I don't want these bridges to burn...
April 29, 2013 7:09 PM   Subscribe

I just learned that I have been fired from my resident assistant position. How do I handle my final two weeks and move on?

I was hired to be a resident assistant at my university this fall after living on campus for two years. I had had a decent experience living in the residence halls, and I wanted to continue to have that experience while being a student leader. I was very excited to start, but also a little nervous. My excitement disappeared, however, when I learned that I had been assigned to a building that had a bad reputation and was known as the "party dorm" instead of returning to the dorm where I had previously been a resident. This assignment was not a good fit for me at all. I was very disappointed, and I came in with a bit of a chip on my shoulder.

The year was not a great one. Half of my building's original staff had been fired by the end of the semester, and we had a fairly large number of problems with residents. My floor was relatively well-behaved, but it was a struggle to build a community. The entire experience was a HUGE adjustment after living in the (relatively quiet) Honors hall on the other side of campus. I am an introvert, so I had to quickly break out of my shell. I tried the best I could to handle my responsibilities, but it was a huge struggle and very stressful. When combined with other personal issues, I was not always in a positive mindset.

Now, we have come to the end of the year evaluations. I just learned this evening that I have not been rehired, primarily because of my attitude towards the job. This was not entirely surprising to me, but I am still disappointed. I don't know if this job is a good fit for me, but I was really hoping for a fresh start this fall in a different building with (hopefully) a more mature group of students. I had already told several people that I was really looking forward to starting over, and now, that's not happening. My firing is somewhat of a stress release, but at the same time, it is also a huge personal failure to me. I have never been fired from anything before.

I also have a younger brother who has just been hired as an RA, so I'm hoping that I am not negatively reflected onto him. He is a great fit for the position, and I know that he will succeed.

We still have two weeks to go, and I am not really looking forward to everything that is still going on in our building, including several building-wide programs and resident check-outs. I have a decent relationship with everyone on my staff, but I'm really not looking forward to dealing with them once they found out I'm not coming back. How can I best handle these next two weeks and make a graceful exit? Is this a blessing in disguise?
posted by DRoll to Work & Money (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just be professional, and understand that you learned something about yourself and what you want in the positions you get going forward. Also, you have the Summer coming up, so focus on the fact that you'll be done soon and can relax and be onto the next thing!
posted by xingcat at 7:15 PM on April 29, 2013

Be professional, be courteous, and be decent to your co-workers and dorm-mates in the final two weeks, and also learn what you can from the experience. If you have to blow off steam about this, do that with non-work, non-dorm friends.
posted by zippy at 7:16 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think there's a difference between being fired (midyear, midway through your contract) and not being rehired. People are fired when they do not perform adequately. People are not rehired when they do a good job, but someone else is a better fit for the job.

Perhaps thinking about it in those terms would be helpful?
posted by insectosaurus at 7:18 PM on April 29, 2013 [42 favorites]

Half of my building's original staff had been fired by the end of the semester

Duuuude. There was no way to win here. That's an organizational problem.

Everybody's going to get fired a few times in their lives. Just buck way, way up, knowing you're nearly done, get through the last two weeks as honorably and professionally as you can, and count this as a major life lesson in so many ways and at an age a lot of people don't get to go through it.

Sometimes you can't win. This sounds like one of those times. All you can do is move on.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:19 PM on April 29, 2013 [17 favorites]

You could ask for an exit interview. Think about what you might have wanted to know about this situation going in. About what happened in the rest of the building and any institutional factors that may have contributed to the problems. Don't look at it as time to grind an axe, but time to identify any chronic issues that could be fixed with a different approach (such as a matching system).

Not necessary, but a thought. It may help you feel as though you have departed leaving both them and you wiser.
posted by Miko at 7:47 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding the suggestion that you look at this as a non-rehire, not a firing. It's like working at a job as a temporary employee on a contract -- when your contract is up, the employer might offer you a full-time position if they feel you're a good fit for the department, or they might not. Change a bit of the terminology and this is essentially what happened to you. There's nothing to be ashamed about, it just wasn't the best fit for you and vice versa, and that's not at all uncommon in the working world.

