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September 17, 2012 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I was fired and now I'm trying to get hired. How can I tactfully deal with this subject in interviews?

I was recently fired from my job working on a Help Desk at a law firm. This didn't come as a complete shock - I had been told a few times that I needed improvement on a few key areas (following our call script, getting the names of the callers, etc) and I had been given a handful of written warnings. Management felt that they did not see enough improvement so I was let go as of last week. I've applied for a few positions and I have some interviews lined up for this week.

I've never been fired from any job before so I'm not exactly sure how to approach the subject of why I'm no longer working at my last job. I don't feel like the reason is terribly egregious and my work quality was otherwise totally fine; I was always one of the top people in terms of number of calls taken, call quality, customer service and technical knowledge.

My main problem is that I don't know how to put a positive spin on this issue when it will inevitably come up. I know enough to not badmouth my last employer (no matter how much I want to!) but I'm not sure what to say beyond "I had some issues with management at my last job but I'm 100% sure I'll love you guys to death!".

Possibly relevant details: I was at this job for just over two years. I was at another law firm Help Desk job for about the same length of time and left due to a move. Prior to that I worked as a level three Desktop Support role for about three years and also left because I moved. I do not have a college degree.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I know enough to not badmouth my last employer (no matter how much I want to!) but I'm not sure what to say beyond "I had some issues with management at my last job but I'm 100% sure I'll love you guys to death!"

That still counts badmouthing your last employer, you're just being vague about it. The way you can spin it positively is by contrasting how great the job you are applying for is and how the old job didn't have those qualities. For example you could go with something along the lines of "Old position ended up not being a good fit for my skills and career focus, whereas new position would allow me to spend more effort on such and such skills and would be more in line with where I see myself going in my career"
posted by burnmp3s at 8:11 AM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

there's not a lot you can do other than "it wasn't a good fit." If asked to elaborate you can say that you've done this work at various firms and never had a problem, but that the culture or the particular rules about script at this firm weren't a good match for you and that while you were giving good IT support, you weren't great at the script and the priorities at this firm made it best for you to move on and that it was a mutual decision.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:16 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

You definitely do not want to say you "had some issues with management." They are the management. You are the one being managed. They are not going to want to hire someone who has a "issues with management." I would put the positive spin on it by saying that, while you were one of the top people in terms of the number of calls taken, call quality (although you couldn't follow script or get names?), customer service and technical knowledge, after two years your managers felt you had not grown enough to remain in the position and decided not to keep you.

I'm also not sure Human Resources is looking for someone who will "love you guys to death." They are looking for someone who is willing to listen, take direction and learn how the company wants the job done. Suggest that you will work hard, pay attention and devote your time to improving your skills with them from day one and you will make a better impression.
posted by Old Geezer at 8:16 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Explain why the thing you got fired for is not necessarily going to be a problem at the new place: why you can successfully do the new job in spite of your problem with the thing you got fired for. You could do this during a weaknesses question at the interview.

"Even though I lasted two years there, it was really not a good fit. Having their call script followed closely was really important to them, and unfortunately I don't work well that way. In terms of call numbers, quality, customer service, and technical knowledge, they were happy with my work. If a call script is not important to you, I know I can do really well at this job."

But what is "etc"? Getting the names of callers is kinda important; and whatever "etc" is will make a difference.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:17 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's going to be hard to see "it wasn't a good fit" through the "I was there for two years" lens. You're going to have to come up with another reason. Here are a two options:

"Over the two years I was there, there was some staff turnover and emphasis was newly placed on skills I lacked, such as X, Y, and Z. I was still amazing at A, B, and C, but those skills didn't fit their business needs anymore."

"There was a strong emphasis on A, B, and C when I was hired, but over time and with staff turnover those things were de-emphasized and my role changed into something that didn't fit my skill set."
posted by juniperesque at 8:51 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think that everyone is being really honest here and that's good, but I'm almost certain that you don't have to say you were fired. When asked, your previous company is not allowed to say anything about you except to confirm that you worked there from day x to day y or else they're asking for some legal repercussions. Say that it wasn't a good fit for you and you decided to leave to pursue better opportunities, etc.
posted by sibboleth at 8:51 AM on September 17, 2012

Having QA'ed people doing this kind of work before, there are two schools:

2. Convey the following ideas

with a subset of 2a being, convey these ideas with some of these important phrases.

