A reader writes:
Four years ago, I was fired from a general manager position, They gave me a decent severance and reference, so we left on amicable terms — but it was a huge shock and unfair in my opinion. Now they want me to fill in on a temporary basis while another manager is on maternity leave. I am not working now by choice — it would be easy to help them out — but the idea makes me very uneasy. Any thoughts?
I wrote back and asked, “What would be the advantage of helping them? And what specifically are you uneasy about?” (That last question may seem to have an obvious answer, but I think there are actually a few possibilities there.)
Her response: The main advantage to me would be rekindling that reference — I have a 5-year-old who I have joyously stayed home with the last 2 years so to get back in the workforce — which I want to do now — it would be a fresh yet long term reference. As far as my uneasiness — it’s part pride and thinking that chapter was done, and part fear they will try to suck me back in full-time. (My choice, I know.)
And then because I apparently can’t ask all my questions at once, I wrote back again and asked, “What was their reason for the firing?”
Her response: They decided they wanted to bring in someone with more sales experience. It was a hotel — my strengths are in operations and it was at a time when the economy was suffering so sales were down.
Ah, that last part puts a whole different spin on this for me.
I’d feel a lot better about considering going back, given that. If they’d fired you because of a personality conflict or for not meeting utterly unrealistic goals or for no particular reason at all, I’d have a lot of trepidation about going back into that environment. But this reason actually makes sense, at least from the outside. If you’re going to be fired, hearing “We need someone with skills in X, whereas your skills are more Y” is a pretty straightforward and understandable rationale (even if you don’t think they really do need someone with skills in X).
And there’s another reason to seriously consider their offer — as you point out, you want to get back into the workforce and having fresh work experience and a stronger reference is probably going to be extremely helpful with that. Plus, this isn’t just any reference — this is a former employer who wooed you back to help out, and that generally looks pretty good to prospective future employers.
That doesn’t mean that you should go back, though. Returning to a job that fired you has the potential to be a weird emotional land mine. There could be awkwardness on both sides, resentment on yours, and all sorts of other unleashed emotions. So you’d want to be really realistic with yourself about what that will be like and whether you can plow through it or whether you’ll hate it. It’s legitimate to decide that that chapter of your life is behind you and you don’t want to reopen it. But it’s also legitimate to decide that the plusses outweigh the minuses here.
One other thing I’d throw in there to weigh all with the rest — do you generally like and respect the people there (or did you before the firing)? If so, I’d put that heavily in the plus column; that counts for a lot. But if not, I might not even bother trying to weigh everything else — no point in taking on a potentially awkward situation when you’re not likely to be happy doing it.