Monday, May 14, 2007

Terminated and Moving On

I was terminated from my job, nearly a year ago, because I decided to take a stand. There were some very questionable things going on within management. Since it affected the employees and the company in a very negative way, I started a petition within my department regarding the issues and more than half of the employees signed it. I submitted a letter, along with the petition to the compliance department, which got remarkable attention - resulting in a visit from the President of the company that included a one-on-one interview with everyone in the department. In the end, half of management was terminated along with myself.

I imagine they were uncomfortable with me staying there considering what I knew. The much needed change that was due to that particular department was granted because of my actions, so I am very happy that the employees have a better place to work, some of them had no positive outlet, including no high school diplomas. They had no way out.

I recently began seeking employment as a legal assistant and have gotten several call backs for interviews. How do I explain my termination without scrutinizing the company?

by Ronnie Ann, Work Coach
Hi Zandria!
First let me congratulate you on taking action that sounds like it wound up helping many employees. This is a tough thing to do and most people would have been afraid to take a stand like this, so I applaud you for wanting to make a difference. Sadly, it resulted in your departure – most companies just don’t feel comfortable keeping people who have taken such action, even if in the end the company benefits. I’m sorry about that for your sake, but I hope your next job will make up for all of it.

That said…there is no reason to mention any of the specific circumstances in your interviews. Nowadays, because of possible legal implications, most companies will not reveal details like this when contacted for references. Also, I would assume the company would rather not have its dirty laundry discussed in public. So I would guess they are hoping you don’t mention it either. (In the slim event they do talk about it as part of a reference, then you might want to have a talk with your former employer to explain that you are not discussing the details and would appreciate the same courtesy.)

Your best bet is to emphasize the good things and simply explain that there was a reorganization in which a layer of management was let go (or some such explanation). Be casual about the whole thing and keep your answer to this question short and sweet. The less mentioned about it the better. Main thing is to show only good will toward your former employer. Interviewers know that one day you might be leaving them and they like to hire people who won’t tell dirt!

Although your termination was part of a reorganization, has some thoughts that apply to any termination that wasn’t of one’s own choice. In their post, Answering the Interview Question: Why Were You Fired?, they emphasize being open in your answers:
“While trying to give a pleasant-to-hear answer do not hide the real reasons, i.e. if the company was going through financial problems, or if they were downsizing and found your position expendable, do not feel ashamed to say so. Emphasize how much you learnt from the past experience in the job and how much you look forward to move on. This will establish you as a mature person.”

Now that doesn’t mean you need to tell them the whole story. Just be open and direct about the fact that a reorganization happened and you were let go as part of the process. It’s such a common story nowadays, unless you make it into a big deal, a simple answer and a comfortable smile will suffice. The main thing is to emphasize you are looking forward to starting a new job in a company like this one. (It doesn’t hurt to have a few reasons why you are especially excited about this particular company.)

The bigger question for me is “What have you been doing in the last year since you were let go?” There is a one-year gap that, when coupled with a termination, could raise an eyebrow or two. Make sure you have a good answer that a new employer will be comfortable with. If you’ve done any volunteer work in that time or taken time to help a family member, be prepared to talk a little about that in a way that emphasizes your good qualities. (It never hurts to rehearse in front of a mirror or with a friend just to get comfortable with all the details of what you want to say. Just make sure you can still sound natural, as an employer is more interested in seeing the real you than hearing a “perfect” canned answer!)

The fact that you already have some interviews is a very good sign. You might even consider looking for a job within a union or labor law firm since you seem to have the spirit.

Just know that these things happen to most of us. Simply focus on what you have to tell that makes you a great hire and a good fit for the company. Leave the rest in the past where it belongs!

Good luck, Zandria. I wish you all the best in your new job.

Susan Ireland’s Two Cents
Job Lounger, do you have a question? Email ( it to me and I’ll post your question and an expert’s answer here in The Job Lounge.

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