Chin up, young person! You learned a lot about what it's like to go from a consumer of services (a resident) to a provider of services (RA), and how the job looks different from each side. You learned more about what kind of jobs may not be the best fit for you, or what kinds of work atmospheres you might not thrive in. That's valuable information, for sure. And now you can throw yourself into finishing out these next two weeks doing the best you can do, knowing that soon enough it'll be over and you can move on to the next experience. And maybe the next thing will be amazing, and you'll be so pumped that you were available to take it on instead of being stuck doing a job that you weren't really enjoying.
posted by palomar at 7:54 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd look at it as a positive that you weren't one of the ones fired mid-year! And yes you just weren't rehired, you weren't fired. Take it as a blessing!
posted by radioamy at 8:02 PM on April 29, 2013

they did you a favor. that sounds like a terrible job. there are less stressful and time consuming jobs at college. if i did my math right, you're going into your senior year. THIS IS THE YEAR TO FOCUS ON SCHOOL WORK AND NOT HAVE A JOB. you need time and you don't need stress. upper level classes are not the bullshit english 101 you took as a freshman. you need to get good grades this fall semester so you can look good to employers next spring. if you're herding drunk freshmen on holoween when you should be studying for your midterm .. i think you get the idea.

i was once fired from a campus job, the next day i started tutoring for a university office that helps minorities and first generation college students. i believe that job helped my land my first job out of college.

consider applying for unemployment benefits. you may not think you qualify, but you never know. it's worth a shot.

for the last two weeks do the minimum required, not more; study in the library, not in the dorm common room; don't talk shit about your bosses or the job situation; give your contact number to people you want to keep in touch with.

and ... don't go out of your way to bust someone for alcohol or pot.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:14 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know it stings, but I gotta say -- you sound like you have a very mature and level-headed attitude! You listed what was good and not good about the job and it sounds very much like it was not a good fit, they have an organizational problem that goes way beyond you, you got some experience, you grew and pushed your comfort zone a bit, and now you've "done that" and can move on to something else.

Like I said, i know it sucks, but I am guessing once you get through the next two weeks, you're going to be relieved and glad to do something else.

And also, what was said above: Not being renewed is NOT being fired. Very very different.
posted by loveyallaround at 8:15 PM on April 29, 2013

I know it probably meant a lot to you, but a job like that means basically nothing in the long term. It was a shitty job that was a poor match for you, and they did you a favor by letting you go. Just relax -- there are a million crappy jobs you can work for a few months while you're in college. I got fired by 3 or 4 shitty jobs when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Absolutely nobody will ever care once you're out of school.
posted by empath at 8:40 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Be sure to keep the "not fired, just not re-hired" distinction in mind if you refer to it in your next job interview (which you should, because it sounds like it was valuable skill building experience).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:24 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look on the brighter side: of all the times to get fired, studying full time as a student is by far the easiest to hide on a resume. Nobody is going to dig super hard into this; heck, I doubt your campus even flags your profile in any fashion for working elsewhere on campus. It wasn't a good fit, and this particular assignment sounds like the Vietnam of Resident Assistantships.

I agree that framing is key here. You call it a personal failing and repeatedly use the term "fired" to describe a job you still hold. If you were fired, they'd have removed you from the position instead of waiting for your contract to end. Contract non-renewal isn't exactly a feel good moment, but it's leagues better than behaviors that one might assume gets an undergraduate RA fired. In the not so distant future, you'll be in a position where you don't even have to list this position on a resume, because you'll have so many other projects and information to fit on a single page. You'll be able to drop it in interviews as an anecdotal experience about managing conflict, enforcing unpopular policies, accepting less lucrative work assignments, etc.

