how do employers know if you’re answering “have you ever been fired” honestly?

A reader writes:

I’ve always wondered how employers check if you’ve ever been fired. I know this is a common pre-screening question. It’s shown up on several job applications I’ve filled out (thankfully I’ve always been able to say no). It seems like this question is only going to catch honest people who may have had some bad luck, or made a mistake. If someone were fired for something egregious, such as theft, then I don’t see why they’d have any qualms lying on a form.

The liar might get caught during a reference check, but probably not if the firing was done five or six years ago. Most job searchers are going to use references they’ve worked with recently, and even good employees may not stay in touch with people they haven’t worked with in 5+ years.

Yeah, the reality is that in a lot of cases, you could get away with lying about that question. Or you could get caught — but you’re right that there’s a not-insignificant chance of getting away with it.

There are some ways for employers to find out. Obviously if you list the job on your resume or application, they could call for a reference (even if you don’t specifically list them as a reference) and find out that way. But even if you don’t list the job, they could potentially find out about the job in other ways: If they ask an employer who you did list about where you went after leaving them (or where you were before coming to them), that job could get mentioned. Or a reference might mention the job in passing for some other reason. Or they might find out through The Work Number, which is a online database for employment verifications, which might list every job you’ve ever held, if all of those employers pay to subscribe to the service themselves (but lots of employers don’t, especially small employers, so it’s far from comprehensive).

So it’s not as simple as “I can definitely leave this job off my resume and never mention it and it won’t ever come up in a future job search.” But it’s possible that you could do that. And it wouldn’t necessarily be crazy for someone to decide that the odds are good enough that they’ll give it a shot. The downside, of course, is that if you do get caught, now you not only have to explain a firing but also a lie — and the lie is likely to be more damning.

(And of course, if this is a background check for a government job or security clearance, you really, really need to tell the truth. In that case, it could be a much bigger deal not to.)

{ 187 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon please today*

    Oh, crap, there’s a place called The Work Number? Does it list jobs from, say, 30+ years ago in which the business is no longer in business?

    1. strawberries and raspberries*

      The Work Number only lists companies that are also on The Work Number. Basically you put in the individual’s social security number and it will list all the companies it has a record of for that person. If you’ve only ever worked at small businesses, you’re not likely to be on The Work Number. (I manage a workforce development program at a non-profit, and we use The Work Number sometimes to get employment verification for our funders. I’ve only ever seen bigger companies on it, and the furthest back I’ve seen it go is about ten years, but that could vary by person.)

    2. Anonymous New Poster*

      I used to work for Equifax, which owns Talx, the company that created The Work Number. I worked directly with the program (and was subsequently fired from there – hey yo!)

      The Work Number is meant to act as an employment/salary verification system to keep HR from being tied up with that type of inquiry, especially in a place with a large number of employees where there might be frequent requests for the data. They have to pay to have their employment records listed with the service, but this is thought to be more cost-effective than having an HR rep track that information down for every request.

      So if your company is out of business, it’s highly unlikely that their personnel information is still listed, as they probably wouldn’t keep paying to provide access to that information.

    3. Cristina in England*

      I mean, The Work Number sounds horrifying. A massive data breach/identity theft waiting to happen. And oh look, they are owned by Equifax! :-/

    4. also anon today*

      If I understand the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which would apply to this service, it would list jobs from only as far back as seven years. It’s been a while since I checked into this, though, so things might have changed or I could be totally wrong.

      1. Anonymous preferred*

        The seven-year restriction applies to adverse information (e.g., arrest records, delinquent credit accounts), so I would assume The Work Number could justify reporting data older than 7 years since it only holds employment dates, titles, and sometimes salary.

        1. MommyMD*

          It’s not this pervasive global thing. People have to sign up for it. It’s a limited database.

          1. Been There, Done That*

            Sounds pervasive to me. If people have to sign up for it, that means they CAN sign up for it. Does The Work Number have a companion database that lets applicants find out which employers have a revolving door and how many people in the past 7 years have had the job they’re applying for? I would’ve run like hell from one “opportunity” if I’d known that (a) the hiring manager lied when she said the job was a newly created position when it had actually existed for years, and that (b) for at least 4 years before I came on board, no one had stayed in that job long enough to go on the 401k . When she offered me the job, she also didn’t bother to mention that her first choice left a voice mail after her first week and said she wouldn’t be back.

  2. Amber Rose*

    I never bother to talk about the jobs I was fired from. All 3 of them were from when I was under 15. I seriously doubt anyone is going to call Pizza Hut about the three months I worked there when I was 12.

    1. Granny K*

      What country do you live in? Isn’t that illegal for 12 years to work at a Pizza Hut? (I’m in the US.)

      1. Amber Rose*

        Yes, it’s illegal for a 12 year old to work near giant industrial ovens in Canada. I worked there a while at 12 as part of a work study thing, which was OK, and then they hired me on properly but had to fire me right away because… the law. xD

        They hired me back when I turned 13 though. I worked there happily for a summer and left when school started. After that I couldn’t keep a job, and kept getting fired. In my defense, jobs that will hire 13-14 year olds do not tend to treat them well. I should’ve gone back to Pizza Hut but I wanted a job where I could go home not reeking of grease.

      2. mrs__peel*

        My best friend worked at a pizza place at age 12, but it was very much under the table and hush-hush.

        I think you have to be 15 here (New York State) to get a legal work permit, and there are some restrictions on hours and type of work.

      3. Pretired*

        You can legally work at age 14 in New Jersey, but there are limits on hours and they are different based on school night vs weekend.

    2. Amber T*

      I was “fired” from Gamestop after I gave in my notice when I was 19 or 20. My boss was really flexible about accommodating my college schedule (I’d come home once a month during the school year and pick up one shift, then be able to work all summer). When she told me she was leaving and that the new boss wouldn’t be as accommodating (which makes total sense), I said, “Ok, I’ll quit,” and she told me she’ll take care of it. I got a formal letter in the mail a month or so later from Gamestop firing me. I guess old boss didn’t handle it?

      (When applying for college campus jobs, I still put it down and used my boss as a reference, and checked “no” for the question asking if I’d ever been fired. I’m not sure if that’s considered lying, but meh. It’s not something that would go on my resume anymore anyway, and if I had to fill out an application now asking if I’d ever been fired, I’d still say no.)

    3. bohtie*

      Heh, I got fired at 15, and it’s the only time I’ve ever been fired, but I always mention it. It may vary from field to field but at least where I am, if you answer ‘yes,’ there’s typically followup questions from the interviewer to give you a chance to explain yourself. Which, now that I think about it, might be kinda valuable to know about a candidate – whether they’re honest about what happened or there’s a bunch of blame-shifting. In my case, I’m a horrifically bad liar, so apparently I end up coming across as someone who will super-earnestly obey the letter of the law (which, yeah, I’m fairly squeaky), so it seems to work in my favor that THAT’S the worst thing I can come up with.

  3. De Minimis*

    I’m just thankful that enough time has finally passed since my last firing that I often don’t have to disclose it on certain federal background check forms…

    1. Amadeo*

      Yeah, it’s been over 10 years since my last one. Although I suppose if you asked the clinic owner he would’ve said it was mutual, even though I didn’t have much choice in the matter.

  4. NotTheSecretary*

    I was once fired because I was generally bad at the job. It hasn’t stopped me from being able to work otherwise but it has definitely stopped me from applying to jobs that had only a yes or no option on the application. If I can explain that I tried out a new industry, found out that I was just terrible at it, and have since returned to an industry where I have tangibly excelled then interviewers have always understood it and it hasn’t counted against me.

    But I wouldn’t take the chance of lying. I’d rather get passed over than have another, much less charitable firing in my history if it were ever found out.

  5. Anna*

    I never talk about the one job I was fired from because it was 20+ years ago and not at all what I’m doing now. If I saw that on an application, I probably wouldn’t even say yes.

