Fired. Helped me get hired again.
January 7, 2013 2:43 PM   Subscribe

How do I talk about being fired in future job interviews? Advice and encouragement needed.

This was me. I was fired from my job of 11 years because of having too many absences. I was intermittently under the care of a psychiatrist and therapist, but I was not able to fight my way out of depression, social anxiety, ADD and a thyroid disorder enough to make it out of the house and to work every day. At the time I was fired I was on short term disability, but the employer had no choice but to let me go; I wasn’t there to do my job.

Prior to that, I had 10 years of work at this company, and an additional two years of work at another company. I excelled at my job, was promoted twice while working there, and had excellent working relationships with my coworkers and supervisors.

What I have been up to in the past year and a half:
- I worked with my GP, psychiatrist and therapist on a lot of the various issues that contributed to my debilitating condition. I am on new medication and I have made huge dietary and lifestyle changes. I am now in a place where I can honestly say that I feel more physically, mentally and emotionally stable than I have felt in my life.
- I have worked as a freelance writer for Textbroker and have been taking online courses to brush up on my Microsoft Office skills.
- In the last year, I have become a primary caregiver for my seriously ill mother.

Other data points:
- There is obviously no way to leave this job off my resume (I worked there for 11 years, my entire adult employed life so far). I cannot and would not lie or omit the fact that I was let go from my previous job. If it came to light that I lied on my application, I could be fired. I can’t say that I “needed a change” or that “I left to pursue other interests.” Employers are rightfully going to want a specific, truthful explanation.
- I am not sure of the policy of my former company regarding what they say when called for a reference. I am sure they would not say I was fired, but if asked if I was eligible for rehire they would most likely say no.

Questions:
- How do I talk about this to future employers? I know enough not to get into a long-winded explanation about my mental health, but how much do I say? Do I need to say it was from absences, or should I say something like “I was unable to perform my job."
- I think I need to showcase what I have learned and demonstrate why this will not happen again. Are there any “magic words” that those in a hiring position would look for? How much detail do I give when talking about what I have been doing during this time? Do I mention caring for my mother? Do I get into the areas I have improved upon in my personal life (which directly correlate to my working life)?
- How do I use my successes in the past to sell myself for future jobs? I know I can't rest on my laurels, but do they count for anything in this situation?
- Do I call an HR person at my former company and just straight up ask them what their policy is of confirming or denying eligibility for rehire? Do I really have to get a friend to call and pretend to be asking for a reference about me to see what they say?

I am looking for experience from others who have been in this situation, and opinions from those in hiring positions. I know the odds are stacked against me, and I know that I would be looked at as a risk for employers. I want to be real and honest, and I want to deal with what I experienced and move on. Thank you for any advice or encouragement you can give me.

Throwaway email still: nowork2011@gmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
"A medical condition that has been resolved and will not reoccur prevented me from performing my duties" and then immediately segue into a positive?
posted by c'mon sea legs at 2:53 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


How do I talk about this to future employers? I know enough not to get into a long-winded explanation about my mental health, but how much do I say? Do I need to say it was from absences, or should I say something like “I was unable to perform my job."

"I had to leave my last job due to some medical problems which have since been resolved."

I think I need to showcase what I have learned and demonstrate why this will not happen again. Are there any “magic words” that those in a hiring position would look for?

There are two things here. By all means, showcase your additional training and freelance work. But re the firing, I think you shouldn't say anything more than, "I was sick for a while, but now I'm well again". If you do say that, you will need to communicate that the health issues are not likely to return. They want to hear that you do not have medical problems that will cause repeated absences or expose them to liability for workplace injuries.

- I am not sure of the policy of my former company regarding what they say when called for a reference. I am sure they would not say I was fired, but if asked if I was eligible for rehire they would most likely say no.

Call them and ask them. Talk to your former boss, and see if they are willing to provide a reference. Do not let them get blindsided, and don't let them provide a reference unless you are sure of what they are going to say.

