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Is getting fired a huge liability in finding a new job?
February 4, 2009 2:21 PM   Subscribe

"Were you ever fired" is now a common question on job applications.

Of course I've been fired -- who hasn't? But the fact that they put this question in the same little box where they ask "have you ever been convicted of a felony" is vexing. It makes me think this is a weeder question and that if I answer truthfully my application will go in the trash.

What's more, today's job apps ask for a "detailed explanation" of why you were fired. On the felony question, they say answering will not necessarily disqualify you from employment, but they don't mention this for the "fired" question.

It's hard enough to find a job without being damned for getting fired, laid off, or otherwise let go. It never used to be like this. In fact, I was under the impression that if a potential employer called your previous employer, your previous employer was not allowed to say why you no longer work there or do anything other than verify you worked there.

I've been checking the "No" box. I don't think it's any of their business or relevant to the jobs I'm applying for. I was let go because the company and I were a bad fit. I worked very hard, tried to cope with the personality differences, and was let go with severance pay and without hard feelings.

However, I don't expect a potential employer to believe that. It's so cutthroat out there and companies seem to be looking for reasons NOT to hire people.

So, for anyone in HR or related fields: Is this indeed a weeder question? What happens when a person gives an explanation of why they were fired? Do employers have any way of checking up on a person to see if they're lying about getting fired?

The company that fired me was sold and my two ex-bosses no longer work there, so if a potential employer bothers calling them, they won't be able to talk to them.

However, I claimed state unemployment benefits and the reason was "involuntary termination." Are records of this confidential? If not, do employers bother to pull them, and can they see the reason you left your job?

I don't put down that I was collecting unemployment on my job apps, but is this something they routinely check now?

I'm an educated professional, but I'm applying for any job I can do. This means that in addition to hitting every ad I can find in my field, I'm filling out apps at coffee shops, bookstores, and telemarketing companies. The professional-level jobs usually just ask for resumes, but the service jobs have apps and it seems nine out of ten of these ask the question about getting fired.

Seems you just can't get a break these days!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (52 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Of course I've been fired -- who hasn't?

Most people I know haven't been fired.
posted by billysumday at 2:23 PM on February 4, 2009 [32 favorites]


And, following up on that, I think the employer is definitely just weeding out people who have been fired before and therefore you should keep checking "no" and roll with it. I really doubt they're going to be contacting unemployment services. So long as your references speak well of you and don't tell the prospective employer that you've been fired, I think you'll be fine.
posted by billysumday at 2:26 PM on February 4, 2009


Have you ever been fired? is not Have you ever been laid off?

I don't think I know anyone who has been fired. Laid off, sure.
posted by meerkatty at 2:26 PM on February 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't think you can get a blanket answer for this one. Every company has different requirements. If you were applying where I work, I would look first at your qualifications and porftolio, and if I really liked what I saw but also saw that you'd been let go, I would bring you in for an interview to discuss the firing reason before I determined you weren't qualified. That said, you were one of multiple applicants who all had amazing qualifications, and I had limited time to interview, you'd probably be tossed out of the pile right away.

And a good number of people I know have never been fired, including myself.
posted by katillathehun at 2:28 PM on February 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not remotely sure how this "question" got approved, but my understanding is that your former company cannot say that you were fired, only that you worked there from 2002-2005 or whatever. Obviously, don't list them as a reference.

It's a buyer's (employer's) market out there, of course they're going to weed people out based on whatever criteria they want.

Also, I've never been fired from a job and I don't know hardly anyone who has.
posted by desjardins at 2:28 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the OP is using the term "fired" synonymously with being "laid off". If they were truly fired, they wouldn't qualify for unemployment benefits.
posted by politikitty at 2:33 PM on February 4, 2009


Of course I've been fired -- who hasn't?

Data-point: I haven't.
posted by jayder at 2:38 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was under the impression that if a potential employer called your previous employer, your previous employer was not allowed to say why you no longer work there or do anything other than verify you worked there.

