how to present this?
September 13, 2011 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Should, or how should, I represent this cataclysmic but plum past job in my employment history? Way, way more within.

Some time after graduating college, I got a job as a program administrator at, let's call it, Harbor University-- the most prestigious university in the US and probably one of the most well-known in the world. This was in an extremely good-doing/service-minded field that I had no direct experience in-- different from any prior job experiences and different from my fairly useless college major-- but that I was very interested in / sympathetic to. The hiring process was very lengthy and competitive, and I was both surprised and ecstatic to be offered a job.

Without going into too many irrelevant details (would that AskMe were therapy in and of itself), it quickly became a disaster. These are two AskMes on the topic that I wrote while blissfully (stressfully) employed, if you're interested in reading the Chronicles of Anonia. So anyway: I worked as hard as humanly possible but it became clear that there was a massive confluence of poor/conflicting communication and unrealistic expectations from my superiors, lack of relevant experience on my part, and poor matchup of my skills to the skills needed for success in this position. It was like the platonic ideal of 'poor fit'. I liked my coworkers, I liked my bosses (as people but not as managers), I liked the environment, I liked the amazing and highly influential work that I was supporting; but things were definitely going to seed fast. Long story short, I was given the option to quit instead of get fired after the institution's 90-day evaluation period. Because of this whole evaluation period protocol, I was not allowed to give two week's notice and had to leave immediately (sure seems like getting fired, huh?). The majority of the office was out the day I left so I saw barely anyone in person that day. Because of that it was hard to feel as though I left on good terms even though I was on good terms with everyone in the office including my superiors. I wrote appreciative goodbye emails to everyone in the office with varying levels of explicitness vs. innuendo about why I was leaving, according to context, and received kind words from my younger colleagues and superiors but was a little hurt to receivecurt replies from most of the professors (my supervisors, who I had worked closely with and with whom I'd had very friendly, even jokey, relationships).

Anyway. Fast forward to now, ~9 months after I left that job. New city! Grad program! Things are way better. (And SURPRISE! Turns out I had major undiagnosed ADD before.) I'm a stipended grad student in an awesome program in a wholly different field, one which I was angling to go into all along (but had assumed, prior to the debacle, was years down the road). I'm already starting to gear into networking etc. mode, and I'm unsure how to approach this past job that imploded so very epically. I'm at the point where for a non-chronological resume it probably just wouldn't be relevant enough to make the cut. But what about a chronological one? Should I just avoid those at all costs? I do have a narrative in place-- right after I left, I was able to land an internship in Current Field and moved cities for that, so I typically frame this as sort of my Awesome Realization And Field-Switching Moment.

Also, I am making a LinkedIn profile. Should I include this job, and friend these people? The people I worked for at "Harbor" are incredibly influential and accomplished, and while they are in a different field they definitely have a wealth of connections that would still be relevant to me (there is a lot of commonality and lateral switching between fields that are oriented towards alleviating human suffering on a global scale as both these fields are). Is it weird if now, 9 months later, I'm like "hey, that whole job situation was kind of unfortunate, I know you know I'm a smart and good person nonetheless, I'm doing this other awesome thing that I actually rock at now, let's be professional contacts"? I don't totally know how to have the "so hey do you hate me?" conversation. Is it super-weird if I friend them but don't include the job on my LinkedIn?

One thing that gives me pause with this whole thing is that because these people have their fingers in so many metaphorical pots, I'm worried that someone would say "oh, you worked with Professor X! he's terrific! ...let me give him a call" and that the story they would get would be an extremely sub-optimal one. On the other hand, I am still proud to have even gotten this job and the cachet of the Harbor name is genuinely significant.

wow. super TLDR: Epic job disaster; everything is hunky-dory now; can and should I salvage some professional benefit out of the past wreckage?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I understand your concerns and I would feel the same going on your story here. What do you think of emailing 1-3 of the profs with whom you had the best relationship and a) let them know what you're up to right now and b) ask them if they would be willing to provide you with a reference later when you are back in the job market (kind of in the context of keeping your contacts up-to-date)? I feel like this would put them under less pressure to give you a mediocre reference, which they might if they felt you were desperate to have a reference RIGHT NOW. You could "linkedin" them later, if there are good feelings after this type of exchange.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:07 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

You worked at Harbor for three months, if I'm understanding you correctly. These days, that's not that unusual. And I think you're probably overestimating the possibility that someone at Harbor would give you a bad review even if they took the time to call Professor X or anyone else who worked there.

People understand that sometimes you're just not a good fit for a job. I think that you can pretty confidently list Harbor on your resume without fearing any repercussions or blowback. Honestly, having glanced at your prior questions, it doesn't sound like it was an epic failure, but more likely administrative dysfunction that you were scapegoated for.
posted by jayder at 8:21 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hmm. Although fortunately it was not with our friends up at Harbor, I have a similar bad fit story. BUT I left on good terms. I haven't had to use the ref.--wouldn't want to--but I could.

