too worried to think of a clever title
April 5, 2005 4:38 PM   Subscribe

I was fired from a college job a couple years ago. I am currently unemployed and I have to use the job as an example of work experience.

The application says there's going to be a thorough background check so I can't spin the truth. I will likely be asked about it in the interview. What do I do?
posted by my sock puppet account to Work & Money (17 answers total)
Why were you fired?
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:52 PM on April 5, 2005

why were you fired?
posted by andrew cooke at 4:53 PM on April 5, 2005

I was working in a call center and told a customer to 'shut up' out of frustration one day. I'd worked there for two years.
posted by my sock puppet account at 4:54 PM on April 5, 2005

Formulate your answer to likely questions ahead of time so that you can put it in the best light while remaining truthful. Putting it in the best light probably isn't blaming it all on someone else with you being a guiltless scapegoat - that would ring warning bells about being irresponsible and obstinate. It might simply be an explanation of the situation that led to your dismissal that inherently suggests it couldn't happen at this new place because of fundamentally different factors. Eg if you were attending college at the time of the last job, and are no longer doing so, then suggesting your work performance fell because your courseload was very heavy, suggests the problem is in the past, as you are now able to dedicate yourself to the job.

If on the other hand, you got fired because you drunkenly lost your temper and attacked a co-worker, and have been off and on the bottle since then, you'd probably have to make the case that you have made some solid life changes since then, and if you haven't actually done that, you better start now...
posted by -harlequin- at 5:01 PM on April 5, 2005

Oh, subsequent information renders my example/suggestions irrelevant. Ah well.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:02 PM on April 5, 2005

and what job are you applying for?
(this is like pulling teeth)
posted by andrew cooke at 5:05 PM on April 5, 2005

Be confident. Don't shy away from the issue. When asked, look the interviewer right in the eye and admit your mistake. Support that with some steps you've taken since then to assure the interviewer that it won't happen again. And be clear that it was a lesson learned and it won't happen again.

...and in the event that you're applying for President of the United States or Governor of a Red State...

Say, "Do you want me to admit I've made mistakes? Because I have. We all have. But that's in the past now and I don't want to discuss it."

If your interviewer is Republican, you're in. ;-)
posted by 27 at 5:12 PM on April 5, 2005

Oh hell. I just read the note about wisecracks. Forgiveness, please! Stick with the advice in the 1st paragraph.
posted by 27 at 5:14 PM on April 5, 2005

A job in the finance sector, andrew. Both jobs were in the finance sector. That's why I'm forced to list why I left my position. It's an SEC rule that companies look into the full backgrounds of prospective employees.
posted by my sock puppet account at 5:17 PM on April 5, 2005

but is it a job that involves dealing with a lot of people? if it is, that's much harder to handle. if the call centre was just to make money while you got a degree in maths, and you're now going to be calculating derivatives, it doesn't matter a damn - just say you aren't cut out for customer relations, and are better with numbers and computers and no-one will think twice of it. but if you're now going to a job in pr, say, then, well, i guess if you can spin that, you appear a perfect candidate. :o)
posted by andrew cooke at 5:24 PM on April 5, 2005

If you are asked why you left the job say the pressure of juggling a stressful job and school became too much. This is very true, and anyone who has worked in a call center will understand how stressful it can be. Chances are, if they contact your old employer, they will never hear anything more specific than that anyway, and if they do get the specifics from your old boss and still think enough of you to ask you about it, then a contrite `I was young-I was wrong-I'm a much better person now' will be fine. Again, call center jobs are stressful, and most people will be impressed you lasted 2 years.
posted by dness2 at 5:24 PM on April 5, 2005

There were some good answers in a similar thread.
posted by fionab at 5:34 PM on April 5, 2005

I think dness2 is on the money. Be open. Admit fault but you ought to have 'extenuating circumstances' to ameliorate the blemish.
The usual trick is to turn a negative around by emphasizing how this episode proved to be the start of a learning curve, that you know why it happened and that you are now better able to deal with similar situations - and say how similar (even analagous) circumstances had arisen since and you were better able to cope.
posted by peacay at 6:15 PM on April 5, 2005

If it was in college and you're no longer in college, esp. if you're a few years out, you could put it in terms of immaturity--not with a wink "you know how immature college students can be" suggesting that you think it was just hijinks, but with a look that suggests that you realized you had some maturing to do, and feel very satisfied that you've done that.
posted by Raspberry at 8:24 PM on April 5, 2005

Call them and tell them you are a potential employer and ask for their reference to you.

Ask how long "(s)he" worked there, when that person left, and if they were fired or quit. Ask the reason why as well.
posted by Dean Keaton at 10:28 PM on April 5, 2005

I concur with the people suggesing you be up front. I've made hiring decisions in the past and one story sticks out - the reference I called who had employed the job seeker for five years in a 6 person store until the employee resigned of her own volition. They had nothing good to say about her. My smart-assed nature got the better of me and at the conclusion of the conversation I said "So in a nutshell you're telling me she's the kind of person nobody should hire but if they did, she's worth keeping around for half a decade?"

This is a long-winded way of saying that I think if you own up to having made a mistake on one day it's more than offset by the fact that you had two years of at least marginally competent service.
posted by phearlez at 10:38 AM on April 6, 2005

A couple of things worth noting:

(1) A thorough background check usually means (a) a criminal history check, (b) checking your credit; (c) public records check (e.g., lawsuits); and (d) verifying education and employment. The purpose of a background check is to find out if there is anything really bad in a person's history, something that would disqualify a person for hiring. (Being fired isn't that something.)

(2) Information gathered during verification of employment is limited to what the former employer will disclose. In many cases (probably the majority), employers wil simply say when a person was hired, when he/she left, what position(s) he/she held, and perhaps whether the person quit or was fired. Employers are very hesitant, these days, to disclose more out of fear (correctly) of being sued for libel.

(3) While I've never worked in a call center, my sense is that this is a sufficiently stressful job (which is not particularly well paid) as to cause a fair amount of turnover. So the fact that you stayed there for two years can be seen as a plus, of sorts.

(4) While I also agree with the "tell the truth" approach, I do recommend miminal disclosure. So you should certainly admit that you were fired (lots of people get fired, every year, some appropriately, some not). [Polite word is "terminated"]. If you're asked why you were fired, say that you "used inappropriate language with a customer, out of frustration". You might add (or wait to be asked for details, then say) something like "I was really stressed because of [illness/accident/impending test/something somewhat out of my control] and I said something like 'be quiet' or 'shut up" or something."

You can't be expected to know the exact words, years later, and besides, the exact language isn't the issue. Your goals is simply to present yourself as someone who made a mistake, a few years ago, when you were not as mature a person.

(5) The purpose of job interviews is to find the right person for a specific job, not a person who is perfect in all regards. While you say that both jobs are in the "finance sector", I doubt very much that you're now applying for a job that involves answering (or making) a lot of repetivive phone calls. (And if you are, you should rethink your job aspirations.)

(6) Focus on the positive; don't obsess about one mistake in your past. Presumably you have a lot to offer your prospective employer, and you want to learn more about the job when you are in interviews. Answer truthfully, but remember that you're not required to bring up negative things if not asked about them.
posted by WestCoaster at 3:17 PM on April 6, 2005

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