Fired for Not Smiling–This is Not a Joke


My supervisor fired me last Friday for “not smiling enough.” Who thinks that’s a reason to fire someone?—well, apparently my former idiot supervisor. So, what do I say when I interview for a job? I conducted did an informal poll among my friends and the top vote-getter was, “It was b.s. I got fired.” That makes sense to me—what do you think? And do I have to say I’m fired? Or can I say, “it was a mutual decision,” because I sure wouldn’t want to still be working there.

woman in gray tank top
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on


You don’t have to say “fired.” You can say your job ended, or you were let go. Then, quickly add, “When I started my job search, your ad was the first one that caught my eye.” Hopefully, this positive statement leads the interviewer to ask, “What about our ad appealed to you?”

If the interviewer probes for the reasons your former employer let you go, answer briefly, and without marinating your words in sarcasm. When you called me for help, your tone of voice and eye roll made me think, “Her bitterness will turn off every interviewer.”

It may help you to realize why an interviewer wants to learn the underlying reasons another employer blessed you out the door. They want to know what mistakes you’ve made, and if you’ll repeat them. They want to make sure you have the right skill set and your resume correctly reflects what you can and will do. They want to know if you’ll fit into their team and be a good employee.

Whatever you answer, make sure it’s honest, as most employers conduct reference checks. Some fired individuals attempt the easily discovered “it was a mutual decision” dodge. This ends the applicant’s chances of landing a job because it signals they’ve not only been fired but won’t admit it.

            Whatever you do, shed your attitude. When you let your bitterness show by badmouthing or blaming your former supervisor or employer, you label yourself a problem hire. Instead, make positive comments about the employer’s job listing to explain why you feel you’re a perfect fit for the new job and company. Here’s an example of redirection I wrote for one of my clients when she lost a new position on a sales team. “I was hired because the references on my former jobs described me as highly personable, however my new coworkers all had years of sales experience, and I didn’t meet the sales quota set for me. My sales skills grew every week, but not quickly enough. Still, I learned a lot about how to sell and how to stay positive all day despite the rejection that comes in a sales environment. I think that will help me in the customer service position you’ve posted.”

            You need to understand why your employer decided you needed to leave. Did your lack of a smile mean you reacted sullenly to assignments or improvement-oriented feedback? Did your coworkers consider you an energy vampire? You can often learn the underlying reasons, as well as what your former employer may say on reference calls, if you call your former company’s HR manager.

By gaining clarity concerning your part of the situation, you’ll prevent it from happening again. Many of us rationalize our problem behavior with statements such as, “It wasn’t my fault. I blew up because I had the worst day” or “Anyone would have reacted the way I did.” If you want strategies for how to “own” your part of problem situations, check out Chapter 14 of Navigating Conflict,

Finally, you may need to wait a few days before your first interview. Your anger singed the phones lines when you called me, and I’d hate for you to lose your chance to get hired by a non-idiot supervisor because you haven’t cooled down.

(c) 2023 Lynne Curry

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3 thoughts on “Fired for Not Smiling–This is Not a Joke

  1. I would try to spin this into a positive attribute, something along the lines of: “I’m a serious person by nature. My former supervisor let me go for not smiling enough, and I think perhaps she thought I wasn’t happy in my position, but I was. I just think the time for fun and games is after work.”

    That said- I think the employee here should do some introspection. Was the former supervisor using “not smiling enough” as a way of saying “You are clearly unhappy here. You’re surly with me, surly with your co-workers. You show up late. You call in sick. You roll your eyes when I instruct you to do something. You snap at the customers.” It’s possible that the only reason this person was fired was because they didn’t smile enough, but it’s not likely. If the work was getting done accurately and in a timely fashion, if they treated their supervisor and co-workers and customers with respect, if the person was showing up for their shifts on time, every time- it’s hard to believe that an employer would let them go for simply not smiling enough.

  2. “You don’t smile enough” on the one hand sounds like a classic male chauvinist complaining that the female worker isn’t feminine and nonthreatening enough, and using their fire-at-will powers. But Lee and Lynne and perhaps others have said that perhaps this was just a shorthand for the person having a bad or destructive attitude that was adversely affecting morale, as well as the boss. And they have a point. Redirecting the interviewer’s attention [this is assuming the person somehow is able to get an interview, which is not necessarily likely] or putting a more positive spin on it–Lee’s was genius–are great ideas. Too, the person needs to think about how their self-presentation at work may be seen by others. Someone who is always finding the worm in the apple and keeps on bringing it up is not just an analytical thinker but perhaps too cynical and too good at finding fault with any proposals for change–even to people who may personally like the constant naysayer/non-smiler. At a certain point, too, the nay-saying/non-smiling is easy to perceive as a challenge to the boss and disrespect–even if it isn’t.

    1. Terrific comment, love the line about the worm in the apple. And you’re right, a thin-skinned boss can be reactive.

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