just briefly state that you left the two jobs involuntarily.

About the first job you got fired, I am not too sure it was anybody's fault. You simply did not meet high expectation, that's all. I think the only thing you could have done was to quit sooner instead of fired on the job. I would tell the interviewer that I just did not meet the very high expectation if I were you. You may miss some good job opportunities because they would think you may not meet their very high expectation. However, do you really want to have a very stressful job again? If yes, then explain to the interviewer that you are willing to try again. And tell them that you will not let anybody down this time.

About the second job you got fired, I think it was your fault. You did not follow your manager's order. I would explain to the interviewer that you made a mistake and will never do it again. I think they'll understand it and some will give you another chance.

You past history is indeed important to the hiring managers. However, it's not the single factor they are looking at. They'll examine other things such as you skills, experience and also the salary you are asking. People are pragmatic. If you have what they want, you'll be hired. Just make sure that don't be fired again. You would have the third chance, I don't think you'll have the fourth one. Good luck!

  • 2
    Not getting in long explanations is a very good policy. There are so much better things to talk about in an interview. Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 20:25

What did you learn from these situations? What do you know now that may be useful in preventing these situations from happening again? While the first situation could be viewed as unreasonable expectations, consider what kinds of clues would you look for in future positions to prevent you from getting overworked? What would cause you to stand up in this kind of situation?

At the same time, consider finding a way to tell the story of what happened without excuses and rationalizations. Know what happened at various points in the story and confer with your references so that your story will align with what others may say so that it isn't like you are lying or giving the wrong information here.

Each situation is worth having an explanation but more important is what will you do differently in the future to show that you grow from these experiences rather than try to bury them or trivialize them. This is more important to my mind as most employers would appreciate someone that learns from past experience, good or bad.

  • 2
    OP Comment that was part of the answer: OP's response: It definitely is my fault for not taking the necessary steps to ensure that I do not experience burn out. On both occassions, I had a clear problem with recognizing when things got too stressful and acting. For instance, at my last job I did not take any vacation and just kept going thinking that the workload would be alleviated. This was a very costly assumption and it's now clear to me that taking vacation, managing stress appropriately and communicating these things is an essential part of the job.
    – JB King
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 17:11

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