Your impression is incorrect. You may have been confused because many companies have the policy that they won't say anything beyond verifying your employment dates, but that's only the internal policy of some companies; there is no law that prohibits them from divulging much much more.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:39 PM on February 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't think fired and laid off are remotely the same for the purposes of these questions. My father was apparently once fired for causing a train derailment -- a future employer might want to know that, especially if they were going to let him work around trains. I was laid off because my company was merged with another company and there wasn't work enough for all the people in the merged reporting department -- a future employer doesn't care about that.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:39 PM on February 4, 2009


I can assure you most people have not be fired but many have been laid off, furloughed or "made redundant" (UK). I ran a firm that had over 230 employees (professional and non professional). FWIW, I would discourage you from misrepresenting your self on an emplyoment application. There is no need to volunteer information that is not asked but deliberately misleading is not a good idea. Due to litigation many employers only provide minimal information---dates of employment, position and type of termination. Assuming there is a place for explanation--explain but keep it simple--absenteeism, disagreement re: performance, illness, etc. Good luck in these difficult times BTW, we did not ask that question 9 I think).
posted by rmhsinc at 2:40 PM on February 4, 2009


If that is how the question is phrased, it's incredibly vague. What I think it means is, "fired for cause," which means you got fired for a serious violation(s) of company policy or criminal acts.

I would assume that is what it means and check "no" as a result. I have been laid off, let go, fired whatever, for example because I didn't want to relocate from CA to CT. I certainly wouldn't think anyone sane would put that it the same league as a felony.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:43 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


But my understanding is that your former company cannot say that you were fired, only that you worked there from 2002-2005 or whatever.

Not really. They're under no obligation to withhold information. A lot of employers will only give employment dates instead of qualitative info for fear of being sued by the ex-employee, not because of any rules or regs preventing them from telling the truth.

I think the OP is using the term "fired" synonymously with being "laid off". If they were truly fired, they wouldn't qualify for unemployment benefits.

I read this differently. I think the OP was actually fired, not laid off. And people who are terminated aren't automatically disqualified from collecting unemployment. Totally depends on the circumstances.

To the OP, look at it this way: It sucks to be fired once, but it sounds like you have an explanation at least (however tortured). What's worse is being fired TWICE. And if you get hired somewhere, then they find out that you lied on your job application, that's very likely what will happen.

Suck it up. Tell the truth on the application. In the field that asks for an explanation, write "I'm happy to provide details on request." That way there's no way for them to read between the lines.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:44 PM on February 4, 2009


Maybe it varies from state to state, but in Texas, there is no law saying that your previous employer cannot discuss why you are no longer working for them. They are legally able say whatever they want to, as long as it is true. Many companies have a policy against it, though, because it's not a good practice to dis on former employees who might decide to sue them for libel.

In your specific case, it's probably "safe" to check no, if no one with first-hand knowledge of why you were fired is still at your previous company. It may not be a good idea, though. Where I work, lying on your application will get you fired later, if it is ever discovered, and banned from working here ever again. It's much harder to justify that to a future employer down the road than "it wasn't a good fit."

Like katillathehun says, checking yes might not be held against you if you are highly qualified for the job you are applying for. If you are marginally qualified or not qualifed at all, then yes, your application will be trashed. But if they are really interested in you, then they will give you a chance to explain. My experience so far in this recession is that every posted job gets hundreds of applicants, but very few of them seem to have actually read the job posting and are a good fit for the position. The ones that have good, relevant experience rise to the top easily.

And by the way, many, many, many people have never been fired. Savvy people will quit if they realize that a job isn't working out, specifically so they can say they have never been fired.

IAAHRProfessional, but IANYHRProfessional.
posted by donajo at 2:52 PM on February 4, 2009


1. I've never been fired.
2. Just say you haven't been fired. It's against the law for a former employer to talk about the details of employment other than to confirm the length of time they worked there.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:54 PM on February 4, 2009


Data point: hell yes I've been fired, fired with a vengeance, and I earned every step of that little accompanied quick-march out the door. I was nineteen and I hated my boss just as much as he hated me, but mostly I hated the work, which was cold-calling market research in a windowless call centre.
I've never seen the question on an job application form, but if I had to give an answer, it'd be a formally worded version of the above.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:55 PM on February 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's against the law for a former employer to talk about the details of employment other than to confirm the length of time they worked there.

False.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:59 PM on February 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


I disagree with everyone who says you should check "Yes" on the form - this is what an interview is for - during the course of an interview you normally get asked if you were ever let go from a position and why? Or why "did you leave job "xyz""...

See - having a felony conviction is a legal issue. You have a criminal record and simply cannot be employed for some activities.

