How much should you disclose if you've been fired?

Claudia Buck / The Sacramento Bee /

What to say when you’ve been fired? Terri Carpenter, a longtime jobs expert with the Sacramento (Calif.) Employment and Training Agency, has the answer.

Q: I worked for (a discount alcoholic beverage company) 11 years ago. Mistakenly, I sold alcohol to underage customers without checking ID. I thought they were over 21. The company let me go immediately. Do I have to list this on an application?

A: On a job application, you do not need to go into detail of why your employment ended. Instead of listing the position as “fired,” you should list it as “terminated” or “job ended.”

But if it specifically asks whether you were fired, you need to answer “Yes.” Lying on a job application is grounds for dismissal.

Most importantly, during a job interview, you need to be able to explain why your employment was terminated. You can count on every employer asking: “Why did you leave your last job?”

When talking with a potential employer, you should be honest and state the facts. Tell the employer that you learned a lesson and explain how you benefited from the experience. Take the negative and turn it into a positive.

A suggested response could be: “For years, I was a valued, hardworking employee who always followed company policy and procedures. One day I made an error in judgment that cost me my job. I sold alcohol to an underage customer without checking ID. I learned a very valuable lesson: No matter what, I always follow my employer’s rules and regulations.”

Be sure to be confident in your response. Keep it brief; keep it honest; keep it moving.

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