Fired and time is running out.
February 9, 2009 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I was fired from my last job, looking for a new one. How do I spin this?

I was fired last year from my job. My technical skills were up to par, but my attendance wasn't. After missing one too many days of work, they fired me after 10 months of employment. I was having medical issues that my supervisor was aware of. I had recently gotten a fairly positive performance review in which there was no indication that I was working with two strikes and two outs. Getting fired from the position was a surprise to me.

I've been collecting unemployment for some months and trying to find a new job in the same field. The job market is tight, there have been layoffs in my area, and so far I'm getting no interviews. I have had a few telephone screens. Unemployment is about to run out.

I don't know how to spin my being fired from my last job. I have used a professional referencing service, and determined that the HR dept. of my last position will not disclose why I left (that I was fired) or whether I am eligible for rehire (I assume not). They suggested that I file for unemployment in my exit interview, indicating that I wasn't being fired for gross personal misconduct.

So now my resume contains an abrupt stop taking place nearly a year ago. I have been truthful in phone screens, saying that I was fired because I was having medical issues, but so far that doesn't seem to be working. I have mentioned that I volunteer and am taking distance learning courses at night during my job search so they know I haven't been sitting on my butt since I was fired.

I recently contacted a former co-worker to act as a positive reference from this position. I did work both for her and with her, and she was one of several who told me that they didn't agree with my treatment when I was fired.

My questions for you, the wise of the green, especially HR professionals, concern how I should spin my situation in future screens and, hopefully, interviews.

Do I really need to tell them that I was fired? This seems to send everyone running right the other way, regardless of the very good reason I had for my absenteeism and subsequent firing.

Can I ask my reference from the company what she will say if asked why I am no longer at the company?

Is there a better way that I can spin my long downtime between jobs than saying that I was volunteering and taking courses? Does that reflect a productive use of time, in your opinion?

Is being fired significantly affecting my chances of getting hired in this economy?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How about you phrase it along the lines of "I had to leave my last job due to medical issues." If they bother to call your previous employer, and your previous employer is a big enough jerk to admit that they fired you for being ill, then you might not get the job - but I find that scenario highly doubtful.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:04 PM on February 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Don't most employers confirm dates of employment and that's it? Maybe salary?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 2:13 PM on February 9, 2009

I was fired from a job, simply because it was just before the end of my probationary period and they wanted to save costs (if they fired me after my probationary period it would have been more expensive for them - they would have had to pay severance).

I found another job about a month later as a contractor. With contract work there's less risk - they can try you out, and if it doesn't work out, they can get rid of you. Since there is less risk they rarely ask for references.

Try contracting to build up your resume and your reputation. In the current recession, it may be easier to gather a bunch of small contracts to pay the bills.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:17 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

As to why you were not working, perhaps just use the same excuse you told the unemployment agency (as far as I know, if you are fired you are not entitled to unemployment).

I would not advise lying. If you tell them that you took a lot of time off due to medical issues, and your old company could not deal with your time off, so you had to part ways, I think this is a decent honest answer.

I know you didn't ask for this particular advice, but please be honest to yourself as to whether or not your attendance problems will follow you to your new place of work.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:32 PM on February 9, 2009

If you tell them that you took a lot of time off for medical issues, they're going to think that you are going to continue taking lots of time off for medical issues and they won't hire you. Your honesty is hurting you.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 2:41 PM on February 9, 2009

If you got unemployment, you were laid off. That's all yo need to say if asked.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 3:42 PM on February 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

you were not fired, you got unemployment benefits. that means you were laid off. company downsizing, whatever. you were laid off and decided it was a good time to take a couple of months to take care of some much-postponed medical issues. any therapy?

this was the best decision you ever made. it rejuvenated you. it recharged you. it got you on track again. everything is worked out now and you're ready to jump back in. and you can't wait, you're so excited.

see where I am going? be positive.
posted by krautland at 3:43 PM on February 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

Maybe not say medical issues, rather "family issues" that have resolved since.
posted by 6:1 at 4:17 PM on February 9, 2009

If you got unemployment, you were laid off.

you were not fired, you got unemployment benefits. that means you were laid off.

These statements are not true. At least, not necessarily. Some states allow an employee to collect UI benefits if he or she is fired, especially if for a reason other than gross personal misconduct.

That said, you might try something like what The Light Fantastic suggested: "I had to leave my last job due to medical issues..." but adding "...which have since been resolved" in order to ease the worries that potential employers might have about your attendance.
posted by dersins at 4:27 PM on February 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I haven't done a lot of hiring but I would guess there are few things that scare potential employers more than attendance problems. Many of us have worked with people who use all of their sick days in the first six months and then start making lame excuses until they eventually get the ax. It's stressful for your manager and pisses off your co-workers. I sympathize with you if you have a medical issue that affects your attendance but try to see their side of it.

Honesty is usually the best policy but I would be hesitant to tell the whole truth. "Family problems" might be a better angle but I would be prepared to give more detail if they push. Another important factor is what your work history looks like before this last job. One of the things employers look for is a pattern.

I strongly suggest contracting. Good permanent jobs are scarce right now. I would start contacting companies that hire you and then contract you out. I haven't heard great things about most of them regarding benefits and pay but I work for one and they rock. The best part is if you can convince them you're worth hiring, they don't have to tell the place they send you why you left.

Finally, if you decide to spin the reason you left your last position keep in mind that any references you provide will definitely be used to verify the reason. You might find a couple people willing to give a positive reference, but are they willing to lie and say you were laid off?
posted by bda1972 at 5:28 PM on February 9, 2009

In this hyper-competitive job market, a year's absence from employment is a daunting blemish.

I agree with other posters that you may be hurting your chances for employment by ascribing your lengthy sabbatical to health problems. Most employers will fear that you still have ailments which will prove costly and lead to protracted absences.

If you are interviewing with medium- and large-sized firms (and long-established small firms), their seasoned HR departments have heard all the fairytales ever invented that explain away long-term unemployment: "took time off to travel"; "cared for a sick relative"; "stayed home to spend more time with the kids"; "had 'x disease' which was miraculously cured 48 hours before this interview"; "went back to school to better myself"; "was an independent consultant"; and "took over the family business for awhile." They'll smile at you while they listen to the tale, but they're thinking about the stack of resumes they'll be sifting through after you leave.

There is no quick fix here because competition is brutal. You've got to sidle back into the marketplace by doing high-profile volunteer work; taking on independent projects and broadcasting them at your professional-looking website; creating a blog about your industry which shows you to be an expert in your field; getting on radio shows to talk about your field (yes, I've known people who've landed work this way); sending letters to companies in your field suggesting cost-cutting/innovative strategies that you can implement for them; writing short notes to top leaders in your field, complimenting recent achievements and perhaps asking for tips; networking; teaching classes/seminars; and even giving talks at schools.

Have *a lot* to tell potential employers when they ask "what have you done lately?"

Yes, you do not have a current job, which puts you at a disadvantage. But you have lots and lots of time -- more than those who are chained to desks -- to do exceptional things.

Most of all, don't give up. Never lose hope. See yourself as a fantastic catch who'll be a great asset to the firm that says "you're hired."
posted by terranova at 9:03 PM on February 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

« Older I got a new boss and my previously near-perfect...   |   More like I need widsom insertion, amirite? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.