As far as burning bridges, perhaps the most therapeutic thing to do here is solidify your contacts not with coworkers, but with the residents; it'd be a waste to allow those relationships to falter. In a scant few years, they'll scatter to the four winds and become a valuable information and recruiting network, and as a former RA, you've been in contact with a comparatively high number of them.

The unemployment benefits thing, you're pretty much SoL. As a fulltime student, you're automatically disqualified.
posted by pwnguin at 10:13 PM on April 29, 2013

Firing haf the staff mid-year?

Honestly, if the university can't see fit to change the dynamic of a problem dorm over firing a bunch of staff working in that dorm then that is a sign of a much bigger problem. I would also say the people who hired you did a poor job in placing you in a dorm where you could succeed. Other personality types may have done a fine job in a dorm like that.

I will say that you didn't do yourself any favors by having tht chip on your shoulder before you went into the position just because of your assignment. That is something you need to work on because it's one thing when a job is a poor fit and all parties recognize tht amicably. It's another when your supervisor sees you have a bad attitude about trying to make it fit.

It also sounds like you are an undergraduate, and this position was probably in exchange for free room? If that's the case, then it's fine you weren't rehired. I had a similar experience. I was an RA like peron a year, then studied abroad, then couldn't get my RA position back. I was really upset about it. I was also let go from another campus job my sophomore year of college for really unreasonable reasons, and it was poorly handled by the professional doing the letting go, too. But you know what? They were both just campus jobs.

They had very little bearing on my ability to get a job after graduation. They were resume filler beneath my educational credentials. I was never asked about having been an RA for only one year in professional interviews. And the other job I had done for less than a semester that I didn't even include it.

As for getting through the remaining to weeks? Just muddle through. Do what you need to do. Try to o it without getting sarcastic. Don't take this personally. And realize that now you're not an RA you'll have more time to pursue other interests. So do that.
posted by zizzle at 10:39 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Half of my building's original staff had been fired by the end of the semester....

Is this a blessing in disguise?


Seriously, half the original staff? I'm not sure what they expected them (or you) to do, but even if you're exaggerating a lot, and they only fired 25% of the staff, that there is your basic slow motion train wreck of unrealistic expectations.

In the long run (and by the long run I mean starting 15 minutes after you graduate) nobody is going to much care about you only spending one year as an RA. The one thing they might infer is that you have the ability to deal with difficult people and while keeping calm and carrying on. So think of the next two weeks as a lab practicum in exactly that thing.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:04 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have never been fired (or more accurately, asked back) before because -- I don't mean this patronizingly! -- you are pretty young! It happens to almost everyone. I quit a college job once and my boss literally said, "thank god you quit, because I was going to fire you. You are the WORST [xyz] we have EVER HAD." I was okay with it because I knew the job was not a good fit, and I was miserable. I got another job, made more friends and more money and had a better time over all. Blessing in disguise for sure.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:44 AM on April 30, 2013

Nobody will ever care or ask what jobs you had as a student.
posted by telstar at 3:08 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Not every school is the same, and I don't know how it works at yours, but: isn't it common for students to hold RA-type positions for only a year, anyway? Students' schedules and priorities change from year to year. If you're trying to get a job anywhere other than your dorm, people will just say, "oh, you were a RA? How'd you like it?" (And if I'm wrong about the way it works, consider that I'm old enough to interview and hire you, and that's exactly how I'd respond to that line on your résumé.)

Plus now you get to interact with your fellow students as a student again, not as an authority figure.

Being not-rehired is a blow to your pride in the short run, but it's not a disaster that will follow you forever. It probably won't even follow you until next semester. And it sounds like, other than the pain of rejection, you're better off not being in the role.

There are two weeks left. Two stressful and busy weeks, sure, but only two. Be as helpful and friendly as you would be if you were returning to your role next year. If you feel angry or sad, that's normal and fine; give yourself time and space away from your RA duties to experience those feelings. Frame your situation in the best possible light, to yourself and your peers, and that's how it will look to them - and, eventually, to you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:33 AM on April 30, 2013

Other people have adequately addressed the other parts of the question, but I noticed this bit was untouched:

I also have a younger brother who has just been hired as an RA, so I'm hoping that I am not negatively reflected onto him.