    1. TrainerGirl*

      I was fired from a job during high school, and that company has gone out of business. I got fired from my first job out of college, but that division is no longer in business and there were so many issues/lawsuits from the office I worked in that they apparently don’t provide information about it because it’s so heavily disputed. I’ve got plenty of excellent job history since then that’s it’s never been an issue. I don’t list either one anymore.

  6. MissGirl*

    This got me thinking about a job I was sort-of fired from fifteen years ago. I was getting my undergrad, took a job in another state, and got hurt the first day out. I wasn’t so hurt I couldn’t work but it made me reticent doing the work that needed to be done. I ended up leaving the second week as sort of a mutual understanding that the position wasn’t working out. How would this show up or would it? I wouldn’t even think to include it.

    1. KellyK*

      Ooh, that’s a good question. I would think you’d be pretty safe to say you’d never been fired. If they’re doing a comprehensive background check, usually they’ll tell you, and you’ll know that’s a norm in your field. And in that case, you could say just what you told us—that it was a mutual decision due to your injury, but you’re not sure if they listed it as a resignation or a firing. Nobody reasonable is going to hold a fifteen-year-old maybe firing against you.

      1. De Minimis*

        Even then they say from the outset how many years to go back–at least 7, sometimes 10. I think probably the highest level of clearance might require someone to go back lifetime or longer than 10, but I’ve never applied for one of those.

        Every question on the form has a space for explanation, so it’s not going to be a case where you’re turned down just because you were fired years ago. I did have to talk about it to my investigator when it was time for my background check interview [which actually took place months after I started…]

        1. Brett*

          Ironically state and local government frequently go back longer than federal clearance. 10 is the norm for local government in my state, but I have seen 15 and 20.

          Sometimes when they want histories that long, they will also put some caveat of minimum length of employment (e.g. only jobs where you worked at least 1 month or 3 months). Although, if that results in a gap in employment longer than a certain time, you will have to explain the gap anyway.

          Either way, getting fired from a job 15 years ago is going to have zero effect unless you were fired for a reason that could have resulted in criminal charges.

        2. mrs__peel*

          Yes, I got a lower-level federal security clearance, and either they didn’t ask me or they specified that they only cared about the last few years of employment. (I can’t remember which).

  7. Granny K*

    I was fired a few times, but luckily it was a while ago so it isn’t listed on my job application. However, I can say it wasn’t due to my skill level and more due to my (bad) attitude. In hindsight, I wish I had quit those jobs, although to be fair, I was looking for other employment when the other shoe dropped.

    My favorite was the time I was working for a small company for a (unhinged) lady and she sat me down for a ‘meeting’. After 5 minutes of babbling, I realized she was trying to fire me. So I waited…and waited. 15 more minutes later and she Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. So I finally had to fire myself. Because quite frankly I had things to do. Perhaps (also in hindsight) she was trying to get me to say it so she could say I quit and not pay unemployment–although I believe I received it anyway. I think if I were in a similar situation, I would act like I didn’t understand and mess with the person, just to get them to say it.

    1. Specialk9*

      Ha! Like knowing someone is trying to propose but choking, just less fun. You’re the only person I know who’s fired themself.

      1. Pineapple Goddess of Doom*

        I’m in grad school at a town in IL, I worked a few months for a nut job who owned a jewelry store who hauled me into her office and proceeded to attack my personal life, job performance, and my weight. It lasted 45 min before I walked out. I’ve been recognized by a few times by people who know me from there. I’m proud to say I was fired from that job.

        From what I’ve heard that’s her way of firing people. And I’m happy to explain to why I walked out.

    2. Laura*

      I was fired last week by my boss. I had to meet with her and HR. She read from a sheet and refused to make eye contact with me. It’s a nonprofit, and I lasted longer than my two predecessors. I was fired for committing a number of mistakes that she was tracking but not telling me about. I think she’s getting rid of people so she doesn’t have to write reviews.

  8. Edina Monsoon*

    I was once fired because the office manager took a dislike to me and actually told me that was why she was firing me and wouldn’t allow me to quit instead. She even told me she wouldn’t give me a reference because she couldn’t give me a bad reference as it wouldn’t be true and and wouldn’t give a good reference in case I tried to sue her for firing me.

    I was young and answered yes I had been fired on job applications and I almost always got rejected within minutes, I did have one memorable interview where the manager told me I was the most qualified candidate but he wouldn’t hire me because I’d been fired and I might have been fired for being a thief.

    So I learned pretty quickly to say no and just leave that job off my resume, why should I be penalised because one woman took a dislike to me?

    1. Myrin*

      He told you that, meaning, he had an actual conversation with you, but then didn’t actually ask the circumstances of the firing? That seems like somewhat of a bullet dodged.

      1. Edina Monsoon*

        I told him what happened but he basically said he didn’t know if he could believe me, and the fact that I couldn’t even get a reference even to say I was let go for ‘bad fit’ didn’t help.

        1. Myrin*

          One would think that the fact that you offered up this information to begin with would work in your favour, what with you being the best candidate and all. Some people.

        2. Callalily*

          Even if you were fired for theft, everyone knows that past employers likely won’t comment on exactly why you were fired just in case you come back claiming slander. So even if your boss confirmed it was a ‘bad fit’ your interviewer would be pulling his hair our wondering if everyone is lying to him.

    2. Been There, Done That*

      You bring up an excellent point that hiring managers seem to find easy to ignore. There are a lot of terrible “managers” out there–and this blog is full of stories about them–who fire people on trumped up excuses, to cover up their own screw-ups, or simply because they can. It’s ridiculous that people should have to worry about their future job prospects being jeopardized because of it.

  9. Bend & Snap*

    Haven’t most people been fired at some point?

    I was fired from my first job as a cashier at a candy store because I couldn’t reconcile the drawer at closing–and probably still could not do that today–and my first post-college job as an admin at Harvard Business School because I didn’t have the organizational skills to do it properly (and I worked for an a-hole). Both of those were learning experiences about finding the right fit and doing what I’m good at. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

    1. waterfalls*

      Not in my experience, no. I never have, and I only know one person who has been fired (distant relative). I know a few who’ve been laid off due to reorganisation or downsizing, but a firing really seems like a big deal to me.

        1. dapta*

          I’m still horribly ashamed of having been fired from my first post-college job. In hindsight, it’s actually good that happened because it put me on a completely different (better) path, but I’m still ashamed and embarrassed of messing up that badly.

          1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

            I was fired from my first real job at 18. I came in late, went home early whenever I had a date to get ready for, mixed up files, mailed confidential information to the wrong people. I deserved it and they were nice enough to spin it as a mutual parting of ways. I was a big reader and thought that was how offices worked. (too many Harlequin romances)

        2. Anon please today*

          I once was when I was a waitress. I had just broken up with my boyfriend and kept crying during my shifts. My boyfriend worked there too and we would get in fights at work. They eventually let us both go.

        3. Anon please today*

          The other time would also be difficult to explain to a potential employer because I think the reason they gave for firing me was not the real reason. Neither reason would reflect well on me but luckily it won’t come up because it was so very long ago.

        4. Anonymous New Poster*

          I mentioned above that I actually got fired from The Work Number. I’ve always excelled in every role I had, but my position there was incredibly boring (which made me completely unmotivated), plus I was going through a divorce and was in a bad place personally. I definitely deserved to be fired, but I learned from it and have gone on to do great things. I was very fortunate that my current company looked past that and followed their gut when hiring me.

          I’m still really ashamed by it but it’s the only time I’ve ever had any kind of negative job feedback from a supervisor, so I try to keep that in mind whenever the shame creeps back up on me (going on almost 5 years now).

        5. The OG Anonsie*


          Not to take this whole train and throw it swiftly off the rails, but the only groups in which I’ve found no one has ever been (or knows someone who has been) fired are circles in a socioeconomic level where having low level service jobs is unusual even when you’re in high school or college. If you’re from a background where those kinds of jobs are more common, odds are good you at the very least know a few people who have been fired from a pizza joint or something at some point or another.