At what point did corporations and your individual employment terms with them become a legal, binding record? This is not lying about a criminal record or drug usage. This is not about lying about your skills, experience or educational background.

Someone feel free to educate me - but I know of NO LAW that allows a corporation to legally discriminate against people because they have been "fired" in the past.

Gee - what if you were 15 and flipping burgers and screwed up? You got canned, ya learned from that experience and moved on. Technically, yes "you have been fired" at one point - is it relevant? No friggin way.

You worked at "xyz" from dates "a" to "b" - if they want to double-check that, they can contact the company directly, unless you provide a reference.
posted by jkaczor at 3:02 PM on February 4, 2009


For all the people who suggesting that you should check "Yes" - if you really want to - you simply do not have to list that employer on your resume.

There is no law against that either. You would be asked about your "blank spot" and at that point can volunteer whatever info you choose.

(Admitedly not a good idea - I've been a recruiter - you learn to spot 'blank' periods very very quickly and then drill into that during telephone screens)
posted by jkaczor at 3:08 PM on February 4, 2009


but I know of NO LAW that allows a corporation to legally discriminate against people because they have been "fired" in the past.

Laws don't generally let employers legally discriminate against things, they tell them what they can't legally discriminate against. Everything that's not listed (things like gender, race, sex, religion, and in some jurisdictions, age and sexual orientation) is pretty much fair game for discrimination, right down to not liking your choice of footwear at the interview. And by discrimination, I mean "the employer deciding not to hire you because of that". If they can't even make choices based on your employment history, what should they use?
posted by jacquilynne at 3:08 PM on February 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's so cutthroat out there and companies seem to be looking for reasons NOT to hire people.

Legally, nobody can rat you out, but don't pin your willingness to lie on an unfair system. They have a plethora of candidates and have the right to set criteria which is completely relevant to whether or not you have a track record of being a loyal and performing employee.

As a data point, I have never been fired and those that I know who have been fired have never thought it was justified.
posted by David Fleming at 3:13 PM on February 4, 2009


If you check the "no" box, and then lie to me during the interview when I ask you why you left job "x", and I find out because I check employment history, even if your explanation was good, you're a guaranteed no-hire.

If you check the "yes" box and give me a reasonable rationale, I'll consider you based on the history you've had since the fired-job. If your next job after the fired-job only last 3 months, you probably didn't learn from the experience, so again, you're a no-hire. If on the other hand, your post-fired job lasted 2 years, it shows you are capable of growth. It's not a guaranteed hire, but it's keeping you out of the definitely-not pile.
posted by nomisxid at 3:14 PM on February 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


If they can't even make choices based on your employment history, what should they use?

So you list the dates and let them do the leg-work (as per nomisxid's post at 10:14).
posted by jkaczor at 3:17 PM on February 4, 2009


Just to clarify something to all the job recruiters and HR managers popping into this thread shaming anonymous into admitting all of his past employment missteps in the application, let it be reiterated that he's not applying for his dream job - rather, he's merely trying to get a job at the local coffee shop or the telemarketing call center in town. I'm sure if he was applying for a professional job in a competitive field, most people would be giving different advice.
posted by billysumday at 3:19 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow messy answers here. I might as well dive in from both sides...

Of course I've been fired -- who hasn't?
I've never been fired. I know a lot of people who have never been fired. I know two people who have been fired, though. So I would wager that MOST people have never been fired.

It's against the law for a former employer to talk about the details of employment.
That is very false, at least in every state I know about. Employers can say whatever they want as long as it's true, and even if they lie for some reason, they're exposing themselves to civil lawsuits from the slandered employee, not criminal prosecution.

Many HR departments choose to say little as policy, since that employee's not their problem anymore and why should they risk causing problems, right? But it's certainly not a legal requirement. And really, "Um, yes, she wasn't quite a good match for the level of responsibility we needed." says just as much as "We fired her." Maybe more.

I know of NO LAW that allows a corporation to legally discriminate against people because they have been "fired" in the past.
In general, you don't need a law to make a practice legal. You need a law to make it illegal, and in absence of that, it's quite legal. Watch me smoke this salvia!

Yes "you have been fired" at one point - is it relevant? No friggin way.
I tend to agree, usually, but employers like the opportunity (fairly or not) to decide that relevance for themselves, rather than take your word for it.