Beyond the fact that simply not being rehired doesn't mean anything negative about you anyway (you were not fired), this will absolutely not reflect onto your brother. Any employer that considers siblings as being at all connected professionally is not the sort of employer you want to work for. Your brother is not you, and employers will treat you two as distinct people.
posted by saeculorum at 6:09 AM on April 30, 2013

You didn't get fired. You would not have two weeks to go if you got fired, you would have been done that day.

They didn't renew your term. You indicate they didn't renew it because it was clear you hated the job.

Given the huge turnover in staff, it appears there's an organizational issue that's really out of your control.
posted by spaltavian at 6:27 AM on April 30, 2013

I was in a similar situation. I too wasn't re-hired in my University job. Praise Jesus! I had a job in Records and Transcripts so I'd spend 20 hours a week filing. It was awful.

My recommendation is to do the bare minimum that you need to do to fulfill your obligation. You got a raw deal, it happens, how you move on from it is more important than the fact that you didn't get re-hired.

Get a fun job over the summer, do some temping, or babysitting, or lifeguarding or whatever makes sense for you.

Look for a work/study job (Do they even still call them this?) that will mesh well with your Senior year. Perhaps doing office work in your department, or being a lab assistant, or even working at the bagel shop in the student union (my sister did this one.)

Maybe working evenings in a department store, or delivering pizza will be a good way to bring in the dough in your last year.

Move back to the Honors dorm, or get your own place off campus if you like.

You're free as a bird, celebrate that!

Also, repeat, you did not get fired, you didn't get re-hired, and it's nothing to be ashamed of.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:51 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was fired the summer before my sophomore year (at a doughnut shop, quickly found a new job) and was not rehired as an RA at the end of the school year.

I wish I had insisted they give me a freshman dorm. I was rehired in my senior year, which was good for my ego.

I like the exit interview idea, but talking to someone at the career placement office or counseling center might be more helpful.
posted by MichelleinMD at 7:54 AM on April 30, 2013

Best answer: Former "party dorm" RA here-

Do not think of this as being fired. Being the perfect RA is an incredibly difficult job, let me list the reasons:

-- You live where you work
-- You are required to build respectful relationships with your peers while enforcing policies many of them will not respect.
-- College freshman are idiots.
-- Your residents may try and set the dorm on fire.
-- Your residents may pee all over the elevator.
-- Your residents may turn the computer room into the sex room.
-- You may not give a damn about the bikini poster that one of your residents taped to the outside of his door, but it is offensive to a lot of other residents for obvious reasons so your job forces you to give a damn.
-- One of your residents will have personal issues. That resident may misinterpret you doing your job in reaching out to him/her as a romantic gesture.
-- A former resident who has been kicked out of the dorm may eat a bunch of mushrooms then break back into the dorm wearing nothing but a sock.

For most people, even if you aren't introverted, the demands of the job are draining. Burn out is pretty common, especially among large freshman dorm RAs. Our University had a policy of limiting re-hires to something like 25%, thus even if you were an above average RA you may not have been rehired for fear of burn-out setting in during your second year. To be honest, even though I was rehired, even though I wasn't burned out at the end of the first year, I was burned out two months into my second year and a pretty crappy RA until I graduated.

To avoid burning bridges, try to see things from the Residents Life staff's point of view. They probably knew you weren't set up for success, coming from the honors dorm and assigned to the party dorm. They probably still appreciate all your service. They know being a freshman dorm RA is incredibly hard and will probably support you with recommendations for other jobs even if you weren't hired back. Hell, my bosses in college really liked a lot of the people they fired. One RA I worked with was a great worker, but was fired for a public intoxication incident. However, he didn't burn his bridges, handled the termination maturely and stayed friends with everyone on the staff. A few months later he was rehired by Residence Life for a job that didn't involve enforcing our school's alcohol policy.