          1. CoffeeLover*

            I think it’s also really dependent on labour laws and practices in your country. I grew up in Canada. I worked many “blue collar” jobs while in high school and uni before moving to office jobs. It was very rare to meet someone that had been fired. Actually most people that were fired were the ones that just stopped coming in, but that always felt more like quitting to me. You can’t fire someone without cause in Canada. Reading this blog has shown me the US is a very different place.

        6. Anna*

          I think most people have had one experience of being fired and probably most of the people who say they have never been fired are either forgetting because it was so long ago and so insignificant or they are so embarrassed they aren’t talking about it.

          Frankly, there shouldn’t be a lot of shame around it. It happens and sometimes it’s because you screwed up and sometimes it’s because someone doesn’t like you and has a little too much power. The people who are fired over and over and don’t get it aren’t going to feel embarrassed about it anyway, but why should there be actual shame involved when it’s a life experience shared by so many people? /endsoapbox

          1. Brendioux*

            Thank you for the soapbox. I was fired from my first job six years ago and for the longest time I was incredibly ashamed… i couldn’t find a job for years (I was a student living at home so it wasn’t a really big deal except that it affected my self esteem terribly). I have been at my job for almost 4 years now and have excelled and impressed my coworkers and bosses so I think things have turned around for me haha.

        7. Specialk9*

          Ha ha. Yes, the rest of us mortals have been fired.

          Once, at 12, a job nannying 3 young kids (essentially solo – the mom in bed upstairs after back surgery), 1 of whom was very hyper and special needs. Fired because – wait for it – 12 year old me allowed one of the 3 kids to grind Play-doh into the carpet. Because they wanted a 12 year old to babysit 3 young kids all day solo, AND to clean their house. (A decade later, after both sides had matured a lot, I worked for them again in a different context, and we never. referred. to. it.)

          Then in my professional career, one client had a plotting underling who staged a slow-mo coup. It was like she thought that boring little office was the Borgia court and she was Lucrezia. Anyway, she got my team dismissed and replaced… By a dude who gave negative forks. She would tell him to do stuff and he’d say no, it’s stupid. And she had spent her political capital on us hard workers, so she pretended he was awesome. It was immensely satisfying.

          (Technically not fired bc I still worked for the company, on another project. It was traumatic though.)

        8. biff welly*

          I’m with you Bend & Snap. I think a lot of people have, for a variety of reasons. It’s not a question I ask in interviews or in screening.

          I also think there is a lot of “firing” that ends up looking like “downsizing” too.

      1. Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way!*

        I was fired from a job 4 years ago when my company asked me to start a new division yet didn’t give me any assistance so I was a division of 1 learning a new business from beginning to end and doing ALL of it, sales, marketing, billing, ordering… I knew what was coming when the owners sister and niece started coming over to my office to check things out. Yep, I was fired and his sister took over the business. Thankfully I had already been interviewing and had 1 offer already and had a 3rd interview with another company the following week. A week after I was fired I had 2 job offers and was still able to collect unemployment because I was able to prove that my sales numbers were indeed improving. PS…I heard his sister didn’t last too long in the position either.

        1. Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way!*

          Also note I’m a bit of an overachiever, but I realized that things happen and it doesn’t make you less of a person nor is it the end of the world. In this case I ended up in a much better position with more money and less stress!

      2. Callalily*

        One thing to keep in mind is that you probably know more people that were fired than you think… some people are so ashamed they hide it so well that their spouses don’t know unless they admit to it.

      3. MommyMD*

        I think once you’re in the adult world beyond fast food and teenage jobs, being fired is a very big deal.

      4. NaoNao*

        I think it depends on how you look at “firing”. There’s termination, which is like, immediately leave because of Serious Reasons, and being “let go” which is more of “This isn’t working out, let’s both move on.”

        I think we just need more nuanced language around “firing”. I have been offered the option to resign or be let go on jobs due to a poor match, and I’ve been “left off the schedule” at retail jobs where it was clear it wasn’t working out (in the 90s, so quite some time ago). But have I been “terminated”? No.

    2. Lucy Honeychurch*

      I definitely don’t think it’s most people! Maybe a significant minority. I do think there’s a distinction between being fired from a high school/part-time job vs a full-time professional role; your first example I don’t think would give anyone pause, your second one definitely might.

      But yeah, no one in my immediate family nor any of my HS/college/post-college friend groups have ever been fired (that I know of, but in some of those cases I would def know).

      1. Bend & Snap*

        The second example has never held me back and I’m in a completely different field. Like I said–it’s about finding what you’re good at. I’ve never been fired from a job in what has been my career for almost 20 years.

        But getting fired when you’re learning your skills and how to navigate the professional world? REALLY common in my experience. Maybe it’s just my current field but entry-level people get fired all the time.

      2. Myrin*

        Yeah, your second paragraph is basically my experience, too. That being said, my country’s educational system is set up in such a way that many people start their “real” full-time work at 16 so the stakes are quite different from the get-go, and it’s also much more difficult in general to get fired here (compared to the US), which probably has a significant impact as well.

    3. ThatGirl*

      I was fired from a job ten years ago (in fact, the anniversary of that was last month).

      I thankfully did not really need to talk about it on my most recent job search, this spring/summer; they wanted to know why I was leaving my last job. I don’t think I even got asked that more than once or twice? But I’m …well, I’m embarrassed by it, but much less so now that it was a decade ago, the mistake I made there is not going to be repeated (totally different line of work) and I’ve also grown and learned a ton since then. I was 26, not handling personal stress well, and a dumb mistake got me thrown under the bus. Now I’m 36, more experienced, more mature, etc.

      I don’t think being fired is an automatic red flag; the circumstances matter, as well as how you can show that you’ve learned, grown, and moved on.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        Your last sentence made my point beautifully. That’s what I was getting at, but much less eloquently.

    4. Rainy*

      Especially as a kid, in the kind of jobs you have in your high school/university years.

      The only time I’ve ever been fired from a job was a restaurant when I was 21. My boss was a coke fiend and the restaurant had high turnover because he fired someone every 2-3 weeks. We were always relieved when he hired a genuine fuckup or a thief because it meant the rest of us were safe for a month or even two. I’d been there about 8 months when he canned me. I don’t remember what the excuse was in my case, but he fired a server on the spot one time for using the wrong pass-through.

      (And before anyone who’s never worked in the restaurant industry asks, yes, he was definitely a coke fiend. That job was the one where I learnt the “you’ve got blow on your lip” gesture, because we all had to watch him during the dinner rush and make sure he didn’t greet tables covered in cocaine.)

      1. mrs__peel*

        I’ve been on some hiring committees (in a non-restaurant/hospitality industry), and I would never hold being fired from that type of position against someone. It’s well known that most restaurants treat their employees terribly and allow zero sick days, even if someone is coughing up plague germs over everyone’s food.

      2. TrainerGirl*

        As I mentioned above, I got fired from my first job out of college, but it was a completely toxic, insane environment. Someone got fired from my team, and the office manager distributed a paper memo talking about why the person was fired. That eventually got them sued. I was first fired as a temp, because the office manager was mad that day after finding out her sister was getting divorced. I got my job back and was hired as a full-time employee, but I should’ve just run when I had the chance. That was the worst year of my life, but I was young and had never had a full-time job before. Luckily, that company was bought out, so no longer an issue.

    5. mrs__peel*

      I suspect that most people who started working in their teenage years and in crappy entry-level jobs– e.g., store clerks, pizza delivery, etc.– probably have been. (I got fired from an entry-level cashier job at 17 because I hadn’t gotten the hang of using the check processing machine).

      If you didn’t start your first job until (say) you graduated college and entered the white-collar world, then possibly not. I did know a few people in law school who were in their mid-20s and had never held a paying job before.

    6. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’m sure it’s a lot more people than you would ever know about. Most people consider it shameful to be fired, but it isn’t always. I was fired once because my job set me up to fail. They literally tripled my department’s workload without giving us additional help and I was essentially doing two full time jobs (as evidenced by the fact that they had to replace me with two people).

