update: how much of a red flag is it if a job candidate was fired twice previously?

Remember the letter-writer asked about a job candidate who had been fired twice previously? Here’s the update.

I wrote in about six months about a job candidate who was fired twice previously, and my uncertainty about whether to move them forward in the process. As I said in the update in the comments section, I did end up interviewing the candidate again, but I felt like they weren’t quite the right fit for what I needed.

In the end, I went with the candidate who had been my top choice from the first round of interviews. She started a few months ago, and she is an absolute dream. Conscientious, diplomatic, flexible, really open to feedback, willing to ask questions until she understands something and then able to apply that knowledge and work independently much faster than I would have anticipated. We have a really complicated bureaucracy and I never expect anyone to really know what they’re doing for months, but she’s already figured out how to get stuff done that I didn’t even know could get done. It took her a bit to trust me when I said I was very open to her improving systems as we went, but now that she both trusts me and trusts herself to understand the systems, she’s making really helpful improvements. She is also doing such a conscientious job at one of her data entry tasks that upper management commented on how much easier it is to run reports now, because they don’t have to do the same extensive data clean-up that used to be required. I feel like she’s regularly trying to figure out how to make other team members’ jobs easier, while still being clear about her own boundaries, and it’s just really helping the team function amazingly well overall.

I really appreciated the comments on my original letter reminding me (and the commenters!) that I wasn’t hiring in a vacuum and that I had to compare the candidates to each other. I definitely want to continue giving candidates a fair shot and not make assumptions about their backgrounds, but I’m also glad that I learned I can trust my instincts, too. And I’m so grateful for this website and your book, Alison. My reports have all recently said how much they appreciate my management style (one of them described it as “laidback but with high standards”) and I know I owe a lot of that to you! Thank you so much.

{ 30 comments… read them below }

  1. Thomas*

    Agreed. It feels like the perfect description of how a great manager, or at least a good manager for me, would work.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Same. I prefer not to be micromanaged but I like it when my boss cares about details the way I do.

  2. Generic Name*

    This is an awesome update! I agree that you have to compare the candidates to each other and make the best choice for your company. As much as people don’t like to hear it, hiring isn’t about “giving folks a chance” it’s about solving a problem/meeting a need for your company.

  3. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

    “Laidback but with high standards” sounds like a dream manager to me. Way to go OP!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I have this – laid back, high standards, and don’t dump on my team without telling me we have a problem first. My manager rocks – she will absolutely back you against attempts to turn you into a “human-sized trouble-bus speed bump.”

  4. Cherry*

    Lol, my weird ex (who works in the same field as me, which is kinda a small world) started a false rumour about me that I’ve been fired twice, and when I saw this title my brain immediately jumped to this being about me! …No need for me to panic; it’s not.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Lol I do this all the time. Someone writes in about problems with a coworker? Maybe it’s about me, even though I don’t remember doing any of the things in the letter!

  5. AnonForThis*

    I’ve been fired three times. Once was absolutely my fault; I handled the early pandemic poorly. My stress level was at 11, and being set free was a huge relief.

    The other ones…not so much. Firing #1 was my first professional job. I was a very strong performer and more in sync with the overall culture than my manager was, (her boss absolutely loved me!) which she took as me trying to “show her up.” I was fired at the last possible second before I would have gotten a significant bonus—which would automatically be reassigned to my supervisor if I was no longer there.

    The second firing was for something very private they found out about my personal life, that had absolutely zero relation to my work in any way. It’s not currently a protected class, but I hope it one day will be.

    I’m long term unemployed and I still don’t know if I’ll ever get another chance to prove myself again. I feel like it’s a three-strikes-you’re-out type of situation. But I definitely want to chime in and say that being fired, even multiple times, doesn’t necessarily indicate a bad employee.

    1. AnonForThis*

      Obviously the previously-fired candidate wasn’t the correct choice here, but I’m glad to hear that they were considered seriously despite the firings.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      *hug* Same here. People do mess up, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do better elsewhere. Plus, some situations are a mess from the get-go and you don’t know that until you get into them.