IF you have one person, doesn't have to be a supervisor, who can give you a solid, good ref. re: this job, then I would do what I do. For jobs that are DIRECTLY RELATED to the bad fit job, I put it on the resume and am prepared with a spiel and a good reference. For jobs not directly related, I leave it off.

If you think your refs. from there stop short of good and solid, and you have other substantive work experience in that field, I would leave it off entirely.

If you think your refs. from there stop short of good, and you DON'T have other, or much other, substantive work exp. in that field, I'm not sure what to advise.
posted by skbw at 8:25 PM on September 13, 2011

How long after graduation did you get this job? Did you have another job in between? I feel like it'd be okay to leave off your first job after college, especially if it's only a few months long. Hell, I didn't even have a full-time job until 8 months after I graduated, only some freelance and internship stuff, and no one's ever asked me about that.

On the other hand, if you do want to use the connections, I agree with the above folks' advice about finding specific professors to email and seeing how that goes. You don't have to be on great terms with everyone from the program to get one decent reference.

I don't really understand LinkedIn, which is probably a shortcoming in answering that part of your question, but I can't imagine if it's that weird if you have some people from the job as contacts but don't list it as past work experience. I have people who've friended me ("added me to their professional network"?) on there who I have not worked with at all and know from other contexts.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:53 PM on September 13, 2011

It was like the platonic ideal of 'poor fit'.
This happens to everyone. It's explainable. You only need to worry when you have a string of "poor fits" over the years. If you have a contact at Harbor who will give you a good reference then use it.
posted by sanko at 8:55 PM on September 13, 2011

What I'd want you to say to me: You absolutely must check with these people before you put them down as references.

The reason why I'd want you to say that to me: Anecdote, but absolutely the truth: I had a buddy, real good guy and all, more fun than a barrel of monkeys etc and etc but he was dishonest in his work, terrible work ethic (as in, none); he was not a good employee. He put me down as a reference. They called. I had no idea he'd put me down as a reference, the call took me totally by surprise. I was not going to lie; I gave them the low-down, not in specific but in general. That friendship nearly died; they called him back and told him what'd happened.

Always get at the very least a strong sense of what someone will say before you list them as a reference.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:01 PM on September 13, 2011

Personally, I wouldn't list it on my resume or on LinkedIn, nor would I add people I met there as LinkedIn contacts. You were there less than 3 months, and you basically got fired. I also worked at Harbor University in an entry-level job for a year and a half before I went to graduate school, and I left on good terms. It's barely a blip on my resume and I don't use any references from there... a lot of people who work in Boston in my field end up at Harbor at some point or another, and it doesn't carry much prestige unless you have a degree from there or hold a tenure track position. I'd focus on strengthening your professional relationships where you are now- it sounds like you're doing well, and contacts you make during a graduate program tend to be much more valuable than ones you make working for a brief stint as an admin/support staff.
posted by emd3737 at 4:57 AM on September 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't think there's any harm in either listing the job on your resume or connecting with former coworkers on LinkedIn but I doubt it's going to do you any good, either.
posted by mskyle at 5:49 AM on September 14, 2011

If you're able to contact some of those supervisors/professors and say, "I know the job wasn't a good fit for me, but that's what 90-day evaluation periods are for, and now I'm in {great new field} which I think you'll agree is much more my speed. I'm interviewing, and I'm hoping that you might be willing to give a reference as to my X skill, which I know you valued at Harbor."

Then figure out what your X skill was, and come up with a few for different references. Ideally, a professor will understand that while you weren't exactly the right fit, you were a great team player, you had an excellent understanding of the academic dynamic, you're a big picture person, you are totally committed to your work and they never saw you goof off, etc.

Line it up for them - academics love that - and be explicit about what you'd like for them to say.

Then, in your cover letter, you need to use an example of what you learned there. "While I was at Harbor University, I build a lot of skills that are valuable, such as X, Y, and Z. But I learned that I don't thrive in an environment where A and B occur, so after 90 days, I decided it was time to move on. I'm very proud of my history there, and learning an important lesson about fit enabled me to start looking in C direction, leading me to your prestigious institution." When your references corroborate just what you say, you'll look great.
posted by juniperesque at 6:22 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you don't list it, be prepared to explain the employment gap on your resume. You could be specific, or just paint it as a general learning experience.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 6:25 AM on September 14, 2011

Call people there that you might use, and ask them (drill them) as to whether they could give you a reference or not. If they sound even mildly on the fence, don't use them. You never know though. People I thought would have given me a crappy reference have sometimes been really glowing.

But asking doesn't hurt. I'm usually super apologetic: "Hi X, You remember me...I used to work with you. Things definitely didn't go ideally for me there, and now I'm looking for new work. I'm wondering if you would be comfortable giving me a reference despite what happened. I understand you might not be able to, and that's fine. I'm only asking for a reference if you feel comfortable providing a good one."

Something like that. Give them multiple outs. If they bag out, you have your answer.
posted by sully75 at 7:58 AM on September 14, 2011

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