Monday, April 27, 2009

Fired for Insubordination

Here's a question from a Job Lounger, followed by two answers from career counselor friends of mine.

I was recently fired from a company where I worked for many years. During that time I had incidences in which complaints were brought against me for being rude to fellow employees. I have been working on my behavior issues and my latest review stated my improvement in that area. My work itself has never been questioned as I have a very strong work ethic and have performed well.

The firing occurred when I felt pressured by two co-workers to do something I felt was highly unethical and counter to company policy. They were acting on behalf of a supervisor and instead of going straight to the supervisor I got entangled in an argument with my two co-workers. I didn't handle it very well, and became emotional.

I was fired for insubordination as I had been accused of swearing at my co-workers and my supervisor. I explained that I was not swearing at anyone... but at the situation itself. The human resources person brought up my past issues.

How do I answer getting fired in a job interview? I'm trying to craft an answer that is honest, and only says I was pressured to do something unethical, without giving too much detail -- just explain I found myself in a verbal sparring match with two co-workers and didn't handle it as well as I should have, and have learned from that. If they want more detail I will give them more, but I want to place an emphasis on taking responsibility and moving on.

by Sue Aiken, TSA Career Coach

Why is it necessary to discuss being fired at all? Are you going to bring it up? I hope not.

If asked why you left it's best to say there was a disagreement, which resulted in you being let go. Then go on to focus on all the good work you did at that company. Don't provide any more details or focus on any incidents of your own bad behavior. That's a mine field best left alone.

You might also mention that you have learned that the right work environment enables you to do your best work. That could lead to a well thought out question from you about the work setting where you are interviewing. For example: How is work performance reviewed or how will I know I am meeting the expectations of the company?

Years ago I heard a speaker talk about the red flags we all bring to interviews. "I'm too old, too young, too experienced, too inexperienced, been fired or unemployed over a year." The speaker reminded us to always turn those red flags into positive experiences, and never dwell on the negative. Take responsibility when appropriate but mostly, move the conversation forward... not backwards.

by Maureen Nelson, M.A., Career Counselor, Writer, Oakland PIC One Stop Career Center, EastBayWorks

Keep it short and sweet: "I was asked to do something unethical and I was let go when I refused." Then move on to what you can bring to the new position you're seeking.

Don't say anything about getting into an argument with co-workers. Don't say anything along the lines of "getting emotional" or "didn't handle it well." Give the impression that you were acting coolly, calmly and with the utmost professionalism. You don't even need to say who asked you to do the unethical thing. Share what the unethical thing was only if pressed and only if any reasonable person would have refused to do the same thing.

I had a co-worker whose work was atrocious and I depended on his output. His mistakes were negatively impacting our customers as well as making it difficult to get my job done. He had a snarky attitude and attention span of a goldfish -- yet was tasked with highly detailed work at the same time he was expected to play receptionist. For years, I attempted to fix things by going directly to him, then to my boss, and finally to a senior person whom we both respected.

Management was unresponsive (though they admitted there was a problem and that my co-worker's work was terrible). Desperate, I suggested a three-way meeting with my co-worker and the senior person to try to find a way for us to work better together. My co-worker agreed, then he changed his mind and informed the president of my planned meeting. I was fired for insubordination.

I survived that firing, and you can too. Just keep the explanation short and sweet. Give very little detail and admit no fault. Then immediately focus on the value you bring to the new position. If it seems like the employer's not buying it, admit a past mistake that you have learned from and will never do again.

Meanwhile, have you considered taking an anger management class?

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