Medical professional standing in front of several microphones and answering difficult questions

So, why were you fired from your last nursing position?

How to answer one of the toughest interview questions with finesse

In the dynamic field of healthcare, medical facilities and organizations are constantly restructuring. While this can lead to expansions and growth, it can also result in acquisitions, consolidations, and layoffs. Being laid off or fired – regardless of your industry or position – is a humbling and disconcerting experience. And once you’ve dusted yourself off and are ready to search for your next opportunity, you’re faced with reliving that experience in interviews and answering the dreaded question, “Why did you leave your last position?”

Here are the basics for addressing a termination or layoff in an interview:


1.  Be honest.

The reason you cite for being laid off or terminated must align with the information your interviewer will receive via a background check.


2.  Be succinct.

Disclose the amount of information required to be honest, but nothing more. Don’t go into a diatribe about the negative aspects of your former employer or a long list of excuses.


3.  Be positive.

After giving your explanation, do your best to take the conversation in a new direction and remember your overall goal: getting the job!


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4.  Practice.

Craft your answer and deliver it to friends and family. Practice is essential to interviewing well and preparedness can’t be easily faked, especially for the harder questions that make us sweat.

Not sure how to best phrase your response? Review the following examples for one that resonates with your situation:

  • Reason: I wasn’t retained after a major downsizing.
  • Interview Response: The hospital went through a significant downsizing and only retained staff who met certain criteria. I would have welcomed the opportunity for professional development, but understand how the challenges of today’s economy require difficult decisions to be made.


  • Reason: I didn’t get along with my boss.
  • Interview Response: I normally get along very well with diverse personalities, but in this specific environment my previous supervisor and I did not work well together. I realize I could have handled our conflicts better and learned a hard lesson. But, we did wholeheartedly agree that patient care comes first, so I respect their decision and understand it was the right choice for both parties to eliminate the potential distractions in the office.


  • Reason: I was asked to cover extra shifts and couldn’t handle the stress.
  • Interview Response: The scope of my responsibilities changed significantly and I did my best to meet the new demands, but was unable to perform successfully. This experience has enabled me to figure out the types of environments I thrive in, which is why I’m so excited to have the opportunity to interview with your organization.


  • Reason: I couldn’t figure out the new software program and made too many errors.
  • Interview Response: My office transitioned to a new EMR program that I had never used before. I asked for extra training, but was unable to master the program quickly enough and I made multiple errors that caused extra work for my colleagues. These mistakes did not significantly affect patient care, but I understand that I should have been more assertive in getting the help I needed. I have been taking online courses and demos in many of the latest EMR programs in the meantime.


If you were terminated for a serious infraction, Donna Cardillo, RN, MA of suggests working with a nurse career coach (not an unspecialized career coach) and/or obtaining a referral from your state chapter of the American Nurses Association.


Being laid off or terminated can be a major shock to your self-esteem, but as you prepare for your next interview, remember this: you were selected out of a stack of applicants and already passed the first hurdle because your skills and experience piqued the hiring manager’s interest – and they want to know more! Celebrate landing the interview as a victory in your job search journey and get ready for the next step. By practicing your answers to the tough questions about your past, you’ll enter your interviews with confidence and a strengthened ability to focus on the future.

by: Natalie Winzer, iHire
March 09, 2015

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