Finding a New Job After Being Fired

You have the abilities, attributes and experience to wow any hiring manager on paper and in person — except for that one time you were fired. What to do?

When the rest of your resume is impressive, it’s frustrating to know that a gap in your employment history might jump off the page and leave doubts in the minds of many hiring managers. While you don’t want to hide — or worse, lie about — such a blemish, you may be able to turn this negative into a positive. A little preparation and attention to detail can go a long way. Here are some tips on how to get a job after being fired.

Shake up your resume

The best way to write a resume that compensates for an employment gap is to use a hybrid format that lists your relevant skills, experience and other qualifications first. Then detail your employment history in reverse chronological order. When you list your strong points first, there’s a better chance that hiring managers will be impressed enough to want to talk with you despite the gap.

You might also consider including work-related activities you participated in while you were unemployed — perhaps taking online classes or volunteer positions at local nonprofits. Treat these as you would any other position: Note the dates and list your responsibilities.

The same goes for your cover letter. Describe your volunteer work or coursework as things that make you a good fit for this opening, just like relevant work experience. The point is to show that you used the time to do something productive that enhanced your qualifications for the position.

No matter what you do, though, don’t go out of your way to explain gaps in your employment history at this stage. Save that for the interview, as it’s always easier to explain these kinds of situations face-to-face.

Have your answer ready

If you’re called in for an interview, you can pretty much guarantee the hiring manager will ask about your employment gaps. Be prepared with a strong response.

First off, it’s important to be honest. If you provide a less-than-truthful reason for leaving your job and get an offer, the employer could easily get the information about your termination while performing reference checks to verify your background, and that could cause the company to withdraw the offer.

Second, keep your initial answer short and succinct. If you ramble and overexplain the situation, the hiring manager might wonder whether you’re covering something up. The best response is a simple, direct one, such as, “Unfortunately, the company terminated me.”

Third, explain briefly the circumstances, what you learned from the experience, and how you’ve grown in the aftermath or made changes in your life to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. For example, if you were fired for performance issues, explain that you may not have had a full grasp of the company’s expectations for the position, then describe how you’ve developed and honed the areas where you were weaker — especially if they’re relevant to the position you’re applying for.

And be very careful that you don’t badmouth the manager or company that fired you. It never helps. Presenting yourself as a positive, accountable person who learns from setbacks is a key part of understanding how to get a job after being fired.

Ask for recommendations

Your boss may have fired you, but there are probably other former colleagues who would speak to the many professional skills or positive attributes you have to offer. Ask former coworkers for LinkedIn recommendations or to serve as references as you look for a new job, as long as you left those relationships on positive terms. 

Having a recommendation or two from former colleagues can demonstrate to future employers that your work was valued by those other than the individual who terminated your employment. Just keep in mind that some companies don’t allow employees to offer recommendations for legal reasons. 

Addressing other work history blemishes

Getting fired from a previous job isn’t the only work-history issue that can be challenging to describe in a cover letter, resume and interview. Other hiccups can be explained to a potential new employer just as easily.

Job hopping — Employers have traditionally considered holding too many different positions as a sign of career instability. The good news is that attitudes are changing. In a survey, 58 percent of respondents felt that job hopping could be beneficial to their careers, especially if it helped them gain new skills. Be sure to highlight the growth opportunities you found by switching jobs, and avoid comments like, “I was offered more money.” It might make the hiring manager believe that you’d leave any position for better wages.

Sticking around too long — Having the same job for many years shows some desirable traits, like dependability, loyalty and consistency. However, it might also cause a hiring manager to think you resist change. If this is your issue, use the cover letter, resume and interview to describe how you grew in your role. For example, if you were an executive assistant for 15 years, perhaps you gained more supervisory responsibilities over the years, starting with one employee and eventually managing six, which allowed you to develop managerial skills and a deep network.

Don’t be intimidated by work history blemishes. Thoughtful answers that demonstrate your growth, development and willingness to accept responsibility may actually work in your favor and help you get a new job after being fired.