And for the next two weeks? Literally nobody will care that you weren't rehired. It happens for a lot of different reasons related to what the Staff needs are. Half of my friends my first year weren't rehired, they were still great RAs and never thought less of them. Get emotional support dealing with the disappointment from close friends and fellow RAs in your position of not being rehired, but publicly and with your residents act like it doesn't matter (because in the long run, it doesn't). Your residents may hear you weren't rehired and ask you if you want to go drinking with them now that you're no longer representing "the man."

Try to be a support for your younger brother. Try and focus on all the skills you learned. Stay positive! This was a great, difficult experience and you learned a lot!
posted by midmarch snowman at 10:22 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another RA veteran here with somewhat similar experiences. I'd applied to be an RA, and was assigned to the same floor that I'd previously lived on, in a quiet dorm. However, the university didn't have enough students who wanted to live in a quiet setting, and actually more students than they had room for in the dorms, so they placed some party-hearty types on my floor (and the other floors in the dorm) who were determined to have the sort of college experience that they'd been expecting, and weren't about to let me forget it when I wrote them up, ever. None of our staff got fired, but several people (including me) were put on probation for extremely minor things; in the meantime, one RA pretty much got away with anything, and went public with his relationship with the dorm manager literally the day after the dorm closed at the end of the spring semester. I came out of the experience believing that I probably shouldn't have been an RA in the first place; however, given that the residence hall system had a rather lengthy application process with a number of screening tests and procedures, I don't think that it was my responsibility to have determined that beforehand.

So, from my own somewhat bitter (but probably necessary) experience, I can offer the following:

- As with most if not almost all jobs, it's the job of the organization to appropriately screen applicants for the position, and if you weren't a good fit, it's not your fault. If they got rid of half of your coworkers in the space of a few months, then they're pretty shitty at screening RAs, full stop. It's not as if they couldn't build a substantial body of data based on their own institutional experience in which they determine which applicants would do best in the position, based on, say, a Myers-Briggs type test, and which ones wouldn't.

- I don't know what their ratio is of professional (i.e. perennial, non-student) management is versus the student managers, but keep in mind that your immediate and not-so-immediate supervisors may simply have been RAs that did well in those positions, but were promoted to their level of incompetence. That was certainly the case with my own dorm manager, who seems to have done well with her post-collegiate career, but certainly didn't function well in running the dorm (above and beyond fucking one of her supervisees).

- It's nice to have a good recommendation from any and every former supervisor at any and every job that you've ever had, but you may do better in the long run if you get a "real" job, i.e. one that you will still have after graduation. Not only will you have it for as long as you want it, but also you may actually do better in the long run financially, since, if you figure out the number of hours that you're "on" the job (really, even if you're not formally on-call, whenever you're in the dorm) and your compensation is strictly room and board (mine didn't offer a stipend), you may not even be making minimum wage. Plus, it's just nice to have a job that you come home from, not come home to.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:00 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You guys are awesome! Thank you for all of the great advice. I was really bummed when I wrote this question last night, but I am now really looking forward to this fall.

I did schedule an exit interview with one of the heads of our department for later on this week, so we'll see how that goes. I don't know him very well, so I'm a tad nervous.

Yes, half (4 out of 9) of our original staff was gone by mid-year, all for different reasons. One of those fired was my co-RA, which meant that I had to handle 65 residents by myself for about two months, which was very stressful. Luckily, we "stole" another RA from a different building, so I had some assistance during the spring semester.

I have held a separate student assistant position on campus for three years, so I will be increasing my hours there this fall. I also will be commuting from my hometown, which is just twenty minutes away from the university. My two younger brothers will be living in the residence halls, so I will be an "only child" for the first time. I will miss living on campus, but I am happily looking ahead to the new opportunities that are coming my way!
posted by DRoll at 6:57 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

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