can I ask an interviewer about negative feedback from the last person who had the job?

A reader writes:

I’m interviewing for a job at a smaller company in my field. The company is interested in a niche secondary specialty of mine. They don’t engage in some of the traditional silo-ing of people in my job function but actually let us be in meetings with clients, I’d be managing freelancers from the jump in a way that would help me move my career forward, and the powers that be also intend for me to create my own department and processes in the long run. This is all very appealing.

During the interview, I was told that the last person in this position left because he didn’t want to grow the department. But when I tracked him down on LinkedIn, he told me he was fired with no reason or warning about a month ago.

Normally, I’d assume this is a huge red flag, but this guy seems like kind of a crank, from my brief conversation with him. He told me he’d worked at the company for two whole years … but his own LinkedIn profile made it clear he’d been there for 1.5 years. He insisted that the motivation behind letting him go was his asking for a raise … but the number he asked for is within the range I was told about in my interview, so the company is clearly fine with paying it — just not to him. He angrily told me the position was at-will employment … but that’s all positions in our field in the U.S. He also said he felt betrayed that he only got a week of severance … but that’s honestly more generous than most companies in our field would be with a person who had only been there a year and a half.

He then asked me to submit his resume to my current employer, even though I explained that my recommendation doesn’t carry a lot of weight. The resume in question was full of obvious errors, which is strange given that our field is a type of editing work, and the second page was all information that felt irrelevant at best and like an overshare at worst — including that he’d been on a men’s volleyball team in college but the team was terrible.

I don’t really know what the next step is. Can I admit that I spoke to the guy and ask my interviewer what happened to get a better idea of how likely I am to be suddenly fired in this position? (But I don’t want to get him in trouble for talking with me.) Do I assume this guy was secretly fired for a good reason, since he honestly seems kind of off?

My advice: try hard to find other connections to the company through your network so that you have more than this one person’s opinion to go on.

A lot of what you’re seeing from this guy raises flags about him, not the company. Some of it is just neutral (like saying he’d been there for two years when his LinkedIn makes it look like 1.5 years — people round up, especially in casual conversations; that’s not a big deal). But the rest doesn’t make him look like the most reliable source — not a monster or anything, just not someone whose input you want to put a ton of weight on.

Don’t tell your interviewer that you spoke with the former employee, at least not without permission. He presumably figured he was talking to you in confidence and was more candid than he would have been if he knew what he said would make its way back to the company (which he might be relying on for references in the future). People will stop being candid with fellow networkers if they have to worry what they say will be repeated back to their employers.

Maybe they did fire him with no warning. Maybe he did something egregious enough to warrant it (and the employer is giving you a vague cover story to protect his privacy) or maybe he was warned and felt blindsided when it happened anyway, which isn’t uncommon. Or sure, maybe this employer fires good employees for no reason and with no warning — but there are so many other possibilities that you can’t really know for sure.

What you can do, though, is to keep gathering data. Lean on your network to try to find other people who have worked there and can add to the data you’ve already gathered. You can also ask to talk one-on-one with people on the team and then ask them about the culture, how they get feedback, how transparently things operate, what the manager is like, and whether they feel treated fairly and are happy there. The more data points you have, the better able you will be to decide if there’s anything to worry about or not.

{ 108 comments… read them below }

  1. Peanut Hamper*

    If they really did fire this guy, then he can’t really be objective about his time there, regardless of whether they fired him for a good reason or not.

    Best thing I’ve ever done is ask to talk to the people I’d be working with. Just the way they carry themselves can give you an idea of what the culture there is like.

    1. Alex*

      This. I once declined a job offer in part because my interview was with the whole team (great!) and while they all spoke positive words their overall demeanor was extremely glum. They just oozed misery.

      1. InABetterPlace*

        It’s funny, I had the opposite experience. I interviewed for a job with future coworkers who were great friends with each other, which I did not know at the time. The organization came off like an amazing place to work. I took the job, partially based on this info. Turns out these were folks who had extreme gallows humor about one of the most toxic environments I have ever been a part of. We joked later that they should not be allowed to interview new team members because they gave off the wrong impression.

      2. There You Are*

        That was my experience interviewing for a position at a company where I knew the VP from a prior internship and he had invited me to interview for a FT position at his new company. He’s great, so I jumped at the chance.

