Fired! Now What?
April 7, 2004 12:19 AM   Subscribe

After being fired (not laid off or downsized, but actually fired) from a professional level job, how do you discuss this in interviews with new potential employers?
(a little more inside)

Two weeks ago yesterday I was fired from a management level job I had held less than a year. I was not fired for 'cause' - in fact, my former employer gave me no concrete reasons at all for this change, and I had no warning that this was coming, although I have subsequently learned it was in the works for quite a while. I have had one interview so far, which I fear that I botched when I became a bit flustered after being asked about the circumstances surrounding my departure. How should I handle this question in the future, since I know it will come up? My former employer is apparently leaving at least some of my external contacts with the idea that I voluntarily left (the word 'relinquished' is what they used) although I have no idea what they would say to a potential employer who called with questions. I've never been fired from anything before, so I honestly have no idea what to say....
posted by anastasiav to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you can't think of anything you did wrong at your job, and your employer didn't give you a good reason, then you were laid off, not fired. It would not be dishonest in your interviews to use the terminology that puts you in the best possible light.

Your former boss owes you an explanation.
posted by PrinceValium at 12:33 AM on April 7, 2004

Actually, if you work in an At-Will Employment (or "Right to Work") state, it is entirely within an employer's legal rights to terminate your employment at any time, for any or no reason at all. Unless you have some evidence that your dismissal was based on discrimination or similar illegal practice, you have no recourse against a former employer.

The best thing you can do in this situation is to calmly explain to your interviewer the honest circumstances surrounding your departure: you were dismissed from you previous job with no advance warning and were provided no reason at the time of your termination. Answer honestly and you cannot be held liable for anything a prospective employer does or does not know.
posted by Danelope at 12:44 AM on April 7, 2004

Lying my ass off has worked for me in the past, but I'd rather not have to try it in this day of automatic background checks.....

...Oh, sorry. I was fired WITH cause.

Never mind.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:29 AM on April 7, 2004

Lie. If you wish to be a saint—and more power to you if you do—then you should tell the truth. Otherwise, the fact of the matter is that most other candidates for a position are not going to admit they've been fired in the past; employers today are extremely reluctant to disclose this sort of information and usually won't; and admitting this in the interview will very likely destroy your chances of getting the position, regardless of your explanation. As employers themselves, they have every reason to be skeptical of your claims of innocence.

If you've ever been in a hiring position—and I assume you have since you've been in management—then you realize that as a person making hiring decisions you have a responsibility to choose good candidates and avoid bad ones, even if you like someone and want to believe their story. It would be irresponsible to hire someone who told you they were fired from their previous position—unless, that is, they have documented proof that they were unjustly fired. And even then...

This is just reality. It's not fair.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:52 AM on April 7, 2004

What Ethereal Bligh said. I make hiring decisions and with the job market the way it is, why should an employer take a chance on a fired employee when there are hundreds of resumes to choose from? Sure, you may be a good candidate, but I bet there is another equally good candidate that doesn't have a black mark on his/her record (firing). That is the sad truth. Lie, but think of a creative way to do it that isn't outright if you can help it.

Have a friend call your old employer posing as a refernece check and see what they say, then tailor your lie to match that, but put the best possible spin on it. You may be able to get away with "parted ways" or "position eliminated" or something based on the way your previous employer is reporting it.
posted by pissfactory at 4:02 AM on April 7, 2004

I would say that you should describe it as having been laid off rather than fired. Especially if your manager at your old job won't give you a reason for your termination.

Also, if you're paranoid about what your former employer might say about you, you may want to have a friend call up for a "reference check".
posted by bshort at 9:37 AM on April 7, 2004

Pisfactory has the right idea - here's the usual reference check dialogue if it's HR to HR -

HR1 - Hi, this is HR1 from Rumba Industries, I'm calling to check on the employment of Ana.

HR2 - Okay, let me get that information -

HR1 - Can you tell me her hire date? Term date? Ending salary? Title? Manager's title? Reason for leaving? (Alternatively, eligible for rehire?) Anything else you can tell me about this candidate?