      But I love all the people replying to your comment and falling all over themselves to declare that they have never been fired.

      1. Amy*

        I was fired from a job for spending time on Facebook. Being on or the internet wasn’t against any rules , a manager of a different group complained directly to the CFO about me as part of an ongoing conflict with my manager. They didn’t even check my computer to see how much I was on. The thing that pissed me off was that our director saw me there late (until around 7 when I was supposed to leave at 4:30) several times the previous few weeks and never said anything in my defense. They ended up hiring 2 full time people to replace me after assigning several of my programs to other people.

      2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        I also think that sometimes the terms of dismissal can be kind of grey (particularly if you work for smaller/HR-less/disorganized companies. 2 examples:

        1.) First job I was “laid off for lack of work” (exact words used). Then there was a whole thing with unemployment and all of sudden I get a notice from the unemployment office saying that my former employer is fighting my claim because I was “fired for negligance”.
        2.) Working for super small family org. I was miserable so I was actively looking elsewhere (nothing but positive things had been said about my performance up until then). Boss asks me point blank if I was looking for a new job. I (very naively) answered truthfully. He told me I should step away effective immediately, so I did.

        I don’t consider either of those a true “firings”. Is it down in either of those company’s records as a firing? I have no idea! I also didn’t go around telling anyone that I was fired from either (except for my parents when I panicked seeing the unemployment letter in #1). However, because my industry does perform very in depth background checks I do disclose #2 as a firing (with a note explaining the situation if possible) out of an abundance of caution.

        Just saying A.) sometimes its not black and white and B.) More people than you (general you) know probably have been fired because it’s not something people typically broadcast either b/c they’re embarassed or its never came up or it wasn’t black & white.

        1. AKJ*

          The shame surrounding a firing is exactly why I ended up in therapy after being let go for a third time – I ended up sobbing to my therapist that I’d be better off with a felony on my record. It was awful.

          For the record, I was never let go for misconduct, and I qualified for unemployment every time. It’s a horrible experience regardless, especially when people talk about it as being such a big deal – it is, but it is possible to come back from.

          The reasons I was given were: making too many mistakes (I’d been there for four years and had never even received a warning prior to that moment) “bad fit” right before the end of my probationary period (I had to agree with that one, I was incredibly unhappy too) and not enough work combined with “bad fit,” according to the office manager – my manager did not like me at all, but she would have continued putting up with me if we had been busier. Since we were slow, they let me go and decided not to refill the position. I wish she would have just called it a layoff, but the office manager told me how much my manager disliked me while she was firing me, and she had the notes from my manager on the desk in front of her, where I could easily see them even if she hadn’t said anything.
          I’ve been at my current job two years and have received nothing but good feedback, so I’m honestly at a loss to explain what happened. If it matters, at two of those jobs I wasn’t alone – I knew of several employees of both companies who had been let go before I was, for similar reasons.

      3. oranges & lemons*

        Yeah, I’m sure there are a significant number of people who have been fired because of mismanagement of one kind or another, personality clashes with someone above them, personal life stuff making work difficult, general workplace toxicity or any number of other possibilities that they aren’t necessarily to blame for. That sort of thing might not be what immediately comes to mind for people who are fortunate enough not to have been fired before.

    7. JulieBulie*

      Yeah. I don’t know what the percentage is, but no one should judge you for being fired if they don’t know the details.

      Not all firing is for insubordination, misconduct, or even serious incompetence. Once, during a year-long unemployment, I spent a month working for a furniture chain. It was the first and only sales job of my life. I had been hired because the manager liked my attitude. Then he got transferred on my second day. :-(. I was fired after four weeks – the end of my training period – because the new manager wanted only people with solid sales experience. So when my training period was up, I was out.

      The funny thing was, I had made a sale on my very first day, and I was literally in the middle of selling an ever-growing dining room set when I was fired. (Ever-growing as in, “hey, why don’t we get the hutch too?” “I was thinking we’d get the sideboard” “we can get both!”) I really wasn’t so bad at sales. I just wasn’t as good as the new guy wanted. And I know he was under a lot of pressure; the store was in trouble, and in fact they filed for bankruptcy the following year.

      So I’m not embarrassed that I was fired. Hell, given the choice, I’d rather try something and be fired, than not get to try it at all. It would have been just another month of unemployment. But it irritates me that some employers might hold it against me.

    8. SusanIvanova*

      I got “fired” and then rehired at my first job for doing the exact same thing as my co-worker – and every other rational tech company in existence: working from 11-8 instead of a precise 8:30-5:30 with one exact hour for lunch. So I started working those very precise hours and sending my resume out. But co-worker was the son of the owner’s best friend so rules didn’t apply to him – not his fault; he really was as skilled a programmer as I was and was equally shocked at what had happened. We’d been friends since programming class in high school, and he started job hunting at that point too.

      This was the company that treated tech workers like their hourly warehouse workers: obviously if your butt isn’t in the seat at 8:30 you’re a slacker. Also if you’re just sitting at your desk doing nothing you’re a slacker, even though it was 1990 and compiling was so very slow.

      1. Cassandra*

        Obligatory XKCD:

        (The other day while I was gathering a forensic image from a hard drive, I thought about updating this one to match… because holy schmoly disk imaging is slow. Memory imaging on a modern system with a ton of RAM is even worse.)

    9. De Minimis*

      I’ve been fired twice, once from my very first job as a dishwasher, then once from my first ‘professional” job.

      I don’t think it’s that uncommon, though I do also know people who have never been fired [though often they are people who haven’t had a lot of employer changes, period….]

      I’m in the position now of facing potential layoffs, for the first time ever, so it’s odd to be job searching with that in mind.

      1. PB*

        I was fired from a dishwashing job, too, after only three hours. I must have been really terrible! I’ve never disclosed that. My hiring paperwork was never even filed, so this would never show up on a background check.

    10. Shadow*

      What lots of people fail to realize is that being laid off is frequently being fired without knowing it. Not always but frequently its the cop out non confrontational reason, even more so if you were the only one laid off.

      1. De Minimis*

        Yeah, I’m not even counting the temp assignments when I got the Sunday night phone call telling me not to come in the next day.

      2. also anon today*

        Yes. I worked for a small business owner who was terrified of firing anyone. He always waited for any business slow-down to lay them off instead.

        I have been fired once. I have been layed off once; I consider that being fired because the employer had to choose someone and I am pretty sure I know why I was selected. So fired twice, actually. I had a couple of food-service jobs in high school and early college where I would say I quit, the employer would say they fired me.

      3. Here we go again*

        I’d say the opposite applies too… People are sometimes fired instead of laid off. My company has periodically fired employees so they can say they’ve “never gone through layoffs.”

        1. De Minimis*

          I had a former workplace that liked to do that for that very reason…they manufactured sudden “performance issues” when they needed to do staff reductions. Apparently they needed to fire their recruiting staff, because all but a few people in our 20+ person hiring group had major performance issues that surfaced just over a year later. But hey, they never did layoffs…

        2. Been There, Done That*

          About 15 years ago I worked at a place that did that. I think they finally got professional HR staff and the old CEO retired, because in their most recent ads they don’t include that bogus line anymore.

      4. Amy*

        I worked at a place that would have regular rounds of lay offs where 1-3 people got laid off. A few weeks later the positions would be posted to be refilled. All those people we essentially fired but I’m sure they refer to it as a lay off.

      5. The New Wanderer*

        Sometimes yes and no, in the same round of layoffs. A handful of my group were laid off at the same time. Just before the layoff notices went out, management targeted one person with spurious written warnings to create an “unhireable” paper trail since almost everyone laid off would be eligible for rehire per company policy. Since they clearly wanted that person gone but for various reasons weren’t able to fire them, this was the next best option. I suspect it happened to someone else a few months prior to that too, but can’t be sure.

        Meanwhile others of us were told we’d be welcomed back and/or given strong references, which is much more in line with a layoff than a firing.

