By George Bernocco, CPRW
A common question people bring to me is that they have difficulty selling themselves because their confidence was shaken. Most recently, by their previous employer terminating them, or even tormenting them. The reasons these job seekers bring to me can vary from unfair treatment, they couldn’t stand the work, unreasonable requests from the employer and making a mistake. Whatever the reason may be, you are looking for a new opportunity and you are stuck on what you should disclose to your new potential employer about your last job. I have a few pieces of advice about how to handle this delicate scenario.
It’s not you, it’s me.
No matter how bad things ended, it is best to not go into why you hated your last job at an interview or with anyone you network with. Whether it was the work you had to do, your bosses, coworkers or people you served that drove you away, keeping the emotional aspect out is important. This may be difficult in the middle of the interview or networking event when you are asked the question: “Why did you leave your last job?” So what do you say if you can’t tell the story about your boss being a complete jerk? Let’s step back and look at the larger picture. Employers are well aware people look for jobs, and then move on to look for other jobs. Very few people stick to a one job career, especially in this economy. So why do people transition to new careers, whether willingly or unwillingly? The most general and simple response is that the last job was not a good fit. Now why it wasn’t a good fit varies from person to person, whether it was career goals to disagreeing with the company’s policies and procedures. My advice to you, when asked about what happened at your last job, is to start off about how the company was not a good fit. From this point on, several things can happen:
- The interviewer will push for more information about what specifically happened.
- The interviewer will ask why it wasn’t a good fit, and from your answer try to determine if the company you are interviewing for IS a good fit for you.
- The interviewer will understand and move on to the next question.
- The interviewer will push you to bad mouth your last employer.
Number three is ideal, but more than likely number one and two are the most common. If number four occurs, you may want to reconsider working for a company that encourages bad mouthing an employer. If you are asked to give more information, you should keep things general and focus on what you want for your career. A great way to answer is to mention how you are looking for an opportunity that is a better fit, and go into how the position you’re interviewing for is that opportunity. This may come off as avoiding the question the interviewer is asking, but in reality they are looking to disqualify you immediately if you start bad mouthing your last job.
Why can’t we be friends?
Job seekers often make the mistake that professional references are supervisors. They forget about coworkers or even clients they’ve served that can vouch for the work they’ve done. Employers sometimes do want to call your most recent supervisor. Do not make the mistake that they will call them every time. Employers need to verify that you’ve worked at the company you listed on their legal document (job application). To do this, most of the time they contact human resources. Human resources usually states three simple facts to your potential employer:
- Date of hire.
- Last day of work.
- If you are eligible to be rehired.
If you are curious as to what your last employer would tell an employer, I advise you contact your last employer’s human resources department and ask. Some jobs do request if they contact your previous employer on their application. Answering “No” may be problematic in that you may be viewed as you have something to hide. Just remember that when they ask the question, this does not mean references. Usually they will ask for references on a different section of the application, or a different sheet of paper. When you cannot use anybody from your previous employer (coworkers, clients, supervisors), you should utilize other professional references from different employers or volunteer work. You may also use personal references that can attest to your personal attributes.
Letting go is the hardest part.
Your resume is a marketing tool to get you in for the interview. You don’t have to put your entire employment history on this document. Usually you are supposed to put relevant employment history, or any jobs you want them to consider as important, on a resume. The resume is not a life story, and I’ve critiqued my fair share with reasons why the person was let go. Some fast facts as to why to never include separation reasons on your resume:
- Putting why you were let go can disqualify you from any jobs.
- The conversation about how your last job ended should be at the interview.
- It wastes space.
If you choose not to include your job entirely on your resume, that is within your right. There are problems with that, however. You might end up with a large gap in your employment history, and employers will want to know what you have been doing. Just remember that the resume and job application are two separate items. The job application might ask for your most recent employers, in which it is a legal document where you sign it to verify it to be true. Just remember: Resume is a marketing tool, job application is a legal document. Read through the job application carefully, as they may only be asking for employment history you wish to be considered relevant.
Don’t be discouraged as most people are not at one job the rest of their lives. Moving on to a different job could be a great opportunity for you to grow professionally. It can be difficult to accept what you have lost, or there may be feelings still surrounding the departure. Just remember that you can pick up the pieces and move forward. Focusing on your career goals is a way to start the process into your new employment opportunity. Focusing on what you want, and not what happened, will get you into the grove again.