Until today I worked at a top firm as a star-performer and was set to get a promotion in the next few weeks, however I was let go. I had made a poor judgement error in our systems that was wrong but would have only impacted things temporarily (36 hours). My intern (who I directly supervised) on his own recreated my process 77 times over resulting in a massive credit due to the client. I was fired for both failing to correctly supervise my intern's actions and my poor judgement call.

What is the best way to explain this in an interview that doesn't seem like I'm blaming my staff (red flag) while remaining as truthful to the facts as possible?


4 Answers 4


You're not at all being clear on what happened.

  1. You said you made a poor judgement call.

    • Did you make that call on the fly, or is the judgement call defensible in view of the facts available to you at the time?

    • You may have made your judgement call based on assumptions that may have turned out to be wrong. When you make assumptions, you verify that they check out the minute the verification is doable - They beat that concept into my head when I was in engineering school. What steps did you take to verify your assumptions, if you made assumptions?

    • How long did it take before you began to realize that the outcome from your judgement call was not what your expected? When I have to make decisions about the unknown, I am very careful to list expected interim outcomes so that I don't have to wait for a fully developed outcome before I realize that I took the wrong fork in the road.

    • Were you, given the unknowns you had to deal with, careful to make your decisions as reversible as possible? (I guess not)

  2. What the hell were you busy doing while your intern was going on a rampage, re-running your process no less than 77 times? How is it that the intern did this stuff without even the pretense of consulting you? Were you fully occupied/distracted with investigating the consequences of your judgement call, or what? Was it a situation where your making a poor judgement call created a bad situation, made worse by either your failure to supervise your intern or your intern's failure to run his actions by you? Did you explicitly or implicitly discourage your intern from communicating with you while you were dealing with the crisis created by your judgement call?

  3. You pooh pooh the impact of your decision as temporary (36 hours). HOWEVER, did your firm and its clients sign an SLA (Service Level Agreement) that would have cost the firm an arm and a leg, if the terms of the SLA had been breached?

I am not convinced that you have taken the time to fully digest your actions and their impact as of yet, and your first concern seems to be a rush on how to spin the incident to your next prospective employer rather than draw some hard lessons from your mistakes, with the goal of not repeating them. And make no mistake, the last thing your next prospective employer wants is a rerun of this bad movie and you will have to go out of your way to decisively convince them that there WON'T be a rerun of this bad movie.

If I were to interview you, I would be asking you "What should you have done?" and "What would you have done differently?" - not in the glow and backseat driving certainty of 20/20 hindsight, but given the facts that were available to you at the time and given the same capability to dig for additional, relevant facts.

This is for those who insist on an answer:

What is the best way to explain this in an interview that doesn't seem like I'm blaming my staff (red flag) while remaining as truthful to the facts as possible?

Your question is really off this planet: anyone who listens to what you have to say and who pays attention to what you have to say is going to have no trouble figuring out that you are 100% to blame.

  1. ANY attempt - and worse, perceived, rightly or wrongly, attempt at shifting the blame from you to someone else - that attempt will have a terminal effect on your job candidacy. You'll be slaughtered.

  2. That aspect of your performance that got you fired is a pig. ANY attempt to put lipstick on that pig by say pooh poohing the impact will be immediately seen as such and dealt with terminal dispatch.

  3. If your next prospective employer gets the impression, rightly or wrongly,that you didn't learn a damn thing from your experience, that next prospective employer will immediately conclude that you are about to repeat your experience at their expense and terminally deal with your job candidacy.

Excuse me if I believe that you lack candor. Which raises another point: your job candidacy is going to be doomed with your next prospective employer if it believes, rightly or wrongly, that you are not being totally candid. That next prospective employer will act as judge, jury and executioner with no possibility of appeal from you.