        1. Anna*

          A friend of mine went through the exact opposite. A bunch of people were fired for (questionable) cause so they couldn’t get unemployment, but the state labor department noticed what was going on and started approving everyone who was “fired” when they applied. Weirdly, out of an office of 200 people, 100 people were “fired” for cause and when they reached that magical 50% reduction number, the firings stopped.

      6. Specialk9*

        Maybe. My company just laid off another 500 people. Every time, it seems like they chose the best, brightest, hardest working, knowledge centers to lay off, and leave some serious dead wood behind. Baffling.

        1. Been There, Done That*

          Or maybe their boss wants to be sure not to have serious competition to keep their own sorry behind out of the crosshairs.

    11. Sadsack*

      Yes, as a teenager, I have been fired. That was so long ago I can’t even recall the exact circumstances, but I know it was due to my stupidity and lack of work ehic at that time! That’s not how I work now.

    12. all aboard the anon train*


      It was drilled into me as a teen that being fired was The. Worst. Thing. Possible., so I was always super obnoxious about being the best employee I could at even my fast food and retail jobs. There was always such a high turnover of people quitting that I don’t remember super frequent firings.

      As a professional, I’ve always worked at companies where you would basically have to commit murder to get fired and even then they’d probably wouldn’t fire you, so I just assumed the frequency of firings was either other industries or over-exaggerated.

      1. Temperance*

        Me too! My parents were real sticklers about being a “hard worker” and “the customer is ALWAYS right”, so the idea that i might make a mistake at a job was just so foreign to me.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          Definitely. It made a huge impression on me and I was terrified of making a mistake and being fired at a job as a teen. Parents and school made it seem like you’d never get another job if you were fired once.

          Obviously I don’t think that’s the case now, but that was definitely the case as a teen, and I’m sure a lot of other people working then heard the same advice.

          1. dapta*

            I also heard this from my parents. It created some serious mental health issues when I did get fired. I felt worthless for YEARS, even after I’d secured a new job and did well at it.

            1. AKJ*

              Me too. I still deal with work-related anxiety nearly every day, years later. It does such a number on your self-worth. It’s devastating.

    13. Temperance*

      I haven’t ever been fired, FWIW, but I think many people have. My husband was fired from a job as a teen because another employee threatened him to get free food and someone saw and told on him. He hasn’t told any professional interviewers about the job he had for 3 months 15 years ago, because it’s so irrelevant.

    14. Anne (with an "e")*

      I was fired from a job that I had right after high school. I had to cold call people at supper time (5:00-7:30ish pm) and ask them if they would like to subscribe to our local newspaper. People did not want to subscribe. I could not make make my quota. Thus, I was fired. I learned that I should not ever be in sales. I also learned to be very nice to people who have to make cold calls to me, or actually anyone who has to work in a call center really. This was thirty-five years ago, so, if asked I am not going to admit to being fired on a form. If it comes up in conversation, I am happy to explain. This experience has nothing whatsoever to do with my career. I had a few jobs before that job (think camp counselor, waitress) and I have had several jobs since. That was just a blimp.

    15. Bleeborp*

      I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of per se, especially if it’s a learning experience. I’ve never been explicitly fired but I was “asked to quit” at my first post-college office job. I was terrible at it, my awesome boss was on maternity leave and her 2nd in command was terrible and I’m still not sure she was actually in a position to force me out how she did and I was planning to quit soon anyway and it showed. It was quite pathetic because it was for a non-profit I still really respect, I just realized office work like that wasn’t for me (but instead of quitting I just did my work really poorly which was terrible and I AM ashamed of that but I learned from the experience.)

    16. JanetM*

      I haven’t ever been fired (end of seasonal job yes, laid off yes, end of contract yes).

      I know a fair number of people who have been fired:

      — Some for what I consider good reason (e.g., friends who took crappy jobs and then no-show-no-called)

      — Some for what I consider invalid reason (e.g., a convenience store cashier who was robbed by someone who threw a painful but not permanently damaging liquid in his face to incapacitate him. The company argued it both ways: either (1) he had failed to cooperate with the robber and that’s why he was assaulted, and company policy is to cooperate, so he was fired for non-compliance with policy, or (2) he was in league with the robber and that’s why the assault didn’t result in permanent injury, so he was fired for theft but should consider himself fortunate not to be criminally charged).

      1. Myrin*

        Because it’s absolutely unthinkable and impossible that the robber threw the liquid at him even though he cooperated, right? :|

    17. XK*

      I don’t this so – running through my list of friends over the years, I only know of two firings, several lay-offs though. It’s not an automatic “no” for me – sometimes hard things happen. I’ve been interested in the reasons given, and have spent some time considering them. It can be hard to tell what the context actually is – one person’s crazy boss may actually be someone who expected work done in a timely manner.

      In terms of effect, I think generally getting fired doesn’t have to be a big deal. But it’s not always that way – of the two firings I mentioned, one brushed off with not lasting effects, the other led to long-term unemployment.

    18. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      When I first started working after college I was horrified at the thought of being fired and assumed it would be a permanent red mark agaist me and would follow me for the rest of my life if it were to ever happen.

      Then after working in my first job out of school for a couple of years, I was told I was being “laid off due to lack of work” (exact words used in my dismissal meeting). Not great, but nobody used the F-word and others had been laid off at this startup recently so it made sense. After realizing that I was eligible for unemployment even though I was an independent contractor (I had ironclad proof that I was being used as a regular employee) and then applying for unemployment, my company’s tune changed and I received a notice from the unemployment office saying that the company was trying to fight my unemployment claim bc I had been “fired for negligence”.

      I was devastated and called my parents in tears. Seriously thought it would effect my entire career. Then I realized it really wasn’t that big of a deal. I don’t even mark it down as a firing. It was 10 years ago now and startup went under shortly after I left. I also kept in contact with my direct boss there and he’s willing to speak to my performance there.

    19. LBK*

      Wow – gotta say I’m floored by how many people are saying this is so common, even for teenage service industry jobs. I’ve only seen a handful of people fired both in my professional and personal life and they were egregiously bad at their jobs such that it was justified. Even most of the people we fired when I worked in retail were for serious offenses like stealing.

      1. Rainy*

        When I was doing retail management as a band-aid job a few years ago, I discovered it was common practice in the company to schedule former employees who had just ended their notice period for one shift (usually an on-call shift) after the effective date of their resignation. When they did not call in 1 hour before the shift (because they did not expect to be scheduled, having resigned), they were marked as having NCNSed and being ineligible for rehire.

        When I worked on the schedule I would take people who’d been scheduled for such a “termination shift” off the schedule and give it to someone who actually worked for us AND warn associates who were leaving to check in with someone for 2 weeks after their resignation date in case the ASM got to the schedule before it posted (she was a vicious, stupid, horrible little jerk), because WTF, people.

    20. Taylor Swift*

      I agree that those really young, just starting out firings aren’t necessarily something to be ashamed of. But no, I’ve never been fired and honestly I’d be totally mortified if I ever were.

    21. Close Bracket*

      I’ve never been fired, but I have been “we think you would be happier working somewhere else”-ed

      po-tay-to, po-tah-to, I guess

    22. Gloucesterina*

      Raising my hand! I was fired from my second post-college job after barely two weeks; it was a bad fit and I also made a number of mistakes in that context. Once the shock of becoming “A PERSON WHO IS FIRED, THE HORROR!” wore off, I was very relieved to learn something about myself as a thinker and realize that I work best in a very different kind of environment, working towards different goals. Not breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of another day in that office was ultimately a big plus, too!

      It would have really helped me to know of others who had been fired. Thanks for sharing you all!

    23. Westward*

      Never been fired, but I excel at being downsized. Either I’m skilled at choosing dying industries, or I’m a bad luck charm.

    24. Desk Jockey*

      I’ve had contracts not get renewed, but have never actually been terminated (fired).
      My first job evah was a summer job between high school years. Did that for four summers, then the fifth summer, put in my application (as you did every year), and they didn’t renew. That alone was a bit of a shock, and took me a little while to get used to the idea.

