During my last position I made the unfortunate decision to get involved with a married co-worker. The married part was bad enough, but we also work at a high-profile firm and our reputation is very important to clients.
When the affair was discovered, with the help of his wife, I was given the option of leaving quietly to protect the interests of the firm. However, it was very apparent how my position as the female (home-wrecker, courtesy of his wife) in the affair was viewed.
I am now in the process of seeking a new job in the same field and I would like to know how I can best explain my reasons for leaving an excellent job that I had worked at for the past four years, and how to deal with my previous company in terms of obtaining references.
Busted in the office
by Marc Effron, VP, Talent Management, Avon Products
Hi Busted – That sounds painful! But you’re not the first person in corporate America to find yourself in that situation, so let go of any concern about how you were viewed or why. You now have the opportunity to prove your value at another firm.
In terms of explaining your reason for leaving, it sounds like you don’t have a settlement with that firm that states what you can and can’t say. Given that, you have two choices. You can tell prospective employers the actual reason, without too much detail. Something like, “I was dating a co-worker and it became uncomfortable to remain there after our relationship ended,” which provides enough substance to shut down any deeper digging by the interviewer. It also shows you aren’t hiding anything (and it’s a touchy enough subject that no one’s going to probe for more info!).
Alternatively, you can give a vague response like, “My employer and I mutually agreed that I would leave, but it was not related to my performance or to any illegal activity.” While this might seem easier than the first choice, the lack of detail leaves the interviewer to fill in the blanks and any uncertainty in the interview is not a good thing.
On references, most employers are smart enough not to officially say anything in situations like this. They should be able to confirm your time of employment and salary, but that’s it. If you still have a trusted colleague or two at that firm who will provide references, that’s the best way to go. Be sure to coach them ahead of time about what to say when the prospective employer calls. If not, are there co-workers from previous jobs or from other organizations (charities, professional groups) who might serve as references?
Best of luck in your search!
Marc Effron is Vice President, Talent Management for Avon Products. He has authored two books (including Leading the Way and numerous articles about leadership. He is a frequent speaker at industry events.
Susan Ireland’s Two Cents
Busted, Sex and the Workplace by Ronnie Ann is a good post for you. Ronnie Anne not only tells of her own office affair, she also offers insight into the professional fallout that commonly results from such an affair.
If your job absolutely forbids it, I am warning the women out there that in many cases YOU will be the one let go. I’ve seen it in several cases where the couple has been caught and the woman is then asked to leave. Not fair, but better to know.
In one case at a well-known entertainment company, the couple were both high-powered executives and the romance was hardly a secret. But when things went sour, the woman eventually was pushed out in an ugly political battle. And she was no shy retiring flower by any means.
Plus there is still the matter of reputation. Even though this is the 21st Century, women more often than men are still the object of that “knowing smirk” - while guys get that “way to go” look. Not a big deal to some - totally unacceptable to others. And certainly all this varies by industry, specific company, and even where you live. Only you know your circumstances and what you are willing to deal with.
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