Question: I was recently terminated from my position. I had an excellent track record, respected and liked by my peers and good performance appraisals. However, I am very uncertain as to handling the question when I start interviewing for new employment. Should I say that I was terminated? I am fearful that being terminated will reflect badly on my performance and this was not the case. What do you suggest?
Lee, St. Petersburg, FL
Answer: I am a big fan of truth, for many reasons. That being said, there’s a place for diplomacy, too. Still, though, I always suggest sticking to the truth, whenever and to the maximum extent, possible.
First, I don’t think being “terminated” necessarily carries with it a stigma. All it means is that your former employer made the decision to end your and their working relation. As an interviewer, most of my curiosity and concern would revolve around not “Who?” but “Why?” Your letter doesn’t give even a hint of “Why?” other than to say your termination was not related to performance.
If, on the one hand, your prior employer terminated your employment because you (a) stole money, (b) were frequently late, (c) didn’t bathe, or (d) couldn’t get along with your colleagues, or other “cause,” then as an interviewer I would be concerned. If this is one of the reasons you lost your job, coming up with a good alternative explanation might be in order. Here, “plausibility” is the rule: it has to have some measure of truth, and be believable. I suggest you admit to being terminated, but find another reason you believe that was also a part of the decision to fire you . . . there’s rarely just one problem or one factor in such a decision. Perhaps your termination also permitted the boss to give her daughter a job; that could be a plausible reason.
On the other hand, if your prior employer terminated your employment because they (a) were having financial problems, (b) outsourced your job to India, (c) sold your division to a competitor, or (d) closed their business, then as an interviewer I would not be concerned. To the contrary, I might find their poor fortune to be my good fortune. My longest employee – who worked with me wonderfully for 12 years – did not get along one bit with her prior boss.
Truth be told, many people are terminated simply due to “bad chemistry,” “poor fit,” personal conflicts, and other problems that are no one’s fault, but simply a matter of being a human being. No one is employed by the same employer forever. Everyone either leaves voluntarily or is asked to leave, sooner or later. It’s happened to nearly every person who has ever worked. Think about work the way you think about dating . . . who cares if someone’s former boyfriend or girlfriend was the one who said “Goodbye?” What really counts is whether this person is fun to be with. That’s how I see this issue.
By the way, consider asking your “Terminator” for a good reference, whether written or by telephone . . . there’s no better way to show an interviewer you are worthy of rehire.
We offer a model letter to assist you in requesting a Departure Statement/Reference Letter. To obtain a copy, simply [click here.]
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Best, Al Sklover
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