    25. Joanne*

      I was recently let go from my first job out of college, and there were no meetings with my manager or anything. I had been working on a summary for the client, and it was giving me issues and took way longer than expected. I never met with the branch chief and my manager was there maybe 1-2 a week, so I never got feedback on my performance.
      I don’t know if not getting any feedback from managers is normal or if that’s a sign that being let go is imminent.

  10. Sled dog mama*

    I was legit fired from a fast food job, my husband got a new job and I had to attend some event with him surrounding our move and no one would switch shifts with me so I just didn’t show.
    A later company wanted to fire me (personality conflict with one member of a client organization and I had to go to keep the client) but they were seriously short staffed and asked if I would work on this on short term project for another much smaller client, I agreed on the condition that I was to be listed in records as my position being eliminated. About six months later I was hired by a different division.

  11. Is it Friday Yet?*

    I was fired from a job that I worked at part time in high school more than 10 years ago. I mis-read the schedule and ended up having a no call/no show. The firing was justified. However, if I’m asked on an application if I’ve ever been fired (with the exception of security applications), I always say no. The reason being that it was more than 10 years ago, and I work in a completely different industry now. If any prospective employers have discovered my fib, they haven’t said anything, and it hasn’t prevented me from getting jobs.

  12. JD*

    I was fired for “not doing the job I was hired for” after a week. I was baffled as I had completed an entire project start to finish in that week. Come to find out she had fired 27 people in 24 months. It was the bosses admin who was actually firing everyone, she was creepily obsessed with the boss. I was so traumatized at first until I learned it clearly wasn’t me. I have never put it on my resume just as I wouldn’t any 2 week job. Boss had an investigation as she was sued by most of the employees and the university fired HER. HA.

  13. Former Hoosier*

    From my HR perspective, I would be far more concerned that an employee lied on a job application rather than they had been fired. I have known several companies that have had that policy. It could be hard if someone left a job off a job application and/or resume but many companies also do employment verifications/background checks and the job could show up.

    I would not recommend every lying about it.

    1. Shadow*

      I guarantee you tons of people you’ve hired have lied about something on their application.

      1. Shadow*

        In other words we know you don’t want people to lie bc of your job, but from an applicants perspective it absolutely can make sense to “lie” on an application if the risk/reward makes sense

      2. Former Hoosier*

        And in my experience, when they are caught, they are not hired. In healthcare we do background checks on everyone who is hired.”And the fact that people do lie isn’t a good reason to do it yourself.

        1. Shadow*

          Sure don’t lie about things where you’re likely to get caught through employment verification, background checks. But leaving off negative info that’s not likely to be discovered may be worth it

          1. Anna*

            Agreed. If you’re looking at a retail job I held at a jewelry store 21 years ago that has no bearing on what I do now, I’m gonna worry about whether or not you are good at your HR job.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      And what if the lie was discovered later? It’s totally possible – even probable – that someone would get fired because their employer found out they had lied during the application process. Then they’ve got two firings to explain to future employers…

    3. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      I think it just depends on the person’s risk tolerance and the likelihood of discovery (given the industry, how long ago the firing was, where it was from, etc.).

      My industry does very in depth background checks, so I absolutely would not lie. I’m also very risk averse, so I probably would not lie even if that were not the case. However some people are more comfortable at risk. They have a higher chance at getting a job (generally, as they will not be ruled out automatically based on that q), but they also have a higher chance of being disqualified at the background check point or fired down the line if that information were to come out somehow.

  14. Shadow*

    Depends on how long ago the job was and how you explain time gap. The more relevant it is the more questions youll get about reasons for leaving and the time gap. If your answers don’t make sense you might get “found out” that way

  15. knitcrazybooknut*

    Lord I miss The Work Number. My old job contracted our employment verifications out to them. It was so much easier to give out that number than fill out zillions of forms with teensy tiny boxes and zillions of numbers that mortgage brokers wanted to argue with you about and hassle you when you waited one minute to send back regardless of what your full-time job might entail or any other deadlines or illnesses or issues you might be having.

    Now I have a different job and it’s back to filling out the stupid forms. Luckily our reception runs interference and it’s rare we have to talk to them directly.

    On topic, I’ve never had a reference mention someone was fired. “Would not rehire” rarely, but never that they were fired.

  16. Colorado*

    I have to chime in here because I too thought being fired is the worst thing ever. Until it happened to me, a year and a half ago. I’ve been a professional in my field for 25 years. I started working for a small company where I knew the owner. I completed a project I was hired for, it took too long, cost too much money and I was fired because of it. I was mortified, ashamed, cried for weeks, and fought to get unemployment (I did). When I met with my mentor, a high-level VP in my field, he talked me off the ledge. He said “everyone gets fired once in their career”, he did. When I applied for my current job, I had to answer that awful question. And I did, honestly. I had a blurb prepared for the interview also and I ended up getting the job I have today. My point is this: 1. Don’t lie and 2. Being fired is not some character flaw, you’re a horrible person, never to be employable. Life happens, fits don’t always mesh, and projects don’t always go as planned. You have to move on with your head held high and learn the lesson you were meant to, whatever that may be. For employers – this should not be a make or break deal either. Listen to the circumstances before judgement is passed.

    1. Shadow*

      If your resume is really strong otherwise it may not matter. But if you’re iffy to begin with that may be the thing that helps me decide not to call.

    2. KC without the sunshine band*

      Before it happened to me, I assumed everyone who had been fired earned it. I did not earn it. I worked for a nonprofit and the board leadership changed. Shortly after, I was fired for not having a piece of paper in a particular file, though I’m sure it was actually because of some changes the new board president wanted to make. I drew unemployment, but because I was high level management, I knew this would affect my ability to get another job, and there was no getting around discussing it. I ended up getting a position through a friend within a month, so if you just look at my resume it looks like I left of my own accord. I’m planning on staying here long enough that it’s a non-issue when I choose to leave.

      Like Colorado said, life happens, and being fired doesn’t make you unemployable even if it’s for cause. Tell the truth at all costs. Lies always come back to bite you. Flawless integrity will always take you far.

  17. KC*

    I’ve worked with some awesome people who got fired. They weren’t the right fit for the job. Or, the job changed so much that they were no longer the right fit.

    After working in HR for many years, I’ve learned that many layoffs are actually just a veiled termination, but the company is trying to do the right thing (so they can collect EI, and not have the stigma of being fired on their record).

    No, being fired isn’t a death sentence. However, the HR community is small and people aren’t afraid to use their resources. I was contacted by a friend at a head hunting company, who wanted to know about a client he’s working with (a former colleague of mine). He wondered why he was with us for less than a year. I was honest that he was well-liked by everyone, but terminated for performance issues. My friend mentioned that it seemed to be the trend with this particular client.

    Do I care if someone was fired earlier in their career? No. Do I care that someone wasn’t able to deliver on commitments to a project? Not really – it depends on the circumstances, and we’ve all worked with unreasonable clients. I do care if it’s a trend, or if they violated a major company rule. If their recent work has been positive, I’m not going to penalise them for what happened earlier in their careers.

    1. Shadow*

      A layoff that’s a veiled termination is not the right thing for anyone. Dealing with the issue and trying to help the employee come up to standards is the right thing

      1. KC*

        No one wants to let a good employee go. A layoff or a termination is always last resort.

        Do surprise layoffs happen? Of course. However, that’s not what I’m talking about here.

        Recently, we let a few people go. It was an incredibly tough decision. There were performance issues that we had addressed over the past year, and saw no improvement. Our business needs were changing, and they weren’t able to perform the way we needed them to. This is the consulting industry and it impacted the types of projects they could be assigned to. We would have been well within our rights to terminate them for just cause. However, we laid them off citing “lack of work” (because we were no longer able to find projects for them that matched their interests and skills – or lack thereof).

        1. Close Bracket*

          “No one wants to let a good employee go.”

          As a matter of fact, some people do. Work is not the meritocracy that it’s made out to be.