        I met everyone who worked for him in the new company and, afterward, when I called my family from the parking lot, all I could say was, “I hope they don’t offer me the job.”

        Their words were all the things you’d want to hear, but the way they carried themselves and their micro facial expressions were… off.

        A friend of mine had also interviewed for the position and they did offer her the job. She took it and, within a month or so, was crying in the bathroom because it was so damned toxic. She left just shy of 5 months there.

        Turns out, they were disturbingly insular; hated their new VP and made fun of him (and his ethnicity, his accent, his young daughters, and more, as soon as he was out of earshot); and when my friend didn’t play along, they made fun of her too… but to her face.

    2. Garblesnark*

      I don’t agree that no one who has been fired from a job can be reasonably objective about their time there.

      1. Lydia*

        I think most people can easily tell the difference between sour grapes and legitimate criticism, but I don’t think anyone whose been fired and still has a LOT to say about it should be trusted to be objective. And even if they did sound even handed about it, I know I would still talk to other people.

        1. Maglev to Crazytown*

          I was fired and still have a lot to say about it… because I am just still so gobsmacked that such an extreme rampant level of Good Old Boy’s Club and institutionalization of rampant sexual harassment can be so alive and well even today. Being fired without warning for filing an HR complaint after being in such a toxic environment is traumatic, and makes you very eager to warn other women about naively buying into the nonsense such a company spouts about being so progressive and supposedly egalitarian and pro-women.

        2. Selena81*

          The people who succeeded long-term at ToxicJob didn’t think there was anything off about the culture, but I’d want to warm future employees that they will never earn much *standing* if they don’t fit the unspoken sexist/racist/classist criteria that were used to measure succes.

          1. Maglev to Crazytown*

            This is what I experienced too at the place where I was fired for reporting sexual harassment to HR, after being targeted with repeated sexual harassment. People were either there for decades or career (those who directly participated in or tacitly approved of/accepted the toxic environment)… or lasted a very short time before termination or leaving in disgust. There is no real middle ground between the two, and even after I was interviewing locally, I had hiring managers openly refer to my former workplace as “THAT revolving door” and not even question that I had been terminated. No explanation was needed for those who were aware — but the place still managed to put a strong enough local/region front on that some locals are not aware. I absolutely want women to know what they are getting into there, and save themselves the later stress and therapy.

          2. Lydia*

            Considering most situations aren’t that extreme, I think my point still stands. Y’all know this is generally not how things go, right? Like the majority of people fired who are still bitter about it are like the guy the OP talked to? And I say bitter, not giving very useful and necessary warnings about situations that could put someone in danger.

      2. NerdBoss*

        Garblesnark, same. I was terminated from a job and I am pretty objective about that experience. I think the circumstances of leaving matter the most.

  2. Dust Bunny*

    this guy seems like kind of a crank

    Okay, I’m not saying he is, but I would keep that thought in the back of your mind. I’ve had more than a few friends who swore they were fired unfairly but a) they dropped enough hints about their behavior at work and b) I know them personally, to strongly suspect that they were not.

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      Came here to say this. I’ve seen this with people I know as well. And they “have no idea” why they were fired, but I could probably tell them with a decently high degree of accuracy why they were.

      1. Sage*

        There is this term “missing missing reasons”, usually applied to abusive parents who claim they have no idea why their adult children broke contact even if they told them directly.

        I guess you could also apply this to some fired people.

        1. sparkle emoji*

          Yeah, I think this comparison is useful. This guy may have been told what he needed to change, but he didn’t see the issues as legitimate so there clearly must be some “real” reason that no one will share.

          1. Selena81*

            Yup. With some people their brain just seems to refuse to process any (negative) feedback, so when the people around them eventually get pretty angry at them it comes-out-of-nowhere in their mind.

    2. Emikyu*

      I once (briefly) worked with a guy who complained that he was fired with “no warning” – which was technically true, but that was because he had sexually harassed coworkers in such an egregious way that HR felt like it wasn’t worth the risk of giving him more chances.

      I’m not saying this guy did something like that, just that based on the available info it seems fairly likely that his story is… not entirely accurate.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, we had one of those at one of my long-ago jobs. Sorry (not sorry), dude–you don’t get warnings for that.

