How do I talk with potential employers about being fired?
June 2, 2014 7:30 PM   Subscribe

Follow-up filter from last week: how do I discuss my recent dismissal from a job I held for a year and a half with any potential employers?

For a year and a half I worked as a receptionist at a generally well-regarded multinational with offices in New England, first as a temp and then as a permanent employee. My last 4-6 months at the company were less than ideal. We had a problem with offshore scam telemarketers calling, refusing to to put us on their no-call lists, and making obscene and harassing comments to me. One of my coworkers had non-sexually harassed me (told me that I "looked tired" and that I "should go home and get some sleep", sneaked up on me, came up with stupid nicknames for me, and made comments about my direct coworker to me in an attempt to play us off the other), and when I politely asked that he stop it he asked my coworker why I was "always acting like a bitch"*. Because I worked second shift, I rarely saw my supervisor or other people in my department, and got little support from my supervisor or the head of my department. A few of the telemarketers who had been calling and harassing me emailed the CEO and the CFO to complain that we disconnected their calls, and in spite of my contact with my supervisor about these calls they opted to let me go**.

I've been applying to various temp agencies and permanent jobs, but whenever I've gone in for an interview the question of "why did you leave your former company" has come up. I've always deflected the question with the answer "they're a great company, but it wasn't the right fit for me". I'd been told that I didn't want to mention that I got fired at an interview for a new job, and that if I discussed the specific reasons why I had to leave the company suddenly I would sound like I was badmouthing them...hence the mealy-mouthed response. On a few occasions potential employers would come back with "but I don't understand why you left without a position lined up." I met with a recruiter today who basically beat out of me the reason why I left suddenly, and he said that my response raised questions with potential employers.

Is there a way to answer the question of my dismissal from my previous job honestly, without seeming like I'm BS-ing or talking smack about my former employers?

* I went directly to HR with a complaint against this coworker, since my supervisor was on a business trip and the head of my department had left for the day. (The head of my department was usually gone by the time I started work.) This landed in my boss's lap as soon as she returned, and I didn't have time to let her know that I'd spoken with HR.

** My letter of termination specifically states that I was fired for "disconnecting callers". I exchanged a series of emails with my supervisor with the names of the companies on whose behalf the callers claimed to be contacting us, their phone numbers, the time of day they called, etc. We were unable to block the calls from inside the company, and once the calls stepped over the line of professionalism (one of the callers bodily threatened me and referred to me as the c-word), I began disconnecting the calls. This wasn't a problem until a few of the telemarketers emailed the CEO to complain about how myself and my coworker were disconnecting the calls. (Many of them used false names -- we had one email from a "Tom Collins" and another from a "Mickey Finn".) Since I worked second shift, I got the brunt of the calls. I kept copies of my termination letter and the emails I sent to my boss, in case anyone in the thread wants to see them.
posted by pxe2000 to Work & Money (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
you already have the right lines. "not a good fit." you are right to never badmouth a previous manager in an interview. all you need is a little encouragement to stick to your guns. when they say "i don't understand why you left without another position lined up..." you go...

"i have sufficient confidence in my value, what i can do for you, that i don't worry about that. we're all one day away from surprise unemployment in america, and if i worried about that, i wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning."
posted by bruce at 7:44 PM on June 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

Default response for getting the boot is "it was a temporary contract because of a major project to do with blah blah, which is really interesting to me because..."
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:58 PM on June 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm not doubting your account, but it's an odd story. I would be very puzzled by a job candidate who told me that telemarketers called the CFO to complain about a receptionist disconnecting calls. If telemarketers can reach the CFO and CEO, then they aren't thwarted by a receptionist. I'm not saying that your story is untrue. I'm saying that it's sufficiently weird that a lot of hiring managers would just toss you out of the pool.

Also, when someone is suddenly out of job with nothing lined up it's pretty obvious that something is amiss. If someone takes some time off, then it might be a voluntary (school, kid). Your situation is that your job ended and you immediately need a new one. That like means your termination was involuntary: fired, laid off, downsized, etc.

There's no good that can come of recounting that story on a job interview. I think your best answer is: I was hired as a permanent employee after X months as a temp. I enjoyed my year working there. Two weeks ago, they let me know that my employment was ending.

That's credible. They liked you enough to hire you. You liked them enough to go full-time. The job ended.
posted by 26.2 at 9:18 PM on June 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just, with confidence, say "I was laid off." They'll call your former employer, confirm your dates of employment, and that's it. Unless you left on extremely bad terms, your employer is unlikely to tell them anything else, and if they do, it's time to get lawyers involved. Employers fire "with cause" to get out of paying unemployment. They aren't out to ruin the rest of your life and could care less about 'warning' future employers about you.
posted by empath at 9:41 PM on June 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Just, with confidence, say "I was laid off." They'll call your former employer, confirm your dates of employment, and that's it.

There you go. The reason you're getting weird reactions is that you're not admitting you were let go, so they're confused by what you're trying to say. Just admit it without going into details. I feel like I mention this five times a day here, but in a 15 year career I've been let go or forced out five times. Five! And I'm good at my work! After the first few times I gave up any pretense of acting like I was embarrassed or ashamed, and any feeling that it somehow said something about my qualifications to get another job.

If anyone asks at an interview, I say "Oh I was laid off" and move on with the conversation. And I keep getting new, better jobs. Good luck!
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:47 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Huh. I disagree with all the answers here. I would stick with your original answer "not a fit." If pressed, I'd say something like "My company got a lot of harassing phone calls which I bore the brunt of, because of the shift I worked. The company wasn't able to do anything to stop the calls, and I found them untenable." If they ask why you didn't stay until you had another job say something like "I'm fortunate to have pretty good savings."

Evasion, euphemism, non sequitors are okay. Flat-out lying is not. If the ethics of lying don't bother you, be aware that if the new company finds out you lied, you run the risk of them firing you.
posted by Susan PG at 10:20 PM on June 2, 2014 [7 favorites]

You need to address it, and move on. "I was originally a contractor, when I was made permanant my duties changed and it turns out that it wasn't a good fit. What's really interesting to me about THIS position is..."

While being fired isn't the best of references to a new employer, it's not the end of the world. If pressed say, "It's the craziest thing, I was a receptionist, and we kept getting these awful harrassing telemarketing calls from Boratstan or someplace. They never had the name of anyone specific that they wanted to speak to, so, doing what I was hired to do, screening the calls, I thanked them for their interest and hung up. Apparently they called the CEO and complained, and they let me go. Had I known that the CEO wanted to talk to telemarketers, I'd have put the calls through. I guess that's something important for me to know about this job, does management want to talk to telemarketers?"

I'd even bring the letter and present it, "It sounds wacky, but here's the letter."

I've been fired, it's a blow to the ego, but I've always ended up better off in the end.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:40 AM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've always deflected the question with the answer "they're a great company, but it wasn't the right fit for me".

I think one way to seem less vague while still dodging the question is to use it as a transition into talking about what you like about the position you are applying for. Such as "Old Company was a great company, but with such and such responsibilities at my previous position I felt that there were better opportunities out there. For instance this position at New Company would give me a chance to use such and such skills which I am really excited about..." and go on from there.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:47 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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