      2. fposte*

        But if you have to have layoffs anyway, why not fold in the people who otherwise you’d terminate?

        1. KC*

          No, we laid them off, citing “lack of work” instead of terminating them for performance issues.

        2. Shadow*

          i think people deserve to know the reason why the company has decided to part ways. A layoff doesn’t tell you what you could have done better and what the ramificTions are/were.

          1. Specialk9*

            That’s a strange perspective. Please, kick me in the teeth rather in the shin. Getting fired is so much worse than layoffs, and sometimes the company doesn’t want to employ someone but also doesn’t want to destroy them.

            1. Shadow*

              If you’ve ever been let go or laid off and dont understand why you you’d know what I mean

              1. sstabeler*

                except in this case, I suspect they explained the issue- it was “because you haven’t improved X, we can either fire you, or lay you off. Please let us know which you would prefer”

      1. KC*

        Don’t worry! Unless a role requires a major background check, and is in the security/finance industry, you’ll be fine. Good people get fired all the time. It just depends on the context.

        My friend moved across the country for a prestigious research job at a university. During the recruitment, she mentioned that she was not strong in data analysis. She was assured it would not be more than 10% of the role. When she got there, she learned that it was about 80% of the role. She was “fired” (her words), or “realised the role wasn’t the right fit” (my words).

        Now, if I get a candidate who had a stint at a company where I know people, would I make a quick call to get some feedback? Yes (if they worked there within the last 4 – 5 years). I don’t have the time to dig into every single job they ever held though.

        Some people get fired for things beyond their control. Some people are set up to fail. And other people are fired because of just cause.

        I’ve worked with employment verification companies in the past. Generally they’ll just confirm the dates of employment, title and if they are flagged for rehire or not. If someone was not flagged for rehire, I would ask the candidate about it. I spent 10 years at my previous company, but got fed up, and gave them 1 weeks’ notice when I resigned. I’m sure that little fact has flagged me not eligible for rehire, even though I was a model employee and they still joke about me returning some day.

  18. AndersonDarling*

    The sad thing is, when top executives get fired, they don’t always get “fired.” I’ve known a handful of execs that did wretched things and they were simply “asked to leave” and their records indicate that they left on good terms.

  19. My Cat Posted This For Me*

    Nearly 30 years ago I worked for a small nonprofit and was fired by the horrible director while in my 8th month of pregnancy. She fired several people before me (people who honestly weren’t doing a good job but probably deserved the opportunity of a PIP). A family member was an attorney, and one call from him had the director backing down quick and giving me the opportunity to resign with the pay I would have gotten if I’d stayed until the end of my pregnancy. It was clear from what she said that my firing was pregnancy related. After me, she forced people out of their jobs by making them miserable rather than firing them, so I guess she learned something from the experience, as did I. Oh, it was so awful there.

    When I applied for my current job at a state university two years ago, the application asked “have you ever been fired or forced to resign?” I really thought about it before answering no. It had been nearly three decades. Everyone who worked there has long since moved on, that director was fired (but it took like seven years, and my firing happened in the first year of her tenure!) and has probably long since retired, etc. It seems pretty much impossible that university HR in this enormous school would ever find out even if I walked around telling everyone I knew. But I worry! I just felt that if I was a good Girl Scout and answered yes, I wouldn’t be able to advance in the hiring process.

    Feels sort of good to confess here, actually.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      You were illigally fired, I think you can not count that as being fired and have a clear conscious.

      1. k.k*

        Yeah, within the spirit of the question you answered truthfully. And any official records should list that you resigned, not that you were fired, so there shouldn’t be any way of finding out.

    2. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      My firing happened 40 years ago and I’m pretty sure no record exists anymore of that 6 week job.

  20. Brett*

    To add to the “how do employers know” part of the question…
    For a full background check for local or state government, especially money-handling or law enforcement, they will often have you sign over an IRS form 4506-T. Those go back up to 10 years and will basically show all your w-2 and 1099 employers.

      1. Brett*

        Yes, but that would make it more difficult to hide a short term employment where you were fired.
        From that point, they will contact the company directly, if possible.

  21. k.k*

    I always so no, but I’m realizing now that there was one job I felt I left voluntarily, but if you asked them they might say I was fired. I was with a temp agency when I was between job, and specifically told them I could only take part time assignments because I would need time free if an interview for a permanent job came up. So of course, my first and only assignment was a full time gig, and they got pissed when I had to take time off for an interview. They took me off the assignment but phrased it as a “reassignment”, and I trained the new guy. That was the last communication we had, because I ended up getting the job I’d interviewed for. So they didn’t technically fire me, but I wonder how their records would classify it (they’re long since out of business so I doubt I have anything to worry about).

  22. Magenta Sky*

    The only time I’ve been fired was a guy who fired me for taking lunch. (In California, no less.) This was the day after he chewed me out for *not* taking a lunch. He was a psycho. (Best thing that ever happened to me, though, since a few days later I got my current job. This was 25 years ago.)

    My brother was fired for defending himself when a coworker (with a known history of violence) attacked him. He started his business with the settlement from the lawsuit.

    A friend has been fired from pretty much every job he’s ever had, because it’s utterly incapable of working for people who are stupider than he is, and everybody is stupider than he is (just ask him). Nice enough guy, terrible employee.

  23. la bella vita*

    I was kind of fired/kind of laid off at a job where my grandboss was the single biggest misogynist I’ve ever come across. I was told it “wasn’t working out,” the the truth was that 1) work had completely dried up (because the rates this consulting firm was charging were exorbitant) and 2) grandboss was incredibly abusive (boss wasn’t much better) and had it out for me from day one for having lady parts (this was not a one off, he repeated this cycle with another woman about a year later). I’ve just told everyone in the years since that I was laid off and as the firm has since basically imploded, I’m sticking with that.

  24. Sami*

    I was fired from a nanny position almost 25 years ago. I don’t even remember the names of both of the kids. :) And I have no idea how anyone would know about that job- I never stayed in touch with them. Their reasoning btw was that I reminded the Dad Boss of his mother. Whaaat?!
    I assume I’m safe. Even moreso since I’m not ever applying for a nanny job again.

  25. spek*

    I don’t think anyone really cares that you told your manager at the Hilltop Mall SBarro to piss off 25 years ago and got canned. Go ahead and check the “No” box…

  26. OP*

    I’m the OP. I wondered about this because someone ran into “Tina”, who allegedly got caught taking the office coffee maker on camera after someone set up a CCTV to figure out who was stealing the microwave lunches every day. She’s still employees in our industry and is apparently doing ok for herself.

    1. CoffeeLover*

      We talk a lot about what employers can do or should do here, but I think the reality is that a lot of employers don’t do those things. Some employers do extensive background checks and others don’t even bother to call your references. I think they’re even less likely to be diligent if the person they’re hiring comes through a recommendation. Tina probably called around to her network to get hired at another firm. To be fair though, I don’t think one mistake should destroy your whole career (though what she did does show a serious lack of integrity).

      I’ve never been fired but honestly if I had I think I would check the “no” box. A lot of online systems filter you out automatically if you tick “yes”. If they somehow manage to discover the firing later in the process then I would explain what happened and would say that I ticked “no” because I wanted the chance to explain in person rather than getting an auto rejection. Maybe they would still reject me at that point, but at least I have some chance instead of no chance. I think the situation is totally different if your a super strong candidate with specialized skills, but I’m still just an average Joe candidate.

      1. sstabeler*

        I’ve mentioned this before, but automatically rejecting people for a new job if they’ve been fired really pisses me off- the entire point of “at-will employment” is that it’s supposed to be both easy to get hired and easy to get fired. Things like refusing to hire anyone fired for any reason undermine that by making it impossible to get a new job- and when you can be fired for literally no reason, it’s unfair on the employees. (basically, the harder it is to get a new job- in general- the harder it should be to fire someone)

  27. Dawn*

    I’ve only been fired once thankfully, and they classified it as “laid off” because they never should have hired me. The only thing listed on the ad was that they wanted someone with Peachtree Accounting experience, I had 5 years on that program so they hired me. Long story short, I took over for the owners son, who had quit because his dad was a jerk. This was a manufacturing company and it was so much more than needing ap/ar, I was drowning and they just kept piling on. I called the owners son crying when I was about 2 weeks in, and he met me on a Saturday to help with some of the major issues. A month later he came back in the office and said he’ll be taking over my job, I was so happy to leave. He gave me a great reference, and I learned my lesson about asking detailed questions during interviews.