      2. (Health, Safety) Environmental Compliance*


        I worked with a Safety person who was fired for refusing to properly investigate a serious safety violation/miss with a direct quote of “well nothing blew up so what the hell’s the deal?”. The situation literally could have resulted in a *large explosion* that would have been several fatalities if not lose the entire plant and most of the people.

        I also know that he told people that he was fired with no discussion or anything, just “perp walked out”, and that the company we were at was jUsT tErrIbLe and we all sucked. I know for sure that there *was* a discussion (or four) and when he doubled down on how he didn’t investigate – and got a really crappy attitude with Plant Manager / HR – that’s when the decision was made to term him. (He was otherwise having performance issues, but they were still in the early stages of being formally addressed.)

        Some people simply cannot accept any sort of negative overtone to anything they do, and place it all outside of them.

    3. Agile Phalanges*

      And I’ve been aware of the employer side enough times to know that folks are often “surprised” by a (justified) firing even if they had multiple written warnings. It never ceases to amaze me.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I just googled the term Sage offers: “missing missing reasons.” Oh wow, this.
        OP, find another way. And probably don’t connect on Linkedin with him if he asks.

        1. English Rose*

          I just googled too. I’d never heard of missing missing reasons until now. Boy, this is really powerful stuff.

    4. iglwif*

      Came here to say something approximately this. Very often people who are bad enough at their jobs / have sufficiently poor judgement to get fired are also not super objective about their own job performance, their own behaviour, their relationships, etc. I have had to be involved in PIP and firing processes for several people over my 25+ years as a working adult and in zero (0) of these cases did the person getting fired think they deserved to be fired, and in very few did they see the firing coming.

      And considering how long it can take to build a case for firing someone whose issues are incompetence and poor judgement, rather than something immediately egregious like theft or assault, you would really think people would see it coming … but a lot of them just don’t.

    5. SansaJacklyn*

      And as a manager that has fired people, those people were always shocked too despite the obvious, and a slow, methodical path towards termination. And it never their fault.
      I had one person actually, who just really couldn’t do it, lacked skill, great woman, but she acknowledged that and I helped her get a better suited job before she got to the termination.

    6. Princess Sparklepony*

      I was wondering if the guy was George Santos. Being on the volleyball team is now a trigger for me!

  3. Sparkles McFadden*

    Talking to the interviewer about what the former employee said will not be helpful. The interviewer probably cannot address any questions because of confidentiality, and you would be betraying the former employee’s confidence. Sure, he sounds like a crank but you still owe him that courtesy. Bringing this up would be like getting involved in workplace drama without actually working there yet.

    From what you’ve said here, it sounds as if you can discount what the former employee said and just try to get more information from other sources.

    1. Beth*

      This. If the former employee seemed like a credible source, I’d take his story as a reason to dig deeper. Ask the employer questions like why the role is open (expansion? replacing someone?) and what would make someone a really ideal fit for the role (I’ve had interviews where I asked this and it was immediately obvious that the interviewer was thinking “we need someone who’s not like ex-employee”) and see what comes up. Ask around your network and see what other info you can dig up. Really do the max due diligence.

      But when even one conversation with the former employee showed that he’s obviously cranky and out of step with normal work practices, that doesn’t raise much of a red flag to me. I’d probably mostly discount that.

      1. sparkle emoji*

        This approach sounds great. I agree heavy due diligence is warranted because maybe this guy is right, and it would stink to find that out too late, but this sounds like an opportunity with a lot of value to the LW. If they ended up walking away because some guy with sour grapes massaged the truth that would also stink.

        1. Selena81*

          It could be that he’s right about everything and his weird behavior is caused by the trauma of suddenly losing a job that he liked.
          Although that is a bit undermined by him being bad at a key-aspect of the role.

  4. TK*

    I’m just laughing at “including that he’d been on a men’s volleyball team in college but the team was terrible.” We’ve heard lots of crazy resume stories on here, but that’s near the top for sheer absurdity. Listing the team, weird but not ridiculous. Noting specifically that the team was terrible…. utterly bizarre.

    1. AFac*

      “I coulda been a national volleyball star, but my team was terrible. I coulda been a contendah, I coulda been somebody.”