HR2 Answers some of them and then - "The Schmatta Co. does not offer detailed employment information regarding the circumstances of departure or provide any references. " (Usually will not answer the questions re reason for leaving or eligibility for rehire.)

Most companies don't allow managers to do any kind of reference, and require everyone to go through HR - and they're not gonna get ANYthing from HR. You can sue for defamation if any Rumba rep says anything about your employment that is not a part of your written EE file.
posted by pomegranate at 9:39 AM on April 7, 2004

What pomegranate said. Did anyone see 60 Minutes on Sunday where this same process allowed a serial killer nurse to move from hospital to hospital with immunity because hospitals wouldn't give details of termination?

If it worked for a serial killer, I think your chances of getting caught are pretty minimal. So, you don't necessarily have to lie, but sugarcoating the truth is your best option. Also, bshort's advice is good as well.

I was in the EXACT same boat as you, and I know how frustrating being fired without an explanation can be. When it happened to me, it was a huge confidence blow, but the good news is that I ended up in a WAY better job (more $$$, better hours). Good Luck.
posted by Quartermass at 11:25 AM on April 7, 2004

One more thing - if you know someone at the company who would be willing to be a personal reference for you, ask them. Ask if they thought you were a good worker, and if they would be willing to go to bat for you in terms of the work that you did. If they are, get their personal # and have the future employer call them at home.

If there is anyone who is familiar with your work but is no longer at the company that fired you, they'd be ideal - they don't have to worry about getting in trouble for giving you a reference. Send them a copy of your resume and remind them of any specific successes you may have had at your previous company, and when you put them down as a reference, be sure to call them to let them know what kind of job you applied for and to expect a call.
posted by pomegranate at 11:55 AM on April 7, 2004

While contemplating this post, I looked at anastasia's user data and I was curious if the email address listed there is the (fomer) employer's email. If so, is there perhaps a chance you were ... let go ... because of MeFi participation?

If that may be the case, perhaps removing that email addy is a good idea.

[I was gonna email anastasia about this, but then I started worrying that it was her (former) work address, and that it might cause problems IF I had emailed her there]
posted by terrapin at 12:16 PM on April 7, 2004

terrapin, worry not -- the email in my profile is my personal email, not a business one (would anyone do do that?).

Thanks everyone for the advice. I do have another interview coming up tomorrow so we'll see how that goes. The company I worked for was very, very small (a three person office), and I never actually got any kind of written evaluation in the nine months I was there -- they certainly don't have any HR people (which contributes, I'm sure, to the completely bizarre end to my employment there) -- so I may very well jump on the idea of having someone call to ask employment verification type questions just to see what is going on.
posted by anastasiav at 1:01 PM on April 7, 2004

When my mom was fired a few years ago without cause, she asked the HR people if they would list it in her file as resignation and they agreed. She was still eligible for unemployment benefits, but if potential employers called they would be told her last day was her resignation date. You might ask your former employer if s/he is open to doing this for you?

You still need to come up with a reason you left, though.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:00 PM on April 7, 2004

Unless you are very good at it, outright lying will probably not work. However, you are under no obligation to tell the whole truth in a job interview, which is effectively a sales pitch with you as the product. The idea of getting someone to ring your former employer is excellent and you can use the results of this to formulate a truthful way of explaining your departure. Also, getting someone from the company to act as a reference is a good idea if you can do it and may be a way of coming clean as to your firing without putting a bad light on yourself.

Being a small organisation makes it more likely that any lie will be caught out and, at the same time, easier to research ahead of your next interview - whatever someone who calls on your behalf is told is more likely to be what a prospective employer is told than if they speak to one of the HR drones in a larger organisation.

Good luck with your search.
posted by dg at 3:37 PM on April 7, 2004

Here's a dumb follow-up question: What's the difference, unemployment-benefit-wise, between getting laid off/fired and quitting? Is it as simple as, laid off = bennies, quit = none? Does it vary from state to state?
posted by gottabefunky at 10:02 PM on April 7, 2004

Being laid off or fired without cause will get you unemployment in most states. Getting fired with cause or quitting will exempt you from unemployment benefits in most states. The difference is that the former is not your fault and the latter is your fault, in theory.
posted by SpecialK at 1:55 AM on April 8, 2004

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