Worried about future job applications
March 29, 2009 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Need advice on what to do on future job interviews, after having had a bad experience with my last job

My first 'real' job out of college (spent the first year after college on an exchange program in Japan) was brutal. It was a small, family-owned and run business and I was completely underqualified for the position and had little training nor help after getting the job on how to do the job appropriately. I made do the best I could and really tried to improve and learn as much as I could. For the first few months I was virtually alone in the office working by myself, then gradually two more workers were hired, whom I had to train. I found the job so stressful and frustrating from lack of training, help, support, etc from my boss that I decided to quit and also decided I should go back to school and pursue my master's degree. I gave my boss a 4 week notice so he could prepare to replace me. The last month of my employment things rapidly went down hill and the relationship between my boss and I went very sour. We hated each other. Because I was leaving I figured it was a good time to stand up and try to tell him what I thought desperately needed changing in the office and how I felt some of his business tactics were both inefficient and sometimes unethical. On my last day of employment, we got into a huge arguement and he fired me. He blamed me for being immature rather than owning up to his own mistakes and shortcomings. I never gave him an official resignation letter, so technically I was fired from my job even though I had already resigned. So here's where I need help. After this summer I'll be looking for a job again. On employment applications, do I need to say that I was fired from my last job or that I resigned? If employers call to check, because our relationship was not amicable, I'm afraid that my boss will bad mouth me and/or lie about me. I know he can't legally do that, but this guy is unethical anyway and there is no telling what he'll say or do. I don't know how I should handle this situation in interviews if I'm asked about my last job. Any advice?
posted by Anthro girl to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should list the position on your resume. You should not list your jerk boss as a reference; obviously. If an interviewer asks you "why you left your last position" explain that it was a difficult situation, that you gave adequete notice after resigning, and that you learned a lot about appropriate professional behavior in the workplace. If you feel comfortable and it makes sense within the interview, explain that you learned a lot about what a bad idea it is for a junior employee on the way out to tell the jerk boss how he could improve his business.
posted by RajahKing at 11:12 AM on March 29, 2009

Seconding RajahKing in that you don't need to list your boss as a reference, however, do not lie when asked about previous job and reason to leave. You don't have to go into details, what rajahking suggested is sufficient. Also since technically you were fired, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. It's worth looking into.

Good luck!
posted by jstarlee at 11:32 AM on March 29, 2009

And if you have to talk about the job, try to figure out positive things you can say about the experience. Will leave a better impression on the interviewers.
posted by lizbunny at 11:40 AM on March 29, 2009

You say that you decided to return to school. Did you do so, so the bad job was several years ago? And, how long did you work at that job?
posted by Houstonian at 12:23 PM on March 29, 2009

Everybody has had that job, or at least has has a friend/roommate/partner/coworker who's had that job, and as long as you are professional about it it'll be okay. If pressed (if you've even asked about it, it'll be as one of those "how do you handle a difficult situation" questions, not a grilling of your reported work history), you put in your notice because you were not comfortable with the work environment or the way the business was being run, and that he took your leaving very personally. And then stop, because that phrase right there will tell them everything you can't say, but you remain a diplomatic and discreet potential future employee.

In the future, don't tell people all the things you think they're doing wrong unless they ask and you plan to help. That's like the guy who needs to call the girl he broke up with two weeks ago to make sure she knows he thinks she's stupid and she smacks when she eats. Don't be that guy. You might have at least gotten a civil confirmation of employment if you hadn't had to go burning bridges.

Unless you received unemployment benefits or there were charges pressed, there is no big book of quit or fired. You gave your notice, you quit. He can think what he wants.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:29 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a general tip, never complain in an interview about a previous employer. It's unnecessary and may give a bad impression (no matter what the story is).

In this particular case, when you're asked why you left that company, you can say that you were going back to school. All they want to know when asking why you left a company is that you're not going to be a problem.
posted by zompist at 12:57 PM on March 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all. You've been helpful and supportive.

Houstonian, I did go back to school, started in September, but my program is only a year so I'll be finished in September. So the job is still fresh as far as experience is concerned.

Also, I have to just mention that I worked at a vocational school and the only reason I stood up to my boss and "burnt the bridge" was because I felt his admissions policies were discriminatory and his treatment of staff (both teaching faculty and office staff) was deplorable. I felt it was an ethical dilemma. I wasn't being a brat and trying to just tell him off. His policies were hurtful and wrong. No one else ever stood up to this guy and I burnt the bridge because someone had to. Even though I knew he would never listen to what I had to say.

On job applications, there is usually a box where you have to say if the potential employer can contact your past employers ("Is it ok to contact this person?) Should I just say 'no' or should I say 'yes'?
posted by Anthro girl at 1:01 PM on March 29, 2009

In regards to the box for contacting previous employers, simply check no. And stop over-explaining already! You don't "have to just mention" anything. It's not necessary here, and it definitely will not be to your advantage to do so during an interview. Discretion is always an asset.
posted by runningwithscissors at 2:29 PM on March 29, 2009

For the 'why you left prior position' question on the application, just put 'to pursue graduate degree'. For the 'can we contact prior employer' question check the box 'no'.

Don't mention your prior job at all during your future interview unless explicitly asked to do so. A lot of the questions on interviews nowadays are those situational 'tell me about a time when...". If possible, frame those questions around other experiences. But if necessary, discuss your prior employment/employer by mentionign the transferrable skills you gained while working there. Minimize or completely omit the details of how you felt obligated to confront your boss for his unethical, deplorable, discriminatory practices. Your future employer wants an employee who can get the job done without rocking the boat. Come across as that person in the interview. And then follow through.
posted by aperture_priority at 3:29 PM on March 29, 2009

In general, if you give 4 weeks notice and on your last day they send you home early, you resigned. You can't really be "fired" after you give notice that you are already leaving.

There is no official version of truth that an employer get to change about why you left. You did, in fact, resign. "I quit - No, you're fired!" changes nothing. If he wants to lie about that, then that's his choice, but don't lie for him.
posted by cotterpin at 12:45 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

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