    2. Ally McBeal*

      I read that and wondered if OP had been talking to George Santos! Except he would’ve told OP that the team had won an NCAA championship.

      1. Observer*

        I read that and wondered if OP had been talking to George Santos!


        OP, don’t worry to hard about the opinion who sounds like a George Santos wannabe, but just less smooth.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          This guy must be special, if he’s less smooth than George Santos! I think OP should ignore him.

        2. SoreThroat*

          I hate to admit to this, but George “What HASN’T he lied about?” Santos is my Congressperson. It’s awful. He is such an embarrassment.

      2. TK*

        My favorite SNL joke about George Santos was when Weekend Update noted that one of his lies was being a star volleyball player at Baruch College. They said something like: “that’s a perfectly fine thing to be, but it’s a very strange thing to lie about having been.”

      3. Princess Sparklepony*

        That was my first thought! He is looking at being booted from Congress, so he would be looking for a job now….

    3. Over It*

      Yes, inquiring minds need to know whether OP just knew of this college’s volleyball team and that it was terrible/OP looked up the team’s stats, or whether the employee actually said on his resume that the team was bad! The way it’s written is a bit ambiguous, but I did appreciate the laugh.

      I myself was an uninspiring college athlete (on a travel club team, not a varsity team). I may have put on my resume for a year or two out of college that I served on the club board, but declined to note I was one of its least athletically inclined members.

      1. OP*

        Hi! I have never heard of a single men’s volleyball team, at the college level or otherwise. He wrote that he was on the team but it was terrible.

        1. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

          It’s a growing sport for men. I’ve dated one girl who had a brother who played college volleyball, and my wife’s brother might have gone the same route if he hadn’t gotten a basketball scholarship.

          1. TK*

            I live in the rural midwest, and all the middle/junior high and high schools around here have added boys’ volleyball as a sport in the last 10 years. It seemed to just come out of nowhere, and there are guys who get scholarships for it now. At that level it’s played in the spring, after basketball season, and at small schools it tends to be a lot of the same guys who play basketball playing it.

        2. Itsa Me, Mario*

          Random – my college definitely had a men’s volleyball team. I knew a few people who were on it. None seem like they are this guy, for the record.

        3. iglwif*

          My junior high and high schools both had boys’ volleyball teams (I mean, they mostly had the same sports for both girls and boys — except football, which some high schools had for boys but nobody had for girls. It was the 1980s and 1990s, what can I say). I’ve just always assumed that universities also had volleyball teams, but I can’t say I ever paid attention to what sports teams my university had…

        4. Selena81*

          Thanks for clarifying. That is.. weird.

          Maybe he intended it as a sort of joke (“I am not good at everything”) and hoped it would get a chuckle, but it just sounds unprofessional to me. A resume should not need a sarcasm emoji.

    4. Garblesnark*

      I used to hire a very large volume (like 50 a week) of professionals with a relatively easy to obtain, brief certification in a field that did not have a reputation for paying well.

      I have seen some of the most incredible resumes. Resumes with fewer than fifteen total words. Resumes where the candidate spelled their own name different ways on the document. Resumes that were just a list of job titles. Resumes sent in a screenshot that also included a critique of that same resume.

      I reached a place of considering viewing these resumes a form of compensation.

  5. Sara without an H*

    I’d take this evidence with a grain of salt, frankly. We’ve had letters here before from managers who went through several rounds of warnings with employees, who then claimed to be utterly blindsided when they were let go. The human ego is remarkably impervious to things it doesn’t want to know.

    But it’s worth working your network to see what other evidence is out there. If your field is a niche speciality, there’s probably someone you know who has worked for or with this company. You should also develop some questions for your interviewers about how they will judge success in the position you’re interested in.

    1. kiki*

      “The human ego is remarkably impervious to things it doesn’t want to know.”

      Yes! And even for folks who do understand that they had been fired for cause and with good reason, there’s a lot of stigma about admitting that to others. Most people concoct some sort of “cover story” to protect themselves from judgment.

      Definitely get more than one opinion– look for connections in your network. I would also ask the hiring manager if it’s possible to speak with more folks at the company. You’re not going to get the most honest/forthcoming answers from current employees, but asking them the right questions should give you some indication if stuff is wildly off at the small business.