So, for anyone in HR or related fields: Is this indeed a weeder question?
Yes, but not necessarily in the way you think.

I have done a lot of hiring and team-interviews, and part of my work over the years has been developing better screening and hiring practices/methods for corporations, especially for short-term or specialty projects. In the design/entertainment business, mainly, but it applies to most of Corporate America, especially small firms.

I've never seen or used "Have you been fired" as a checkbox on a form, but I admit that I have myself asked this as an impromptu question in interviews. I didn't really care about the facts of the answer -- in fact, I rather appreciated those who said Yes, and explained. (I suppose if one had said "I pulled a gun on a coworker" I might have taken it more seriously as a screening answer.)

But really, I was just asking to see if they'd get all nervous and lie about it. I probably wouldn't have an issue with someone who'd been fired (once), since there are a lot of personality problems and bad employers out there. You have to give people a little credit. But a lot of people will say quite literally anything to get a job, and it's in everyone's best interest to weed those out early.

In some interviews (and screening tests) the purpose of many of questions is just to measure your honesty. The actual answer doesn't matter much.

In this case, a sweaty-browed, darty-eyed, mock-offended "Of course not!" isn't a good sign. That would inspire me to check references and employment history a lot more closely.

Even without the word "fired", leaving a lot of jobs in a short time period is always a bad omen for the next business relationship. "Yes, well, the owner's wife was a bitch." might be okay once. But if two jobs later it's "Oh at that place, those people were crazy." and the next one is "That guy treated me way too bad." then it's... well, it's a blinking light. I wouldn't flat out reject that person at that point, but I wouldn't hire them until I'd resolved the real story for each of those workplaces. If I couldn't, I'd probably move on to someone less risky.

Sorry if this sounds cruel. Remember, employers are trying to weed out hundreds of bad and dishonest applicants, too. It's a pool of poison and it's not your fault.
posted by rokusan at 3:28 PM on February 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


(Admitedly not a good idea - I've been a recruiter - you learn to spot 'blank' periods very very quickly and then drill into that during telephone screens)

Really? Get hung up on much?

I put the jobs i feel like listing on my resume, which is a list of my qualifications as I choose to present them. Anyone asking about "blank" periods will be told I was "freelancing," "between jobs," or whatever other term I feel like using to describe things that are my own goddamn business.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:29 PM on February 4, 2009


Don't know why I said against the law...brain fart. I meant to say that from my experience that it's against many companies HR policies to give out details other than length of employment.
posted by zephyr_words at 3:29 PM on February 4, 2009


[Anonymous is] merely trying to get a job at the local coffee shop or the telemarketing call center in town.

Then lie, check "no", and move on.

Yes, if they do background checks they can catch you. But so what. Any McJob, like a coffee shop or call center, won't be doing background checks anyway. It's not cost-benefit effective, since it's cheaper for them to just fire and replace someone bad.

It's only fields where the cost of recruiting/screening/training/replacing a person is five or six figures where a great deal of expensive and onerous screening is worthwhile.
posted by rokusan at 3:31 PM on February 4, 2009


I put the jobs i feel like listing on my resume, which is a list of my qualifications as I choose to present them. Anyone asking about "blank" periods will be told I was "freelancing," "between jobs," or whatever other term I feel like using to describe things that are my own goddamn business.

I'd be fine with that, myself. That's what I expect a resume to be. Don't tell me about the irrelevant jobs or non-accomplishments. Everyone has some.

DrJimmy, realize that you are in a good place when you're able to just pick the good examples and that will be enough to make you look hire-worthy. For many people, they (think they) need to list even the crappy, bad references, because they don't have anything else to put there. They still should not. Six years of bad experience doesn't help, and they'd be better off with a gap. (Gaps are not bad. That advice comes from the 1950's, I swear.)

The number of times I have reached the third line of a resume, winced and muttered "Oh, god, man, why did you tell me that?" is uncountable.

I should write a resume-writing book. I could save a million jobs.
posted by rokusan at 3:36 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I used to be an HR professional, but I was never yours. Most of what I would say has been covered up thread. But one thing to emphasize, if you have the job in question listed in your work history think hard before you decide to check "No". I have been in the position of having to fire someone for a lie on their application that, in the scheme of things, wasn't much different than what you are talking about. Most companies have very strict policies about this.