2a was really the environment I QA'ed - we were more concerned with ticking the boxes (you asked for x, y, and z; you documented the call; you gave accurate information; you used the customer's name twice) and less concerned with your saying anyTHING in particular, other than the greeting and closing statements.

If you are from a 2a environment and go into a 1 environment, or a 2 or 2a environment turns into a 1, then you are going to be in trouble. I think it's good to think about how you choose to provide support over the phone, and to be able to articulate what you like about it, and how you excel at it, and how the last place became the kind of support you are not as happy with (and therefore were not as good at, and then you got fired, sadly).

Chin up. I know people who have been fired essentially for being slackers, or crazy, and they got new jobs. You'll be fine.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:57 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would avoid this topic unless (really, until) it directly comes up, and then I think it's time to pour on the candor:

"I was doing a great job solving problems for people, but I frankly made one too many mistakes doing the basics: getting down names of people I was working with and (insert two more concrete points about what you were supposed to be doing better). I learned from that that it's not enough to be competent on the tech side; I had to do a better job of following the template and filling in the data so that followups would be easier for others. I feel that I can do a better job of that now."

If I were the hiring manager, and was otherwise convinced that you'd be technically capable, I think you'd still have a shot. Dirty little secret - MANY tech guys have communications issues.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:06 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you were fired, did you sign a voluntary termination agreement or something like that? If you reread it, there might be language in it barring them from giving negative references so no one really has to find out.

My cousin had that issue where she was terminated but since the company that fired her couldn't say anything and because there was a part of the voluntary resignation and severance deal that said she wasn't technically fired (it was some kind of termination agreement she signed), it was fine and not a problem. She rocked it at all her subsequent places of employment. Plus, a lot of law firms don't give references for anyone because they don't want to get sued.
posted by discopolo at 9:07 AM on September 17, 2012

It's going to be hard to see "it wasn't a good fit" through the "I was there for two years" lens.

'I don't like to quit', and/or 'I had responsbilities'/'I believe in paying my way'. These things are good because they suggest you stick with jobs, which is generally desirable for employers.
posted by biffa at 9:10 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

sibboleth: When asked, your previous company is not allowed to say anything about you except to confirm that you worked there from day x to day y or

It needs to be pointed out that this is not true. While many companies will not give out any more information than this to avoid headaches, they are not bound by this.

My company, for example, will give dates of service and whether you are eligible for re-hire. If you are not, it's pretty clear you were fired or quit before you were fired and that's just about all the other company needs to know. They only way to know what your old company will say about you is to have a friend call asking for a reference. Do not trust that they won't give details.

As someone who makes hiring decisions, all I'm going to see is that you were fired. So don't tell me you were fired. If your former employer gives a bad reference, you may have to consider leaving them off your resume.
posted by spaltavian at 9:36 AM on September 17, 2012

To put a positive spin on it, it might help to first get completely straight in your own mind about why it happened. How come you kept incurring those writeups? Are you not good at doing those things, or did you not understand how important it was, or did you not give a fuck? Or did things change, as juniperesque suggests? Maybe there was some kind of miscommunication about existing or changing standards. Can you say it won't happen again or do you have to find a different kind of job in order not to have this problem again?

Once you've got it figured out, obviously you don't want to share that version unedited, especially if it's something like, "I knew there was a problem but I thought i could get away with it." But you spin based on something that is true rather than just sucking the whole thing out of your finger. You don't want to spin your way into the same situation all over again.
posted by BibiRose at 10:09 AM on September 17, 2012

I don't know where people get the idea that a company isn't allowed to tell the truth about having fired someone. It's not true; and even places that have a policy against telling anything but dates of employment will typically answer the question "is Larry eligible for re-hire?" - and that's the one that tells the whole story.

Plus, you're talking about law firms big enough to have IT support. All the HR people at those places know each other, usually through the local ALA chapter, and they all ask each other off record questions all the time.

That's why you need to have a good way of spinning the truth, because the truth will out.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:54 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I frankly made one too many mistakes doing the basics

oh god oh god don't say this phrase
posted by threeants at 7:48 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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