How do I explain being placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) to an interviewer?

Question: I was placed on a PIP last year, and am now looking for other employment. I have been called back for a second interview, and have been asked to bring with me copies of my last two performance appraisals.

My problems all began with my trainer/reviewer. During the training phase of my job, my trainer/reviewer made an error and failed to include two months of my work in my appraisal, I was therefore considered “behind” other trainees who started at the same time I did. Because I had to go through an additional two months of training, for this reason, I fell behind in my quota for production. Then, because I was two months behind on my production quota, I was placed on a PIP.

Any ideas on how I can explain this to an interviewer without sounding whiny, or like I am blaming others, or making excuses?

Phoenix, Arizona

Answer: A great question. Can any readers offer any ideas? They would surely be appreciated.

My own sense is that you did pretty well in your email to me. How you described your situation above did not sound whiney, blaming or making excuses. These things happen – like someone being hit in the rear of his or her car by another car while they were stopped at a red light. In that case, the person who was hit in the rear did nothing wrong, but they still have damage to their car. Mistakes do happen.

You might be more persuasive in your presentation of what happened if you can honestly say, or do, any of the following:

A. You never were put on a PIP before, even though you worked for many (or several) employers.
B. You had a positive performance appraisal before, or after, while employed at the same company.
C. You can provide a reference letter from one of your colleagues, or supervisors, saying that you did, in fact, do good work.
D. If you received a good bonus after this happened, that is very persuasive that you were, indeed, a good and valued employee.
E. The trainer/reviewer will confirm your explanation of the PIP.
F. A supervisor will confirm your explanation of the PIP.
G. You have learned from your mistake: you should have made sure you resolved this with HR, but did not want to appear adversarial. You now wish you did try to get this corrected.
H. Perhaps you can write to your HR Director, or even the company CEO, and ask for a letter of explanation, so that you can move on with your life.
I. Consider consulting with an employment attorney who might write a letter to the company demanding a “retraction” for the mistaken act, which is now damaging your reputation and career.

If any readers have any ideas, or any ways they have successfully faced this challenge, please write in.

If I receive any new ideas, I will post them on this blog. I will also give more thought to your dilemma, which is no doubt faced by others.

I hope that these ideas can help – for a start.

Best, Al Sklover


© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.