- Do I call an HR person at my former company and just straight up ask them what their policy is of confirming or denying eligibility for rehire?

I don't see why HR would have anything to do with providing a reference. In my experience, references are provided by your former supervisor. If you relationship with them was as good as you say, just call them.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:57 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you left on good terms with your former company other than not showing up, could you call up the person who would respond to a reference inquiry and have an open and honest conversation about how you addressed your issues and you would like to be able to say you were laid off and if the rehire question comes up they could either say "yes" (now that they know you are better) or say they only confirm dates of employment?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:00 PM on January 7, 2013


I agree with c'mon. That's the perfect wording

I also think that it's totally fine to call your old boss or HR to talk about references. You actually likely have a little bit of leeway to negotiate with them about what they might say about you, because many HR departments are notoriously worried about litigation stemming from bad references. So you may be able to come to an agreement with them about what they will and won't say that will be both truthful and avoid getting you dinged from future jobs. Also, see if you can line up some coworkers from that job who can say good things about your work so that you have a bunch of positive references from that job.

Finally, while you've only said a little about the circumstances of your firing, it might be worth consulting with an employment attorney if you haven't already. In some places, under some circumstances, there are legal issues with firing someone who is on disability. I'm not a lawyer, so I can't tell you whether that would apply to you. Consulting with a lawyer doesn't mean that you have to sue your former employer, but if you understand your legal position, that might give you some additional leverage in talking to your former employer about what they will say to prospective employers.
posted by decathecting at 3:00 PM on January 7, 2013


I would not try to assure them this can never happen again (you can't know that), but neither would I say "I was unable to perform my job." - too vague. I think if you can convey that you have fully addressed the problems and that they are unlikely to recur, that is all you need to say. Try not to dwell on this.

Any employee can become ill, so it's not like the employer would have a guarantee of permanent wellness by hiring someone else. You just need to convince them that you'd be a great fit for the position enough so that they can overcome any misgivings. Very few job applicants are "perfect" for the job, so it's often a matter of weighing pros and cons. Emphasize the pros!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:01 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I cannot and would not lie or omit the fact that I was let go from my previous job. If it came to light that I lied on my application, I could be fired. I can’t say that I “needed a change” or that “I left to pursue other interests.” Employers are rightfully going to want a specific, truthful explanation.

"The job was no longer a good fit for me. I took some time off to recharge my batteries and reorient my career goals."

Employers don't want to know about your medical conditions, because then when they go with someone else, even if that person is better qualified or just a better fit, it is possible for you to sue them for discrimination. It is much, much easier for employers simply not to ask, or to ask in very broad terms, "Are you capable of fulfilling the physical demands of this job, which are X and Y and Z?"

Odds are heavily on your side that they won't ask your previous employer why you left, for similar liability-related reasons. Go ahead and ask your old job what its policy is -- there's no downside to it. HR isn't going to say, "Well, we were going to demur, but now that you've had the temerity to ask, we're going to tell everyone in our field that you got fired for stealing!"
posted by Etrigan at 3:15 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Were you actually fired-fired? It sounds like you were let go, as opposed to fired for cause.
posted by KathrynT at 3:20 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's perfectly reasonable to say that due to a medical condition you were not able to perform your duties; however, the medical condition has been addressed and you do not foresee any reason why it should reoccur. Prior to the medical condition you had a great working relationship with your supervisors and were promoted twice within the company.

I don't think you need to mention your mother. Just like you don't have to mention that you have children you care for.

I think those are good things. Also, you can always look for a job through a recruiting company and talk to them about it. They'll know the key words to use so they might be able to guide you on what to say when asked.
posted by Georgia Is All Out Of Smokes at 3:26 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Did you use the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take time off? If not, talk to a lawyer. Mental illnesses are just as serious a health issue as anything else. Did you give your former employer permission to discuss your employment. They may give dates worked, but a reference requires your permission.
posted by theora55 at 3:33 PM on January 7, 2013


I hire. I've hired people who have been fired from pervious jobs. Don't assume the firing itself will be a deal breaker for future employers, but please, please understand that how you address it in an interview will make all the difference between hiring or not.