      One concern I have about this job that LW didn’t bring up is that the former employee seems quite incompetent but managed to stay in the role for a year and a half. Sometimes that happens, even at well-managed businesses, but it’s a yellow flag.

    2. ferrina*

      Yeah…..I had one project manager who had to have her handheld on every project, most of her work required correction and when defining the scope and deliverables, she missed key aspects that clients wanted. People below her in the hierarchy were regularly fixing her work. I spoke with her about it on a very regular basis and told her that her work seriously needed to improve.

      She was then livid when I told her I wouldn’t back her for a promotion.

  6. OP*

    Hi, OP here!

    There really is nobody else in my network who has performed this job at the company, or worked at the company at all. It’s a newer and smaller company.

    That said, I’ve been moving through the interview rounds and am very impressed with everybody there, so I think I’m not going to worry too much about what this person told me.

    1. TKR*

      A question you could ask is something like “This is a small but newer company so I expect you haven’t seen too much, but how have you handled turnover? How do you expect to adjust that as the company scales?”
      That can also give you insight into things like career paths and progression (easier to define an underperformed and hold them accountable if there are clear expectations and standards).

    2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

      Can you find people who have worked with other people who currently work with the company?

      But yeah, this sounds more like a him-thing than a company thing.

      1. Boolie*

        What good would making those connections do if they don’t work at the company? Apologies if I’m missing something obvious

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      As another data point, I have had two separate jobs now that I’ve been warned about but thrived in. And on the flip side had another job recommended to me that I stayed in through grad school but really hated. Different people do well in different environments. If your gut is saying good things, weigh your own experience!

    4. Judge Judy and Executioner*

      I think that’s a good plan! It sounds like you are doing your due diligence to find out as much as you can about the company. Even with lots of digging and networking to find out about a company, there can always be surprises down the road as the organization changes. I agree that the guy sounds a little off, and I think you are safe to disregard his complaints. Good luck, I hope you get the position you want. :)

    5. MissDisplaced*

      I wouldn’t worry too much about what the former employee told you either.
      However, BE AWARE and ask lots of question of them, how they manage, provide feedback, and set goals.

    6. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

      Thanks for the update, OP. The only thing I would add to what’s been said is to ask about any changes to the position and if there are important things a new person can bring to the position. I agree to not pay much attention to that one guy, but you might get some valuable info from these questions.

    7. A Person*

      While it’s VERY hard to say, I’m almost wondering if it’s a good sign this person was let go. I’ve definitely worked for some small companies with managers who really really didn’t want to fire people even when they were clearly not performing.

      1. OP*

        I’m actually fleeing a company at which my colleague was not fired despite sending me regular hate messages in the brand team chat/hate emails with all members of Account CCed, and then, when a higher-up forced my manager to take her off my team, both claiming to people outside our team that she had my job and refusing to help me transition our joint work. (As far as I can tell, she felt we were good friends until I told her she should be nicer to the last coworker she obsessively hated.)

        Throughout all of this, my manager kept telling me she could “see both sides.” Eventually, I asked my director what gives, and my director tearfully told me she never punishes anybody!!! because it’s a lot of work!!!! and she doesn’t even know how!!!

        So yes, honestly, please sign me up for a place where it’s possible to get fired.

        1. Sleve*

          That’s pretty egregious. Don’t take the wrong impression from all the horror stories here. Most workplaces are fine – but people don’t write in to Alison to say “Hey everybody my job is just ok!”. Even *if* you’ve missed a few things and your new job isn’t the awesome place it seems, the overwhelming odds are that it will simply be mediocre and that you’ll be able to ride out the 12-24 months before your next job search just fine. Very rarely is a workplace so bad as to feature regular hate mail and teary directors!

          1. Selena81*

            This. Most workplaces are at least okay-ish and it would take some incredible bad luck to flee from one deeply-problematic place just to stumble into another bad place.

    8. Ama*

      I am very late but I will say years ago I took a job where my predecessor had only been in the job 8 months and was described by coworkers as having “left all of a sudden.” I was initially worried — the job was 50/50 writing and general administration and they said during the hiring process only that she’d left to take a fully admin job, but not how quickly — but as I started digging through the files it became clear that the writing part of the job had really overwhelmed her and been far beyond her level of experience (the list of tips she’d left behind for using the org’s desktop publishing software included several things that were flat out wrong, such as claiming there was no spellcheck function in the software and that everything had to be typed in Word first so you could spellcheck it). So it made a lot more sense that she had been hired, realized it was a bad fit and left quickly.