There are no laws regarding what a former employer can legally say about you, as others have mentioned. Most are pretty closed mouth about it. But, I will say that during my days calling on potential employees work histories I noticed a distinct trend. If I talked to an HR person they only gave out the minimum but if I got a supervisor or other person not in HR it was often a veritable fount of information, many times more than I felt comfortable hearing. You never know who a potential employer might get when they are verifying your employment history.
posted by cbp at 3:38 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Please take a large chunk of the information provided above for what is worth, which is nothing. Three doozies:

-- "Legally, nobody can rat you out, but don't pin your willingness to lie on an unfair system."

-- "... but I know of NO LAW that allows a corporation to legally discriminate against people because they have been 'fired' in the past."

-- "It's against the law for a former employer to talk about the details of employment other than to confirm the length of time they worked there."
posted by jayder at 4:07 PM on February 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I haven't been fired, but I know plenty of people who have been- it happens all the time.
About half of them were deservedly given the boot, the other half had bosses who were verbally or physically abusive petty tyrants.

On the other hand, I work on the service-industry side of the tracks, so we don't normally have human resource departments to lie to.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:37 PM on February 4, 2009


Yes, it's a weeding question. But give the popularity of the "I've never been fired" posts above, it's clearly one not without some merit.

I'd expect weeding questions to become more popular, especially right now since someone might be going through hundreds of applications for a single post. I got over 300 legitimate applications on a recent Craigslist ad and it took forever, even with weeding questions, to get down to a few candidates. Frankly, given the number of respondents, it's getting hard to think of enough relevant questions that will help me thin it down a bit.

(I'm not in HR, but I hire freelancers sometimes.)
posted by Ookseer at 4:39 PM on February 4, 2009


Not an HR person, but yes, I was fired when I was 16 from a job I hated. It isn't on my resume; it isn't relevant; and I would lie without shame. Remember, HR are not your friends and they don't care about you.
posted by dame at 5:01 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yep, a lot of nonsense "knowledge" being posted here by IANALs.

Legally, nobody can rat you out...
David Fleming tops the list. "Nobody can rat you out"? Really? What is that, the "No Dirty Rats Act of 1987"?

Employers can discriminate ("discern between choices") based on job history. Of course. It's completely relevant to estimating your competence as an employee.

Oh, and OP - On the felony question, they say answering will not necessarily disqualify you from employment. Note the word "necessarily". That statement doesn't really mean much.

drjimmy11, I doubt a hiring agent loses too much sleep if some unemployed hothead hangs up on them for asking about weaknesses on his resume. I have holes in my work record; I expect to be grilled on them. I'm a professional, not a 16yo.

OP, I feel for you, I really do. But if you were recently fired, and I was hiring, and there were unfired competitors (I think this thread proves such aren't as uncommon as you want to believe), ... your resume is in the circular file. OTOH, if you were fired at age 19, as in Fiasco da Gama's case, and your in your 30's or older, NBD. And if there's no competition, you get a phone call, and grilled about the termination.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:19 PM on February 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just one thing to add to the being fired bit, a few people seemed appalled by the idea of being fired, but really it kind of depends on your field. I work in a more creative setting and sometimes sensibilities don't line up and either you or they feel like its time to move on and it's really no big deal.
posted by mattsweaters at 5:24 PM on February 4, 2009


It also depends on what city you're in and the field.

News travels.
posted by jgirl at 5:29 PM on February 4, 2009


"Nobody can rat you out"? Really? What is that, the "No Dirty Rats Act of 1987"?

I'm sorry for using slang. Let me link to what I mean.

In general, former employees say as little as possible in order to avoid getting sued for saying negative things or too few nice things about an employer. There are very few employers left who are willing to put their neck out to save another company grief unless it is completely open and shut and there is no room for interpretation.

