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October 7, 2010 9:22 AM   Subscribe

I was fired...years ago. Do I tell? If so, what do I say?

Sorry about the length.

I'm in the later stages of the hiring process for a professional job in my field. I've already been interviewed, once over the phone and once in person. Now they've asked me to fill out a form that requests other information, such as references...and whether I've ever been disciplined at a former job. With the usual fine print that lying is grounds for termination in the future, of course.

I was fired from my first professional job after six months, basically for not being efficient enough and for showing up 20 minutes late sometimes. "Unprofessionalism." Though I think this company tended to fire people with a rather free hand (data point: my friend down the hall also got fired, after three months), it's also true that I was sometimes inefficient and late. Well, it was my first real job. I had a lot to learn.

I found a new job in my field almost immediately, so there is no gap on my resume. And since getting fired, I've acquired several years of experience and references, and I've done just fine. I guess I learned what I needed to learn! (Heh...one of the things I learned was to be better at picking a workplace that's a good fit for me. But I'm also more organized and professional. Duh, years of experience.) My supervisors have seemed generally happy with my work--one even asked me to come back after I left.

So now...what do I say on the form? The question is worded something like, "Have you ever been formally disciplined (warned, suspended, fired), yes/no? If yes, please explain."

The company that fired me is a very big corporation. If asked, they would not say that I was fired for fear of being sued (they told me that when I left). There's no resume gap. My six-month tenure is the only red flag. I don't think the hiring company would find out I was fired.

On the other hand, "honesty is the best policy" and all that. The firing was years ago, and is simply a reflection of my inexperience combined with a strict corporate environment. (The hiring company is a non-profit with a more laid-back environment.) Besides, I'm more comfortable being honest.

I'm leaning towards telling the truth. Should I, or will I irreparably hurt my chances by doing so? If I tell the truth, how do I word it? I see that the question, as worded, leaves some room for polite vagueness. Like, I could say, "Yes, it was my first real job and I had a lot to learn." Would that work? Do I add say something about the place being a "bad fit"? Do I emphasize all I've learned since?

Any advice greatly, greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would answer it truthfully but word your answer carefully. Your honesty will be appreciated, and how you phrase it can make the event sound less severe. Be wary of being too vague. That sounds like you have something to hide. You could try something like (Yes), I was let go from my first job after some early struggles with efficiency. I've learned a lot and have been praised for my efficiency since then. (Assuming you have, that is.)
posted by katillathehun at 9:30 AM on October 7, 2010

Bad Fit. That's a perfectly appropriate response. And chances are that there were conditions present in that original job that encouraged (albeit indirectly) your inefficiency.

Also, there is little to no difference between being fired and being downsized or laid-off, at least from the perspective of hindsight.
posted by grabbingsand at 9:36 AM on October 7, 2010

If asked, they would not say that I was fired for fear of being sued (they told me that when I left)

Then it sounds like you have nothing to worry about. "Left after six months. Bad fit."
posted by hermitosis at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I dunno, if there's a time to lie about it, it's now. There are so, so many applicants for any position that companies can be pretty brutal about this sort of thing.
posted by Oktober at 9:47 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with katillathehun. I was fired from a college job for being late a couple of times and I always disclose it to employers in a way that makes me look pretty good - some combination of being young and inexperienced with using the termination as a way to improve and making a point of being consistently punctual, you can check this with previous employers, etc etc. When it comes up in interviews, the interviewer has nearly always had a similar story - no big deal.

Being fired from an early job for being late isn't nearly the same as being fired for stealing or harassment, and it sounds like even if it does give them pause, your references/other employers can affirm that you don't have that problem anymore, right?

Your title made me smile!
posted by troika at 9:47 AM on October 7, 2010

"I was fired from my first job out of college for failing to meet some very strict standards. As a result, I was far more successful at my second job."
posted by fatbird at 10:06 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

This seems against the prevailing responses, but if you know that your first employer will, if asked, only say "yes, he worked here from January 1995 to March 1995", just leave that detail out.

I would, however, leave that off as part of your employment history period. Especially as your first real job, and only for six months after college, you won't even appear to have a "gap" in employment to explain.

Of course, this also depends on your state. Personally, I live in an "at-will employment" state, which means I could find myself unemployed tomorrow without cause.

Put bluntly, your employer won't get rid of you for a technicality on your application unless they already want you gone - and in an at-will state, they don't even need to bother with the pretense of finding that technicality.
posted by pla at 10:24 AM on October 7, 2010

Depending on your state, most employers will only confirm employment and dates. If you listed this company on your resume, then you can't say you never worked there. However, if as you say: "they would not say that I was fired for fear of being sued (they told me that when I left)", just keep mum. If they ask you why you left, just say it was a bad fit but the experience taught you a lot. Good luck!
posted by aspiring polymath at 10:40 AM on October 7, 2010

> I would, however, leave that off as part of your employment history period.

posted by languagehat at 10:46 AM on October 7, 2010

Depending on where you live, past employers may only be legally able to confirm your employment dates - at least in Louisiana they can't say why you left the company.
posted by radioamy at 10:51 AM on October 7, 2010

If this was your first job out of college you can leave it off altogether
posted by The1andonly at 11:05 AM on October 7, 2010

IF ASKED, be honest and state what you've learned from being fired like fatbird said. good employees have or know someone who have been fired. it's not as big a deal as it seems. some people believe that being fired builds character...if you've learned from it, which is seems you did.
posted by UltraD at 11:19 AM on October 7, 2010

If you do decide to disclose it, and I could go either way on that really, then don't put in anything about the strict standards or conservative working conditions. I wouldn't even put that it was a bad fit really, the problem was yours alone and that sounds like a cop out. The reason I'd leave this out is it sounds like an excuse and is also silently followed by 'but you guys are so laid back, it won't matter if I'm late here'.

Instead own that you made a mistake and tell them that you've grown up since then, learnt from the experience, more than fixed the problem, and point to your much longer history as a model employee. Basically take responsibility then show that you fixed the issue. That kind of leaves a subtle idea that you're now better than the other potential hires who've all been coasting along doing the minimum needed to not be fired.
posted by shelleycat at 12:04 PM on October 7, 2010

If the corporation involved specifically won't say you were fired, what would they say? You left of your own free will? Weren't kept on after a probationary period? Whatever the answer to that is, that's what you should put.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:14 PM on October 7, 2010

AmbroseChapel : If the corporation involved specifically won't say you were fired, what would they say?

They will generally only confirm that you worked there from date-X to date-Y. They might confirm a ballpark salary range (though won't usually explicitly say outright what you made).

And although this does vary by state what they can say, a lot of companies adopt exactly what I just wrote for simple fear of a defamation suit if they say anything more.
posted by pla at 12:27 PM on October 7, 2010

If you worked there for only 6 months, years ago, I'd erase it from your memory banks. There's no permanent file.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:04 AM on October 9, 2010

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