      I stayed in that job for years so it worked out just fine for me.

  7. And the Skeletons Are… Part of It*

    There’s definitely enough data points in what he told you to assume that his judgment might not be the best, or that you’re not getting a full mature reading of the situation from him. I’d take his story with a big grain of salt.

  8. Insert Pun Here*

    So, the person who had my job before me was…not fired, but definitely strongly encouraged to move on. Inheriting what I did from her, I do kind of understand why. But the specific thing I want to caution OP about: I was SO aware of this person’s unhingedness that it blinded me to (much smaller in comparison, but still substantial) issues within the workplace/with my boss. It’s like I was SO convinced that the previous person was at fault that I couldn’t see that it was probably more like a 70/30 situation — one of those situations where a negative environment kind of feeds on itself, you know?

    Now, that 30%, had I known about it, probably wouldn’t have prevented me from taking my job, so, maybe it doesn’t matter. But I do feel kind of disappointed in myself that I wasn’t more skeptical.

    FWIW. Your dude might be 100% at fault here, which is totally possible based on what you’ve said. But even if it’s 90% this dude, it’s worth it to try and figure out (unobtrusively!) what the other 10% was.

    1. Observer*

      . But even if it’s 90% this dude, it’s worth it to try and figure out (unobtrusively!) what the other 10% was.

      I don’t really agree. Because this guy is so off the wall that it’s just not realistic to figure out what is fantasy, what is genuine misunderstanding and what is possibly real and relevant. Because some of this stuff is just . . . weird. Like who cares that he was on his college volleyball? And who puts in that the team was terrible?

      When dealing with a fantasist with bad judgement, it’s just not worth spending the time and energy. Sure, do all of the other due diligence that you can, because you should be doing that anyway. But regardless of what’s going on with this company, for better or worse, this guy is just not a useful source of information.

      1. Insert Pun Here*

        You’ve misread my comment. The hypothetical 10% I’m referring to is what what would be uncovered about the manager or the company through the due diligence you suggest. I’m advising the OP not to be blind to that 10% just because this guy is so off the wall.

        1. kalli*

          Yeah, most people wouldn’t be that bad without some king of institutional failure that let it get there. Either they show their colours and exit at probation, or the issue is identified, attempts to fix it fail, and they’re gone long before it gets to the point where they’ve been allowed to fully self-destruct. If they succeed in failing for long enough, someone had to have let it happen, even if it is just not seeing it until it’s too late.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes, I’m in a similar situation and let myself get gassed up for awhile that I was just sooo much better at the job…but ehhh I think people were also on better behavior around me to start because of how badly things had gone with my predecessor. Once the novelty wore down I was able to see the issues that probably contributed to her struggles. To be clear she may have been bad at the job also, I’ve heard some things she did I didn’t agree with, but there was blame to go around for sure.

    3. MissGirl*

      My thought with reading this wasn’t why he was fired but why he was hired and how long he lasted. I’d want to know how well the managers manage.

    4. kiki*

      Yes! At very least, it’s worth wondering why the predecessor was able to keep their job for so long if they were as bad as LW suspects. I definitely worked at a company where leadership blamed all their problems on a departing manager. But the manager had been in their role for 2 years– if they had been so bad and causing so many problems, why hadn’t leadership let them go sooner? The answer was that while the departing manager wasn’t great, the rest of leadership didn’t really know how to run a coherent business either.

      1. Olive*

        I don’t think a year and a half is an excessive amount of time if they were fired for not being able to do the work rather than for misconduct.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Especially in a small growing company — they may have tried to fit him in more than one role.

  9. Bex (in computers)*

    I’d be less than inclined to put full weight on former employee’s assessment. Leaving aside timing, the error-riddled resume is a huge flag in and of itself, and an indicator of their overall approach to work and how they present themselves. The irritation with at-will employ and with low severance, despite industry standards, also indicate an unrealistic expectation on this guy’s part.

