reader stumps me

A reader writes:

I have read all of the articles about what to say in an interview when you are asked about being fired, but none of these answers fit. The problem is that most answers are based on explaining why the job wasn’t a good fit or the reorganization of the company resulted in a termination, etc. The problem is this, what if you are fired by a previous manager? I was working in one department for the company and held this position for five years. During the course of these five years I had a change in managers three times. The first two have only good things to say about my work. The third gave me two evaluations, both very positive. When I put in for a transfer to a different department, she did not want to sign the paper allowing the change because no one, including her, knew what was required to do my job day to day. I agreed to stay in the department an extra 6 weeks to train one of the other supervisors, I also being a supervisor.

Approximately three months into my new position, I was called into HR and told I was fired for not performing my job duties adequately in my previous job. After I left, no one was picking up my job duties, which included paying tickets to court systems. After a couple months, collection notices started coming in. When my previous manager was confronted, she stated that the collection notices were because I didn’t do my job, even though I could show that this took place after I changed departments. My new boss was never told that I was being fired and was quite angry when he found out. I know my new boss will give me a good recommendation, as will the 2 first managers I had in the old position. But how do I explain being fired from a previous boss in an interview, if they ask, without sounding like I’m complaining about her blaming me for something I had no involvement in? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Wow. That company is seriously screwed up. They let someone who wasn’t your current manager fire you over the objections of your current manager (or without even telling your current manager first, it sounds like)? That is ridiculous. As for the old manager’s reason: Well, it’s her job to ensure that new employees are trained thoroughly and work is getting done — not the responsibility of an employee no longer in that department. Honestly, I am fuming about this.

I am also stumped about the best way to explain this to prospective employers in the future. As you know, you don’t want to sound negative about the old employer, but it would be very difficult to find an honest way of framing this that doesn’t sound negative because their behavior was so crappy. If I were in your shoes, I think I’d end up saying something like, “I worked for the company for five years and had excellent evaluations from two managers (who I can put you in touch with), but three months after I was promoted to a new position, the manager from the old position became upset that my replacement in the old job was letting things slip through the cracks and I guess thought I hadn’t trained her sufficiently. I had stayed in that job an extra six weeks to train her, and my other bosses can speak to my effectiveness.” But I’m not totally happy with that response, so I’m sending out a plea for help from readers: How would you frame this? How would you want to hear a job applicant frame it?

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. Lisa*

    Here is another bullet I can add to my “Love Your HR Manager” list, Supervisors, thinking of recommending removal of an employee who does not report to you? Don’t!

    What a mess. What about finding a sane, level headed, reasonable person of importance in the company, explain what had happened, and request the reqord be changed to reflect a clean resignation instead of removal or removal in lieu of an adverse action. This would eliminate that negative reference piece.

    Absent that, in explaining it, I would modify the response slightly to reflect exactly what you did to ensure a smooth transition. “I worked for the company for five years and had excellent evaluations from two managers (who I can put you in touch with)and based on my performance, I was promoted to xx position.

    I delayed my move to my new position 6 weeks to train my replacement. I did xxxxx to ensure my manager was aware of the status of outstanding issues, created SOPS xxxxx (anything you did to ensure a smooth transition). Three months after I was promoted to a new position, the department I left was not meeting suspenses/ timelines/performance measures etc and I was held accountable for that.

    My other bosses can speak to my effectiveness.”

  2. Lisa*

    I submitted the comment above and after hitting “post” am wondering if that response quite gets at it. I will think on this some more. . . hmmmm

  3. Ask a Manager*

    Hmmm, I disagree about a lawsuit, Anonymous, since there’s no mention of anything discriminatory. Companies are allowed to make dumb and indefensible decisions, as long as they’re not doing it in a way that discriminates against a protected class. If they fired her because she was Asian or pregnant or a woman or something, then yes, but I don’t think there’s anything like that here.

  4. Rachel - Employment File*

    1. Don’t suggest they call your references, bring actual letters of recommendation.

    2. Tell them that you spent 6 weeks transitioning your former position and then moved on to your new job but that your former department had difficulty managing your former workload and they felt as though your 6 weeks of work was not enough.

    3. Keep it brief and emotionless.

  5. The Engineer*

    Bringing your references may help, but it is not going to prevent anyone from calling the former employer.

    The brief and emotionless explanation of being held accountable for performance of your replacement is the best. If your last supervisor really was upset to see you go, then directing an interview to a phone conversation with them is probably good. Although I would verify that independently first.

  6. Kathleen in AZ*

    You could say you had three supervisors in your last position, and the most recent, for whom you worked the least amount of time, fired you. You spoke with the other two supervisors, and they requested that they be contacted as references on your behalf.

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