First, ignore all the advice to come up with a cutsey way to say what happened (or more specifically, not say what happened). I can tell when someone is giving me a bullshit answer, and the fact that they're not being honest with me in the interview is a Big Deal. Address it head on if asked:

"I was dealing with a long-term medical issue at the time, it caused my job performance to suffer, and as a result I was let go. I would have made the same decision if I was in my managers shoes. My medical issue is now resolved, and I'm looking to get back into the workforce."

Don't give me the details. And please don't tell me about your mother. I don't care what it was that you were dealing with in the past, but I want to know that (1) it's currently resolved, and (2) you get why you were fired. OWN IT.

Regarding the current stuff, why would you tell me someting negative about yourself in the interview? That's just shooting yourself in the foot. In this economy, with the number of applicants I get, you don't want to give me a reason to pass on you.

Now, regarding your references. There's a difference between what the company policy says your past employer can say, and what I'll be told. Maybe your company policy says they can only say X, Y, and Z - and HR and your manager will stick to that. But not the guy in your department who I happen to know from two jobs back, and who I'm going to call for the real story. It's a small world. You wouldn't believe who I know. He's going to tell me you were fired, and why. And then I'm back to wonderering why you weren't honest with me.

(You'd also be amazed at how people - HR and past managers - can tell me the whole story without violating some fairly restrictive rules at some companies. It's karma. They get it. Someday it will be them wanting to find out about a past employee, and they don't want to get burned.)

Odds are heavily on your side that they won't ask your previous employer why you left, for similar liability-related reasons.

I don't face liability for asking a previous employer about someone's job performance.

They may give dates worked, but a reference requires your permission.

Bullshit. It's common curtesy, but there's no requirement. (There's also no "law," as is often tossed around.)
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:40 PM on January 7, 2013 [32 favorites]


They may give dates worked, but a reference requires your permission.

This is false. Some companies don't provide detailed references because they're afraid of getting sued if they cost you a job, but there's no law that requires you to give them permission before they can talk about you. In the United States, talking about former employees (just like talking about any other person or topic) is protected by the First Amendment. They can say as much or as little as they like as long as it doesn't fall into a few specific categories, such as slander or fraud.
posted by decathecting at 3:47 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Be honest but professional. Dont go into sob stories about your personal life as that will only make it worse. Be to the point, concise, practice it like a drill and then ward off any follow up questions with to the point answers. Also may I suggest this as I can attest to it based on my experiences.
posted by pakora1 at 6:16 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


For crying out loud, your trying to get hired.

If it comes up, be brief and honest... but the majority of the interview is you giving your future employer why you today and in the future can do the job they described they want somebody to do for them. That is what you are there for. Nothing else matters!
posted by Bodrik at 10:13 PM on January 7, 2013


Might it help if you mental health provider vouched for your progress and explained deficiencies to any future employer?
posted by skepticallypleased at 10:40 PM on January 7, 2013


Be totally honest. You say that you were let go while you were out on short-term disability. That's the thing you can address.

"I was let go while on short-term disability. I thought it would be better to move on and gain new employment, rather than to expend my energy fighting the decision. In the interim, I've been freelancing and updating my skills."

You were doing everything by the book. We never know when a chronic illness will fell us, but what I do know is that most people are sympathetic to someone who is on official disability and who is fired during that time. EVERYONE is vulnerable to that happening, no matter what the illness is.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:43 AM on January 8, 2013


At every company I've worked at in quite a few years, performance is considered confidential, and I have been asked for permission for a reference. YMMV. I've had previous employers whose positive references would have tanked my prospects, because some people are just really critical.
posted by theora55 at 11:18 AM on January 8, 2013


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