  • 3
    You are not answering the question. Not constructive.
    – Myles
    Oct 27, 2014 at 18:31
  • Hi Vietnhi, while this is perhaps useful, can you edit to include information which actually answers the question? Right now it's commentary on the situation the asker is in rather than an answer to their question. Thanks!
    – enderland
    Oct 27, 2014 at 18:49
  • 4
    @enderland The asker is asking a totally out of place question i.e. how do I spin this disaster to an interviewer, considering the situation that he put himself in. To put it plainly, he is asking the wrong question and he is asking the wrong question because he is looking at his situation the wrong way. And looking at the situation the wrong way is going to cost him dearly at the next interview. Oct 27, 2014 at 19:53
  • @enderland The one thing you don't try to do is spin a judgment call that negatively affected the systems for 36 hours and the failure to supervise a subordinate who repeated the same bad move 77 times. Anyone who tries to do this at an interview is looking at his own corpse. Oct 27, 2014 at 19:58

If you want to explain your firing and avoid the impression that you are blaming your staff, you should not use sentences where the intern is the subject and you use the active voice. For instance, don't use "My intern repeated my process..." If you do, then you are saying the reason you were fired is something he did, which is blaming your intern.

Instead, talk about your part in the active voice. Something like "I gave insufficient supervision to an intern, and allowed my bad judgment call to be repeated 77 times."

That is not a nice thing to have to say during an interview, and I don't know if I would, but I think it does answer the question.


I would suggest telling them what you did wrong and what you learned from that and what steps you would take to avoid making the same mistake again.


What is appropriate (both honest and best for the interview) depend heavily on a large number of details.

Based on what you've described to me, if I were interviewing you the things I would need to know to decide if I'm going to consider you are...

Was it a mistake?

We all make choices based on the available data, if we are doing what logically the data points to then if it doesn't work out it's not really a mistake, it's the best choice we had based on the data that happened to not work out.

When you made this choice that didn't work out

  • Did you have sufficient data to act in an informed manner?
  • If not, was this a situation that needed immediate action, or could action have been delayed?
  • If so did you follow what made sense based on your data, or go against what that data implied.

What I'm trying to establish here is was your mistake the decision itself, or your approach to the decision. One is just unfortunately the way things worked out, the other is a mistake.

Neither is "good" but one I would easily let slide as a one off, the other though would be a solid ding against you. (not that it would prevent me from hiring you entirely, just it would mean you'd need to have something to make up for the ding)

Leadership concern

The next question comes to play in leadership of your intern. You made a choice that didn't work out or a mistake, either way these things happen, we're all human.

Where did things go wrong with the intern?

This is very important to me even more so than the choice itself, the choice is potentially a one off, failure in leadership on top of that could be a deal breaker.

How long after you made the erroneous choice was the error known?

Immediately, a few minutes, a few hours, days?

You mention the intern had time to repeat this problem 77 times. This could happen within fractions of a seconds all the way to over the course of months.

The two big questions I have here are:

  • Did you take the time to see the results of your actions before the intern was cut loose to repeat them? and
  • Once the problem was discovered how long was the intern repeating the issue until stopped?

If the windows were tight and everything looked on the up and up I wouldn't hold it against you, it'd fall into the one off snowballing, which is unfortunate, but not a big deal.

If you never confirmed things were in order before cutting the intern loose, or there was a large window between discovery of the problem and putting a stop to the intern's repeating it that's a real big concern, and one that could potentially get you pulled from consideration.

The next question is did you know the intern was doing this? Basically to me it's only an issue from the moment it became known to the moment it was put to a stop, or if the window was simply too big.

What should you say?

This depends on the nature of the company and the details.

I would need a number of things from you. First you need to fully shoulder the blame, the only way the intern catches blame in my book is if they acted against your guidance. (Doesn't appear to be the case here)

Now shouldering the blame is a plus in my book, it means you take responsibility of your actions which is important, no one likes the guy who deflects blame on others.

Honestly if you have a decent work history, top performer, etc. Even if this was a legitimate mistake you made an assumption, things derailed, and while you started trying to put together the pieces your guidance of the intern went down the tubes I can actually forgive all that.

So long as you take ownership of your actions both good and bad, and you are able to convince me this will never happen again.

Will this get you the job? Not necessarily, but it won't cost you the job either, all depends on who you're up against. The way this will cost you any hope with me is if you seem to be blaming others, or if I feel the mistakes made will be repeated.

  • 2
    I will point out that one lesson the OP should have learned is that is it never appropriate for interns to have production rights. There should be no way it is possible forthem to do anything on a production datbase server or web server or any other kind of production server.
    – HLGEM
    Oct 29, 2014 at 18:17

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