job-searching after being let go

by Ask a Manager on January 11, 2009

A reader writes:

August 29, 2008 – After working for this IT services company for 2.5 years, I was taken into the boss’s office and told that the money was bad and business was scarce. My boss cut me from 40 hours per week down to 20 hours per week to save the company money. He stated that he didn’t want to get so bad that he had to shut the doors of the business.

September 24, 2008 – Heard from the accounting/office manager of the business that the company is not doing any better and that the boss had to use funds from his personal account to cover the business taxes.

September 25, 2008 – My boss took me into his office and stated that I made a typographical error and that he was going to let me go.

I felt that he let me go due to the business lacking in funds to cover me on the payroll; however had to come up with a lame excuse to fire me. Please understand my former boss has no people skills and likes to bark commands instead of talk to you like you are a human. In the 9 years that the business was open, my position was the one with the highest turnover. In the 9 years of operation I was number 34 to sit in that seat.

How should I address this on my application and in interviews so that I don’t have a hard time finding a job in the future?

I’m not sure that you were fired. As you point out, it sounds like a layoff (which are financially based). You can find out for sure this way: Did the company rehire for your position, or are they leaving it vacant? If the position no longer exists, your position was eliminated, which is often the definition of a layoff.

Now, is it possible that your boss genuinely fired you for cause and then later decided not to refill the position for financial reasons? Sure, absolutely. But given the context that you’ve laid out here, I’d be skeptical.

If future employers ask why you left, I’d simply explain that the business was in extreme financial trouble, your hours were cut in half, and the boss was using his personal money to pay business taxes. Given the economy right now, most people’s brains are going to fill in the rest on their own and move on to the next question. However, some interviewers may specifically ask, “Were you laid off or did you leave voluntarily?” so I’d find some wording that implies you were laid off without outright lying about what your boss said.

Of course, the best thing you could do would be to get the company to agree to consider your departure a layoff (if indeed they didn’t refill the position). Assuming they’ve eliminated the position, you can call your old boss and ask if he’d be willing to call your departure a layoff rather than a firing for future reference calls. It’s at least worth a shot — the worst that can happen is that he’ll say no. If there’s an HR department, start with them; they may be able to advocate for you with your boss. And actually, even if the company did refill your position and it wasn’t a layoff, you should still try this approach; see this post for more details on how to do it. Good luck!

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{ 1 comment }

Anonymous January 12, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Some unscrupulous bosses will try to avoid or reduce paying unemployment by finding a way to fire you for cause. If you’re currently unemployed and filing for unemployment, be sure that your state unemployment office knows that you weren’t really fired for cause… they may deny your claim based on this. It varies from state to state, so you’ll need to contact your state unemployment office or an attorney to find out for sure.

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