    3. JSPA*

      This is, at least, a dream market for those willing to do temp work. It’s been mentioned here before how useful that can be as a springboard, to restart a job trajectory. Another option might be to lean in on something that is in some way related to whatever that very personal thing is, that got you fired, and be open about that being the thing that got you fired. If it’s something you hope is soon to be a protected class, it’s a big enough group of people to have its own small economic ecosystem. I’m old enough to hazily remember when professional women found each other through the women’s yellow pages, and certainly old enough to have used the lavender pages (the go-to resource for people wanting to support LGBT businesses). I’d be surprised if there isn’t a furry equivalent, a poly equivalent, a kink or D/S equivalent, if you figure out where and how to look.

      Note that these are not necessarily community-specific jobs! Dentist, mechanic, tax prep–stuff that everyone needs–but “community supportive.” And if there really, truly isn’t such a resource, then, there’s your need, needing to be filled.

    4. GlitsyGus*

      Agreed to this. It isn’t always black and white of “Bad employee.” Fired once and while I understand why it happened, the reason it happened was because my manager and I just did not get along. I didn’t handle it as well as I could, but my work was fine, it was just the team up was not going to work ever.

      Since then I have learned how to use my interpersonal skills much better, and so I definitely did grow and learn from it, but it wouldn’t have impacted someone looking for if I could do X task well.

    5. TwiceFired*

      Same here. I was fired twice at 2 separate jobs. One was kind of my fault….I just couldn’t get the hang of the job no matter what or how I was trained. It was a “friendly” firing that I saw coming and they told me they decided to fire me so I could get unemployment while I job searched. They also gave me good references.

      The 2nd firing was back when I was young and didn’t know what my rights were. I’m in a relationship with someone of a different race than I. About 5 of the boss’ favorites started harassing me and saying racist, disgusting things. When I started defending myself (and I may have said some things that weren’t too professional), they lied and said I falsified my notes. That company bills medicaid/care so it’s a huge issue to falsify notes. There were favorites against me so they were believed. I was fired.

      Just because someone was fired multiple times doesn’t mean they deserved it. Of course that’s not always the case, but it is definitely possible.

    6. Anononon*

      I am so sorry to hear about this. I worked in employment law for a long time, and I have to say, the vast majority of firings are either unfair, illegal, or both. So you are not alone.

      I’ve only ever had to fire one person (there was an actual crime involved); everyone else who has ever been a “problem” has just needed assistance and, well, you know, management. (Which most managers are terrible at.)

      I was also fired from my first job in a very similar way to your first job. Mine was an illegal firing (as yours possibly was, too, depending on which country and state you work in), and I did receive a financial settlement…but not before my vindictive ex-boss who’d illegally fired me almost got me fired from my second job, by calling up and spreading lies. It was one of the worst times of my life.

      I find the hiring process so unhelpful and frustrating. Just because someone has been fired once, or three times, or ten times, or a hundred times, doesn’t actually mean anything, the vast majority of the time. It also doesn’t mean that someone who has been fired before isn’t the best possible candidate for the job, just as someone who has never been fired can be the worst possible candidate for that job.

      I wish you all the best. You deserve it!

  6. Business Owner*

    I (white woman) was fired 2o years ago because my Indian boss didn’t think my Indian boyfriend should date outside their race. We were together for 10 years. Same boss also fired a gay man shortly after me, because “homosexuality is unnatural and sick” (his exact words at the time) Sadly he was never fired and is still at the same now Fortune 50 company, making lots of money.
    Later on I was fired because I was pregnant and wouldn’t be able to work 8 AM to midnight on a regular basis anymore.
    Neither of which had anything to do with the quality of my work.
    I have my own business now so I don’t have to put up with that crap anymore.

    1. Anononon*

      Bosses like this are exactly why I went into employment law. And there are so many of them. I am always surprised when people have automatic faith in bosses and the hiring and firing process. There are more bad managers than good ones, and most firings should never have happened, just as most PIPs are a complete abuse of process and power.

      Here’s a hint for managers with an employee who you believe is difficult or not performing or not suited to their job: TALK TO THEM ABOUT IT. Properly.

      I am so sorry you went through that, and am so happy you’re going so well now!