    I say all of this having heard the song and dance before, and having seen it from friends and colleagues alike. All the pieces you’ve given together make it sound more like someone who was ultimately not suited to the role, and the parting was less than amenable.

  10. Fluffy Fish*

    So you can only go on the evidence at hand which boils down to:

    1. A prospective employer that seems reasonable
    2. A former employee who was let go and if nothing else is demonstrating poor judgment

    You don’t need to give all sides equal weight or investigation. If one side is throwing red flags then it’s okay to disregard them.

  11. Boss Scaggs*

    There’s always a chance that whatever happened was because he was a poor employee AND there were factors at the job itself that made it hard to succeed. You’ll never really know from the outside

    But if you’re getting good signals from your interactions there, go with that

  12. Platypus*

    My eyebrows did raise a bit at hearing he only got a week of severance, but if he really was fired and not let go, that’s more than generous on the company’s part

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Eh it sounds like OP thinks that’s in line with their field – in my field most people get zero severance unless they’re at the executive level, we do a little better at my company but overall it’s something that has a lot of variation by job and industry.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if that “week of severance” ended up being the normal lag between doing the work and paycheques.

    3. Olive*

      It doesn’t seem that unusual for someone who was there for less than 2 years and might have had real issues with ability to do the work (judging from having a resume with many errors in an editing-type field).

    4. londonedit*

      We have quite robust laws about redundancy here in the UK, but even here you’re not entitled to statutory redundancy pay if you’ve been working for your employer for less than two years. Many companies will still offer something as a gesture of goodwill, but they don’t legally have to. If you’re fired then you’re also not entitled to anything over and above any salary and holiday pay owed to you at the point of you leaving the company.

  13. McS*

    You can ask a hiring manager what their performance management process looks like. You can even ask how they handle it when they realize someone is not a good fit for the job they’re in. A good manager will have good answers and not see asking these questions as a flag for anything and if there really is a problem, you’re more likely to learn this way than by putting them on the defensive by bringing up the old employee.

    1. Observer*

      I think that these are good questions – and would make sense even if you have never talked to this guy.

      It’s a new company without a lot of history and it it’s useful to make sure that someone is thinking about stuff like this.

  14. House On The Rock*

    To me the biggest flag with the former employee is that he asked LW to refer him to their company and ignored their attempts to deflect. He strikes me as not at all self-aware, which leads to questions of credibility.

    LW I hope you didn’t feel obligated to pass his error-riddled, volleyball team disparaging resume on!

  15. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    Here’s a possible explanation that fits all the elements of the letter:

    He was hired to the same role as you are now interviewing for, with similarly lofty ideas from the company about building out the team, strategy, etc. But due to being a small company where everyone wears lots of hats he constantly got bogged down with day-to-day, operational stuff and didn’t have the opportunity to grow things in the way they had been picturing. (was the role newly created when he took it? – I bet it was).

    One day he had the “I need a raise for taking on all of this workload and higher level stuff” conversation. It got them thinking that he wasn’t really moving the direction forward. They assumed he “didn’t want to” rather than not having the opportunity. So they fired him after 18 months or 2 years by which time they thought he “ought” to have got on track with that.

    If this rings true, it seems likely to me that OP might not get the opportunity to build things out either. I think it would be exploring that further with the interviewers.

    1. OP*

      The role was not new when he took it, he was not the first in it, and he was 100% unaware in conversation of any of the long-term goals mentioned to me from the beginning of the hiring process.

      1. pupperoni*

        The job description and goals have almost certainly changed since he was hired; any good employer refines their job descriptions in response to business needs, team needs, and attempting to course correct from something or someone earlier that didn’t work out. You should discount any comparisons between the job description he was working under and the one they advertised.

        I also wouldn’t put any weight at all on his claim that he was “100% unaware” of long term goals, even if it was the reason you were given. My recently fired coworker would probably claim to be 100% unaware of the long term goals of his position too — because he was lazy, didn’t really pay attention to anything outside his immediate reach, had to have important information repeated to him many times because he ‘couldn’t remember’ ever having been told any of it before, and generally was just not very observant of detail or able to see the big picture. Which is basically all the reasons he was fired, because he wasn’t great at his job and didn’t pay attention to anything.