So yes, nobody can "rat you out"; not because it's illegal but because HR departments are more concerned with uniformity and avoiding a lawsuit than helping another business find competent employees.
posted by David Fleming at 5:49 PM on February 4, 2009


Depending on the industry, getting fired/laid off is pretty much par for the course. You would know better than n aghast posters here whether or not it is the norm for your industry. In my experience, after firing/lay offs, everyone got a better job really quickly after the firing/layoff etc. So just be honest--you probably have a good explanation (esp if you collected unemployment).
posted by shownomercy at 6:02 PM on February 4, 2009


I've been in this situation. In my case the answer should be, "My boss was nuts and I was the only person left that hadn't fled," but obviously I can't put that. Nobody I even worked with is there anymore, other than Crazyboss who fired me, who owns the small company and is never contacted directly about HR stuff. So, I put the current email address and phone number of my former supervisor (one of the ones who fled before I got the axe) who agreed to vouch for me. She's never been contacted that I'm aware of.
I doubt that's an option, but if it could work out, it might work.
posted by fructose at 6:19 PM on February 4, 2009


I'm not in HR, but since I was an interviewer I had to sit through some long presentations about legal issues about hiring, firing, etc. All my info is US-based, the poster hasn't indicated their location and every country has its own laws.

Basically, employers can discriminate against job applicants by any criteria other than those protected classes: gender, age, ethnicity, national origin, veteran status, familial status, etc.. I can not hire you because you've been fired before, with no legal repercussions. I can also not hire you because you wore brown shoes to the interview, or because you used a red pen on the job application form. All of these are completely valid reasons.

As far as the firing/laid off difference, I was told the difference is:

Fired: your position can be filled immediately
Laid off: your position doesn't exist anymore and can't be filled
posted by meowzilla at 6:27 PM on February 4, 2009


Well, FWIW, I was just, in fact, fired after five years, two of them without a mandatory evaluation.

However, the company I previously worked for has an amazingly bad record with state unemployment as virtually none of it's unemployment appeals pass adjudication. In fact, via contacts of mine, I have learned that that company is considered a joke among state unemployment.

Why was I fired? What I was told was that I had violated the IT Code of Conduct, based on the idea I MAY have downloaded copyrighted material via the corporate LAN. However, amusingly enough, I never did that (barring the idea of any given website as copyrighted material), and no evidence was ever provided. However, I do live in a "right to work" state, which makes that irrelevant.

Frankly, I suspect after five years with never a bad evaluation (not counting the two I am owed) and a steady progression up the food chain during my tenure, that I was primarily let go due to an upcoming Q1 earnings statement annual housecleaning, as well as a pending pay/benefits increase, due to my length of service (which would have begun in approximately 1.5 months).

I will list this as "fired" should a prospective employer ask. I will detail my upwards progression in the company and will also clarify the fact that I was never given any sort of evaluation for the last part of my tenure. I will also explain that I was only suspected of a misdoing, and, in fact, there is no evidence I did anything wrong of any kind, nor, as I understand it, even a documented instance listed as a basis for their suspicions.

Also, amusingly, it was handled with complete stealth. As I waited patiently in an unused conference room for other employees to gather my personal belongings (you know how dangerous us unemployed IT people can be, even when we don't yell and willingly surrender on hand corporate possessions without argument), two of the site's operations managers came to me to fix something, at which point I calmly explained to them I was no longer an employee of the company.

Now, for those of you working in Human Resources, if I were to have explained to you this story, how would you take it?
posted by Samizdata at 6:59 PM on February 4, 2009


I was let go because the company and I were a bad fit. I worked very hard, tried to cope with the personality differences, and was let go with severance pay and without hard feelings.

If you think you were fired over personality/ working-style differences rather than incompetence or negligence- why not contact your former employer and find out if you can expect that they, if called for a reference, will keep the comments benign.

I don't have experience with this, maybe this is lame advice- but I'm not sure what you would have to lose by inquiring.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 7:04 PM on February 4, 2009


Employers can discriminate ("discern between choices") based on job history. Of course. It's completely relevant to estimating your competence as an employee.

Yes - but that is what an interview is for. You do not have to "volunteer" information that is not legally required on some arbitrary paper-form. You put your employment history on your resume and let the recruiter/HR/hiring manager do any legwork/weeding required - that is after all what they get paid for.

Self-selecting onself out of the process prematurely is not exactly in ones' best interests. So the corporate recruiter may actually have to verify your history - they may actually have to ask you over the telephone...

And when asked directly, obviously how you answer will become part of the employers' decision making process. But at least you can state your case at that point.

