Explaining Away “You’re Fired”

Dear, Anita,

I was recently terminated from a probationary position (probation was for a period of 6 months and I was only employed for 4 months). Should I even add this employment in my résumé? What if I plan to apply for the same company just in a different department? When terminated, I asked for an explanation and the only reason I was given was that I was not a good fit for the position. I honestly feel the reason was more personal rather than my performance. I know I did my job very well but I always felt tension coming from my supervisor and another co-worker that made me feel very uncomfortable. How do I get past this horrible experience without it affecting my future employment? How can I explain the reason for termination in a job interview?

Fired For No Reason

Dear, “Fired Up,”

Let go? Let it go, as Elsa recommends via song in Frozen. At least the anger. Here are some tips on how to Be Fired Gracefully.

Donald Trump may have thought he owned the phrase “You’re fired” when he attempted — and failed — to trademark it. But  according to Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Information, those words may actually date back to the 19th century. He said, “It is a pun on ‘discharged’: you fired a gun, you discharged a gun. ‘I got discharged, I got fired.’ ” Whatever the origin, try to avoid the term “fired” whenever possible. Use one of the many politically correct euphemisms currently in vogue – outplaced, released, assignment expired, involuntary separation (that’s reminiscent of Gwyneth Paltrow’s “conscious uncoupling!”), pursuing other opportunities, or simply that you came to the end of the trial period.  That is, after all, what job probation (as legalistic as that sounds) is for. I love how the purpose is put oh so succinctly by the University of North Texas in their manual: “To provide a period of time for job adjustment and an opportunity for both the new staff member and the supervisor to determine whether to continue the employment relationship.”

Should you include an employer from whom you were fired (ahem, “relieved of your duties”) on applications and résumés? There’s no black and white answer. If a new hire is given the old heave-ho during the first 30 to 60 days, it may not leave a noticeable gap in employment history. However, being shown the door after four to six months will be harder to conceal. In your situation, since you wish to reapply to the same company, you definitely need to include the job on your application. While lying on a résumé or job application can be legal grounds for dismissal if discovered, Steve Burdan, a certified résumé writer who works with The Ladders, advises that if a job lasted less than six months, you can safely omit it.

Woman with "Hired" SignLook on the bright side. Being terminated during the first few months of employment is preferable to being fired years into a job – and easier to explain during an interview. Answer questions about your situation briefly. Don’t get defensive. And avoid badmouthing or playing the blame game. Turn the conversation to a positive dialogue about your qualifications for the open position. Your employer’s explanation that you were not a good fit is less troublesome to cite than gross ineptitude! Say something like, “My competencies were not the right match for my previous employer’s needs, but it looks like they’d be a good fit in your organization. In addition to marketing and advertising, would skills in promotion be valued here?” For more ideas, check out career author Joyce Lain Kennedy’s 12 best job interview answers to the question “Why were you fired?”

Being fired can be a wake-up call. Perhaps you’re in the wrong line of work, or simply at the wrong company – as long as you aren’t guilty of George Carlin’s observation: “Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.”

Readers: Have you ever been fired, and omitted the job from your employment history? Leave a reply below.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Karen
    Aug 08, 2014 @ 08:57:20

    Yes, twice. The first time I was hired because of a new contract the company received with NASA but then shortly afterwards lost, which meant I was no longer needed for the position. I was there such a short time, I don’t even remember the name of the place. A second job – I wore polyester instead of cotton. They said it was unacceptable attire. Wow. Not worth mentioning.


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.