  28. Anonymous_for_this*

    I was fired once, from a part-time job I held in graduate school. I hadn’t been taking the job seriously — I guess I thought I could just show up, hang around the office, and waste time, and still get paid. As I look back, I think part of me was rebelling against always having been the perfect “good girl” straight-A student who could do no wrong in the eyes of authority figures. Maybe I was testing the Universe by trying to figure out if consequences really did apply to me. (Spoiler: They did!)

    They didn’t say I was “fired,” just that I was no longer needed in the office, but it was definitely a firing for cause. If I were asked whether or not I’d ever been fired, I might have to say yes, even though that was coming up on 20 years ago and I’m sure the people who worked in that office are long gone.

  29. AnonForObviReason*

    I was fired for cause from my last job (I was stealing). Fortunately, that was the catalyst for me to go to rehab, and now it’s four years later and I’ve been sober ever since. I found checking the “fired” box immediately eliminated me from consideration every time. I stopped checking the box, and started explaining that I’d left due to health reasons.

    I don’t regard this as being totally untrue, as I did technically enter rehab earlier in the day prior to my termination. Was it completely honest? No. But it got me into my current organization where I’ve since been promoted twice.

    Also, I paid back every dime that I stole from my previous employer, and ultimately received well wishes from my former VP (though she said she could not serve as a reference, which was completely understandable).

  30. Penny B*

    What about when they phrase the question as something like ‘Have you ever been fired or asked to resign?’ I was given that choice once, and I chose the latter. I made the choice to resign so that I would have control over the narrative of what happened, but I find that this question takes that away from me. Any thoughts on how to deal with this?

    1. MommyMD*

      That’s a hard one because both underline the fact that the company wanted to part ways. Forced resignation is a euphemism for fired. You could side skirt it by saying something like “it was not a good fit between X company and I”.

    2. WasCanned*

      I’m job hunting and have noticed that dual question as well. I’m also seeing “Or have you ever resigned because you thought you were about to be fired?” Answering yes to any of those question is not good and clearly fishing. I answer no, no and no even though its not true. I was fired in 2015 from a job I’d been at for 5 years. Like many here, never in a million did I *ever* think I could be fired…right up until the day I was. I still don’t know the real reasons. I’d never received any verbal or written warnings and had stellar yearly reviews. I think my manager just wanted me gone. It was devastating. Unfortunately I’ve had two jobs since (just not good fits) and hate having the firing in my past. But I’m pretty sure neither of the subsequent jobs found out – and I certainly wasn’t going to tell them.

  31. Meeps*

    I was fired once along with two coworkers for, basically, being jerks. We were all close and hung out together and in a company of only 10 people we very much turned into a mean girls clique. Our boss decided to log into our Skype group chats, and well, the conversations were about what you’d expect from two early 20s gay men and one early 20s snarky female. My current job is one I got via a temp gig after getting let go and I never had to directly answered the “fired” question, but I dread having to do so in the future. I think framing it as a “culture problem” is the way to go, but hopefully I won’t have to deal with it for awhile. And yes, I have learned my lesson about being a jerk and talking smack on work chat systems…

  32. Jenny Jenn*

    If you were fired from a job, you probably have a gap on your resume. Depending on how long it took to find another job, interviewers may ask about the gaps in employment. I do a fair amount of interviews (as the interviewer) in my current role and I only treat it as a red flag if I see several jobs with gaps in employment.

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      A lot of people are commenting that they’ve been fired working food service or retail in high school, which would be the case for me. Those are generally jobs you’d leave off a resume once you’ve built up some professional, full-time experience and since they’re at the beginning, there’s no gap.

      I haven’t encountered such a question (I’m in Europe, where form applications aren’t very common for professional jobs: people apply by sending a CV) but if I did, I would probably omit my high school fast food experience. And I think that’s reasonable, as not making burgers fast enough doesn’t say much about my skills in my current job. In other words, I think that information wouldn’t be very helpful to employers either way.

      Of course, as Alison notes, government background checks are a whole different cup of tea, where you should not lie under any circumstances.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Funny thing is, I technically have a pretty small gap in my resume from when I was fired, because three weeks later I started working at Target so I’d have some part-time income (although I don’t put Target on my resume anymore, but I did at the time by way of explanation). But I have a ~4.5 month gap on my resume now from being laid off, because I was less worried about having that immediate part-time job to keep busy.

  33. MommyMD*

    I doubt many smallish businesses even know the existence of The Work Number. I’ve never been fired. It’s up to the employer to do their due diligence when hiring. I wouldn’t worry about it unless you are responsible for hiring or strongly suspect or know for certain a problem coworker is hiding a firing.

  34. Stuff*

    I’m wondering about this. I got a retail job a couple weeks ago, and they were expecting people to work off the clock every closing shift (you clock out when your shift is over, then go clean everything that needs cleaning and do all the go backs). Upon finding this out, I clocked out at the end of my shift and left, intending to quit. Since then, I’ve been fired for job abandonment and filed a complaint with the state labor board. Then a different retail store I applied to a few weeks ago called me up for an interview. Naturally, I didn’t tell the interviewer about the job I just lost. I worked all of three shifts, the firing’s both illegal retaliation and I was quitting anyway, and it’s a nasty, frustrating situation that takes an interview away from my own value as a candidate. I don’t remember if the question about getting fired was asked in the application or not, but if so I truthfully said no at the time. I got hired conditionally, pendimg background check.

    Well, both retail stores are part of The Work Number, so my new employer may well find out about this. I really hope that doesn’t result in a recinded job offer.

  35. Mimmy*

    Can’t say that I recall ever seeing that question on job applications. I’m not sure if I’d be able to say “no” though: I’ve been let go 3 times – two were each after just a couple of weeks and the other after 10 months, though that was framed as a layoff. The two short stints didn’t involve formal firings and were many years ago; both were a poor fit for me anyway.

    I have nothing to worry about, right?

    1. WasCanned*

      Mimmy, I assume two week jobs aren’t on your resume = nothing to worry about. 10 months I’d probably say it just wasn’t a good fit but not that you were fired. Hiring managers always say they can’t take the chance that you’re telling the truth so can’t/won’t hire as it will reflect on them if you don’t work out.

  36. Laura*

    I just told the truth, even though my former employer (IRS) can’t tell the truth about it because of a court order. The truth is that I was fired for “knowing too much tax law to do my job correctly”–I was a tax examiner doing audits and remembered something from the IRS-taught tax law class that my supervisor didn’t know, so that was the excuse he used to fire me (he also hated me and had made my life a living hell). Anyway, I appealed the firing and it was changed to quitting since I didn’t want to go back (IRS is famous for blackballing employees who appeal things like that through the union). Anyway, I had the proof of both the firing and the settlement. And it’s a funny story.

    1. Laura*

      Oh–I was also fired from my first job. I was working at a radio station and the person before me had loaded the wrong tape. The owner happened to be listening that morning and caught it and came in. I was studying and he started yelling at me and fired me. I started to leave and he panicked because he didn’t know how to run the board, which meant that both the AM and FM stations would be offline until he found someone to cover my early Sunday morning shift–and it was 7 am. I ended getting my job back AND being allowed to study while I was at work! My only regret is I didn’t ask for a raise, because I’m sure I would have gotten it!

  37. Janet Aldrich*

    I worked for a pre-job verification firm and EVERY job you’ve held is out there for the finding if the employer wants to spend the money to hire a company like the one I worked for. Don’t ever assume you can “get away” with misrepresenting yourself on a job app, even if you probably can on a resume.

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