Reader 1:

I was recently fired for chronic tardiness. I'd worked at this business for four years, and though I knew my lateness was seen as a problem by my boss, the firing was still a surprise.

Now that I'm applying for new jobs, my mother thinks that I should mention my previous tardiness and explain that I have "learned my lesson," especially when applying to a different branch of my former company, whose hiring managers would have direct access to my work history.

I think explaining my "lesson learned" is for job interviews when/if it comes up, not job applications, when I am trying to highlight my best side.

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Reader 2: I was fired from my job for violating company policy (using my cellphone on the floor). It's embarrassing and somewhat depressing to tell interviewers about it. I feel like I'm not going to get the job because of the violation, but I'm well qualified with the performance to prove it. Is there any way to relate this violation without being rejected for it? Should I give permission to contact my former employer? Is telling the truth the best thing when asked why I was fired?


A: If a simple "things didn't work out, and I was let go" doesn't suffice - say, the interviewer presses you for or is likely to gain access to the ugly details - the truth really is your only option.

But there's naked truth, and there's narrative truth. In the latter, you own what you did wrong and explain why it won't happen again. (Because it won't - right?)


Reader 1 could say: "Although I did good work, I was late to work too often. Since then, I have developed better time management skills so my old habits no longer sabotage my otherwise strong performance."

Reader 2 could say: "My performance was strong, but I had a bad habit of using my cellphone when I wasn't helping customers, which was against company policy.

Now, I keep my phone switched off until I'm on my own time. Otherwise, my performance record should show that I'm a hard worker who delivers excellent service."


Practice in front of a friend or video camera until you master an honest, unflinching delivery. It's all right to look contrite, but don't grovel or ramble. Own it and move on.

Now try out your response on your former boss. Acknowledge that you understand why you had to be let go, and that it was the wake-up call you needed to make necessary changes. Ask if the boss is willing to share the positive things about your performance and character if contacted for a reference.

After that, keep your narrative in your back pocket until the situation calls for it. Ideally, you won't need to pull it out more than once for the rest of your life.