How can I prevent potential employers from getting spooked by a less-than-friendly job termination?
September 15, 2007 7:13 AM   Subscribe

CollegeJobFilter: I have recently left one college job on less than friendly terms with my employer, but not necessarily of my own fault. How can I reconcile this with my resume?

I'm a college student at a large American university. Over the summer I worked part-time at a local technology firm (which will remain anonymous). Due to other job offers and scheduling inconveniences with this summer job, I saw fit to quit a few weeks after school started.

I gave notice, and tried to make amends by staying as long as needed to train the replacement. Since the project was more or less at a standstill, I took off until I could meet with the replacement and teach him the particulars of the project. I was supposed to come in within the next few weeks. However, I was informed today that the project was cancelled due to a lack of progress, and as a result my employment officially terminated immediately. I was also informed that I would never be considered for re-hire, and it would be "very unlikely that I would ever get a positive recommendation from anyone at the office". Where this worries me is for my resume: in a few months, I must start the application process for summer internships.

I was never planning to include said HR person or other bosses as a reference anyway (because they do not have any technical expertise or knowledge about my project), but I want to list the job experience because that was my primary employment over summer, and I also acquired some skills. I'm worried that a prospective employer will somehow find the hiring manager and listen to their badmouthing. Is this likely to happen, or would the potential employer only seek to verify dates of employment? I don't want to have my otherwise excellent resume and work experience to be derailed by the unfortunate bridge-burning that was largely outside of my control.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I gave notice, and tried to make amends by staying as long as needed to train the replacement. Since the project was more or less at a standstill, I took off until I could meet with the replacement and teach him the particulars of the project. I was supposed to come in within the next few weeks.

You are saying that the project was at a standstill for reasons beyond your control, right? So, even though you said that you would "stay as long as needed," you "took off until [you] could meet with the replacement." From my reading of your question, your actions didn't really jibe with what you said you would do. Staying as long as needed signifies that you intend to stay at the job --- but you say you "took off," and it sounds like you decided to pop in whenever the replacement was ready to be trained.

Am I misunderstanding anything here? If not, it actually sounds like the employer has a legitimate gripe against you.

But, to assuage you worries, I don't think companies check references very diligently sometimes. I really don't think they will do a lot of phone-calling and pavement-pounding to try to find the hiring manager. Find one person who likes your work, and give the prospective employer that name --- chances are, they won't call anyone else at the company.
posted by jayder at 7:28 AM on September 15, 2007

So - it was, like a 2-3 month job?

Hmmm - you have any mandatory requirements to list it on your resume.

Think of it this way; your resume is yours - as long as you don't put blatant lies in it - you can choose to remove entries if you want. Be aware that some people might question the gap(s) and you will have to have an honest, truthful answer.

But - you are going back to school - a gap over the summer for you in the future is not going to be suspicious.

So - ultimately a 'listing' on your resume is a two-way street. Potential employers get to ask you about it, and you get to market your experience about it. If you have a negative experience, you do not need to market it - but you do need to learn from it.
posted by jkaczor at 9:19 AM on September 15, 2007

IANAL, but as I understand it, in most US states it is illegal for an interviewing Co. to contact your former employer for reference without your express permission - that's why you see check-boxes for yes/no on applications when they're asking if they can contact a former employer. The reason for this is that they could adversely affect your employability with previous employers or even a current employer.

Just don't list any contacts for the experience, and if they ask for contact information, politely decline and explain why, similar to how you did above. I'd limit the amount of detail and just find a good way to skirt the issue.

Also, pick up a copy of "60 Seconds and You're Hired." Has good great answers for tough interview questions like these.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:05 AM on September 15, 2007

Also note that in many states it is illegal to provide a bad reference for a former employee. In most cases, they can only provide the start date, end date, and position held; this is all assuming they check, many will not for fear of a lawsuit.
posted by benjh at 11:10 AM on September 15, 2007

Seconding behjh, it's that way here in Kentucky. If you're not asking for a reference from anyone in the office, it probably won't matter.
posted by Roman Graves at 11:57 AM on September 15, 2007

I am also pretty sure that most companies have HR departments in order to avoid getting into potentially sticky situations when confirming someone's employment. In most places I've worked, you can only confirm that someone worked there and cannot recommend or otherwise unless you are used as a reference.
posted by SassHat at 1:15 PM on September 15, 2007

I'm pretty sure it's not illegal anywhere in the US to give a bad reference for a former employee as long as the reference is not slanderous and not retaliatory (see the thread here). Whether companies will actually choose to give bad references is another matter. At any rate, the OP has very little to worry about in this situation; non-references don't get called as a matter of course, unless you're applying for a job that requires a background check.
posted by phoenixy at 2:20 PM on September 15, 2007

I'll (sorta) second what phoenixy says: The belief that "employers can't give bad references" thing is getting overblown to the point of becoming an urban legend. Companies don't want to give detailed explanations, because they're prone to misinterpretation, especially in the retelling.

For example, Employer X tells Employer Y that Employee Z was let go because of "problems with inventory control," Employer Y interprets that as "Employee Z is a thief," tells Employee Z "We're not hiring you because you stole from Employer X, and Employee Z (who's really just bad at paperwork) decides to sue Employer X. It's a game of telephone that ends in a lawsuit.

On the other hand, factual information like "is this person eligible to be rehired?" are usually considered safe, especially if the person calling for a reference asks. The fact that the anonymous poster's ex-employer used similar phrasing suggests that they will provide that fact if asked. I've had employers who described just such a policy in their employee manual.

(As an aside, I recommend that everyone with a job find out their company's policies on such matters before they leave a company. Companies are less like to screw with you if can quote their own policies back to them, because it makes them think you're getting ready to sue them. The one time in my life where I did have to sic the government on an ex-employer for unfairly withheld wages, having photocopies of the company manual (because the employer didn't let employees take manuals home!) was very helpful in proving that I wasn't just a crank.)
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 4:16 PM on September 15, 2007

Thirding phoenixy: I don't know where this myth came from, but it's never been true. In fact, in most states, employees have absolutely no protections under the law. If an employer wants to fire you for wearing white after labor day, that is their "right". You have no alternative but to suck up and deal.

I believe the myth stems from the fact that YOU can't say anything negative about a former employer in an interview. It's more a "best practice", but it still limits you. So,to sum up: employers can do as they please, you cannot.

That being said, I'd recommend going with honesty. Tell them you had another opportunity come up, you gave notice and offered to even stay longer to train your replacement and they terminated your employment. Every person you interview with has worked for someone else in the past, and rare is the person who hasn't worked for an asshole like you worked for. As long as you state your case factually, with no embellishment, and no negativity, you should get understanding from the human being sitting across the table from you. If you don't, then they're not a human being and you'd just end up working for another asshole anyway.

I was in a similar circumstance, and went the honesty route. It did mean I had to do a few more interviews, but I did eliminate the non-professional assholes and now have an employer I actually respect and like. I feel it was worth it in the end.
posted by Spoonman at 7:29 AM on September 16, 2007

Spoonman: "I believe the myth stems from the fact that YOU can't say anything negative about a former employer in an interview. "

Er.. you mean you ~shouldn't~? As far as I know, it's not illegal to bad mouth an ex-employer, just potentially deal-breaking.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 6:32 PM on June 25, 2008

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