        I wouldn’t trust the word of anyone who has been fired and only says they were definitely not at fault and had no idea why. I’ve never been outright fired but I’ve had a few mutually-agreed-exits and I am able to reflect and understand how I handled a few things poorly, how my company handled a few things poorly, and how all that mixed together into a situation where nobody thrived; it’s not completely anyone’s fault. If this company was 100% responsible, you would have already seen signs of dysfunction and poor management; real life is almost never so clear cut.

  16. MissDisplaced*

    Honestly, it sounds like he was let go due to bad fit or poor attitude (probably not anything egregious). Which, as he said, is part of “at-will” employment here in the U.S. where there is no obligation to give a reason. You could argue that they should’ve given him better feedback if they weren’t happy with him, but sometimes that doesn’t happen because managers don’t want a confrontation, and people are just let or laid off go to make it easier on everyone.

  17. Porch Life*

    I just started a new job, and had a bit of a hard time getting info on the previous person in the position. Now that I’ve been here 2 months, the full story has come out. There was someone in this position for 10 years who did a fabulous job, then retired about a year and a half ago. The replacement was “a nice person but not a good fit for the job.” This job is all about details, and the replacement wasn’t detail oriented. Moreover, when my boss tried to get them to follow standard procedure in filing emails from a shared departmental box into specific email folders, they responded that they were being micromanaged. We’re still finding messes left by this person, but my boss is hesitant to say anything bad about them because “they were a really nice person going thru a hard time at home.”

    Sounds like you may have something similar, OP.

    1. Olive*

      One of the most brutal job mismatches is when someone with many good skills is legitimately struggling with being detail oriented in a job where it’s a necessity.

  18. Sneaky Squirrel*

    The thing is, there will always be someone who speaks badly of a company, especially former employees who left on bad terms. I wouldn’t explicitly tell the interviewer that you were in touch with the former employee, but I would pick the parts of that employee’s testimony that made you nervous and figure out questions to help assess the situation.

    Things that are not red flags to me:
    -I don’t consider the discrepancy between what interviewer said was reason for the opening and that the employee was fired to be a red flag. > Both that he was fired and it was for not wanting to grow the department could be true.
    -That the employee said he worked 2 years but his linkedin profile was only 1.5 years. >Linkedin profiles are not formal records and he might have been rounding/simplifying a situation (such as if he worked in a different capacity, temp or contractor before becoming an employee).
    -He insisted that the motivation behind letting him go was his asking for a raise > There are so many reasons why he might have been rejected for a raise including performance, total experience.
    -He also said he felt betrayed that he only got a week of severance > If he was fired, then severance is a nicety.

    The biggest red flag here is that he gave you his resume and it was full of errors when editing is part of the role.

  19. Emmy*

    An employee at my work recently was fired. They were absolutely AWFUL. Their work was awful, when they actually bothered to do it. The repeatedly committed time theft. They were SHOCKED when they got fired and said, “They will never find someone as good as me.” Keeping them on staff was so bad for morale that having no one is better than them. Sometimes people have very little awareness for why they are fired, even if it is clearly laid out in a PIP over three months.

    good luck

  20. Zarniwoop*

    “The resume in question was full of obvious errors, which is strange given that our field is a type of editing work,”
    I think I know the real reason he’s not there anymore.
    I wouldn’t worry about anything he said.

  21. Karen*

    I wouldn’t ask for negative feedback but I do ask in interviews what people who have previously held the position have found the most challenging part of the work. The question is usually met with great insight which can also work in your favour. If it’s one of your strengths, most interviewers are keen to give an example and ask how you would handle it.

  22. pupperoni*

    Employers often aren’t truthful about why people leave/get fired, especially externally. One of my coworkers got fired last year after a very long record of poor performance capped off with completely ghosting the job and ceasing to do any work at all. Our boss didn’t see a reason to ruin his reputation with our clients and made up a vague story about how he had to leave for a personal reason. Especially when the reason is performance related, I think it’s quite common for that to be kept under wraps. I can’t imagine someone asking why he left in an interview and answering “He was bad at the job for a long time and then abandoned it. Have you ever had an experience where you ghosted your boss?”

  23. Victoria Everglot*

    I can’t see how you’d get any useful answer. “Alright, you got me – we make a habit of firing people for no good reason” is not something they’re likely to say…

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