But then again, I am probably "biased" - I have never had to fill out an actual "application" - it has all been resume/recruiter-based. (Who knows how soon that may change ;-) )
posted by jkaczor at 9:43 PM on February 4, 2009


"I'm filling out apps at coffee shops, bookstores, and telemarketing companies. "

Most of those service job applications (all of the service/retail job apps that I have seen) have this little clause at the end saying that by signing the application you are declaring everything on your application is true to the best of your knowledge. If you lie on your application, sign under that statement, get hired, and then your employer finds out you lied, you can be fired for falsification of records.

Interviewer "Have you ever been fired before?"
Applicant "Yes, I was fired for lying about being fired.."


Just doesn't sound good.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 10:30 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


but I know of NO LAW that allows a corporation to legally discriminate against people because they have been "fired" in the past.

Laws prevent things, they don't allow things. Things start out legal and become illegal. There is no law that prevents an employer from discriminating based on anything other then a protected class such as race, religion, disability, veteran status, etc. The newest one is your genetic code, so you can't be discriminated against based on your DNA, but you can be discriminated against for being fired from a previous job, or being ugly.

Anyway I was fired at like 16 from fucking KFC because I sucked at the job. I don't see why it's anyone's business, frankly.
posted by delmoi at 11:12 PM on February 4, 2009


So yes, nobody can "rat you out"; not because it's illegal but because HR departments are more concerned with uniformity and avoiding a lawsuit than helping another business find competent employees.
posted by David Fleming at 8:49 PM on February 4 [+] [!]


So, by "nobody can", you mean "most people aren't likely to"? At least in companies where there is an HR department?
posted by IAmBroom at 4:52 AM on February 5, 2009


Yes, if they do background checks they can catch you. But so what. Any McJob, like a coffee shop or call center, won't be doing background checks anyway. It's not cost-benefit effective, since it's cheaper for them to just fire and replace someone bad.

As someone who has worked retail, and for many years was the person in charge of doing exactly this (sorting apps, checking references, interviewing and hiring people, etc.), I can tell you that it is NOT by any means cheaper to hire-fire-replace than it is to make a couple of quick phone calls. At least in the company I worked for, this was drilled into us. At the time, every hire was an automatic $1000+ hit to the bottom line. The goal was to hire people who WOULD hang around long enough to learn the job and become productive and profitable.

And, "were you ever fired" has been on every job app I can remember seeing. I, personally, was no less willing to interview someone who said yes- that point in the interview process was usually an excellent way to learn about someone's character.

And, not for nothing, I had an excellent record of good hires.
posted by gjc at 7:31 AM on February 5, 2009


HR professional here. As part of our hiring practices, we don't ask if someone has been fired in the past because it's generally immaterial to the decision. Same for references. Focus on your skills and what you can bring to the position (no matter the level).

I recommend being honest on all job apps/resume information. We verify employment, but not the reason for someone no longer working at their last job(s). If you say 'no' to the 'Have you ever been fired?' question and we hire you and later find out you lied, you would be fired again.
posted by Twicketface at 9:39 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


HR professional here. As part of our hiring practices, we don't ask if someone has been fired in the past because it's generally immaterial to the decision.

So it's immaterial if someone were fired for theft, habitual tardiness, or insubordination?

Someone can have wonderful skills, but still be completely unsuitable as an employee.
posted by jayder at 1:02 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've spent a long time advising employers that skills can be taught, but integrity can't, so guess which one is worth screening for?

Smart, honest applicant with inferior skills: good employee.
Smart, serially-dishonest applicant with superior skills: simmering sociopath.
posted by rokusan at 4:06 PM on February 5, 2009


So it's immaterial if someone were fired for theft, habitual tardiness, or insubordination?

In general, individuals who have been fired for such offenses don't admit to them anyway. And employers are gun-shy about revealing anything but title, salary and dates of employment due to fear of litigation. I get where you are coming from, but I'd rather find out about their through the interview process.
posted by Twicketface at 10:06 AM on February 6, 2009


I honestly find the line between fired and laid off to be fairly stupid. Theft is theft but I know someone who was "fired" a couple weeks ago because they made a mistake. Sure, they made a mistake but then again business is down and no one is going to be replacing them. If business was good it probably wouldn't have led to them being fired. So were they "fired" or "laid off"? I can't help but imagine that when you "lay people off" you don't lay off the employees who make the least mistakes first.
posted by Wood at 11:51 AM on February 6, 2009


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