    2. allathian*

      Ugh. Your Indian boss really proved that in some cases it’s better if your employers don’t know anything about you except what they need for you to do your job. They can’t judge you for what they don’t know. I’m so sorry.

  7. selena*

    Good to hear OP found such a great employee.

    Of course it would have been nice if it’d been mr twice-fired who turned out to be marvelous, but life is not a movie and i absolutely agree with the ‘not hiring in a vacuum’ sentiment. Don’t get so fixated on one candidate and their issues that you ignore more-qualified candidates.

    Sometimes the perfect candidate is the overlooked misunderstood kid, but usually the perfect candidate simply is the candidate who also ‘looks good on paper’

    1. Anononon*

      No disrespect, but some of the worst-fit hires I’ve ever seen are the ones who just look good on paper.

      Many of the strongest hires are people who’ve actually had to overcome adversity in the past. Not necessarily anything life altering or shattering, but something. Particularly people who’ve previously had a difficult boss.

      People who’ve never faced any sort of problem will often, but not always, fall down at the first hurdle.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this.

        School was easy for me, to the point that in retrospect it feels like I never did any work. There were no honors classes or advanced stuff that gifted kids could take. I never bought into the A girl stuff, either, so I was happy with my A-/B+ average that I got by listening in class, taking notes, and doing my homework, but I rarely studied for exams, for example. So when I got to college and realized that I had to actually study to even pass an exam, never mind get good grades, it was a hard adjustment. Thankfully my college allowed students to try 3 times before making us retake a class. I still don’t claim it was a matter of overcoming adversity, but I had to learn my lesson the hard way.

        Difficult bosses in the past have taught me a lot about myself and my limits, and they’ve helped me set boundaries.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I agree. I had the great gift of having a very hard class my freshman year, so I had to study my brains out to get…a C. And discovered the world didn’t collapse after all. (I still know the key memory sentence to keep Kingdom to Species all in a row).

  8. Anononon*

    Thank you for the update, OP.

    I am glad you found a strong candidate. I am positive that you will ensure that she is taken care if, treated well, and well paid, and is able to access professional development and career progression, if she choose it.

    I also hope your other candidate has found a good role and a good boss. I am also very glad that you realised that her having been fired previously means literally nothing in the great and scheme of things.

    If it helps, the Big Boss of the Big Law Firm I work at has been fired four times previously. It is especially amusing when his ex-bosses who fired him (in extremely questionable, if not outright illegal, circumstances) now go out of their way to suck up to him and praise him whenever paths cross. I think my boss is too gracious to feel this way, but I certainly enjoy watching them squirm.

  9. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    Awesome to hear you have a great employee. Hopefully she gets a commensurate raise at her next (annual?) review.

  10. Letter Writer*

    Thanks, all. And yes, I loved “laidback but with high standards”!

    I’m in unionized government, so I have limited ability to do much with the employee’s pay, but I’m absolutely making it very clear that she should take advantage of classes, trainings, and other growth opportunities that way. I’m hoping over time to transfer some other tasks and responsibilities to her, too.

    And I’m also making sure that she knows she should take her vacation time, and that she has some degree of scheduling flexibility, and that I’m singing her praises to the higher-ups in case she does want to advance/transfer in the future. (And, of course, making sure that she knows she’s doing a great job!)

    “Blessed are the data cleaners/shapers.”

  11. Lunchy*

    “Laid back but with high standards” is what I wish more managers were.

    Thank you for keeping an open mind despite that candidate’s rough history. I’ve had toxic, overbearing, micromanaging bosses. Couple that with chronic anxiety and it’s a no-win situation. Now, I’m in a much more laid back company where I don’t get emails daily about the department not getting enough done, or “What were you doing between 9:45 and 10:10 that you didn’t finish a file?” I’m much happier, my work is better and I get more done. Imagine that.

  12. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    I once went thru a spate of crummy jobs that lasted only a few months each. There was a recession on and even though I saw red flags in the interviews, I felt I was in no position to be picky (I actually exchanged emails about it at the time, with a former supervisor who was going thru the same thing, about whether a bad job was better than no job at all). Sometimes the problem IS the employer. I’ve been at my current job for over 10 years. It’s not ideal, but my boss has told me numerous times she doesn’t want to lose me.

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