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Ask An HR Lady: Can A Potential Employer Tell Why I Got Fired From My Last Job?

This article has been updated as of September 11, 2020.

Hi there, and welcome to TFD’s new column, Ask An HR Lady! I’m Jazmine Reed-Clark, a career coach, writer, and podcast host of the podcast Office Politics. Prior to coaching, I worked in the human resources department, employee programming, and recruiting space for 4 years, primarily in the tech start-up industry. In each column, I’ll be answering three of your workplace advice questions — from cover letters to complaints to disgruntled employees, I’ve seen it all (and made a few mistakes myself!). I’m excited to share my knowledge and experience with the TFD family, in hopes of empowering readers to advocate for themselves in the workspace and know their rights as an employee. (And while I love to give advice, not every situation can yield a simple response. It’s important to research the employment laws in your state to make the most informed decisions.)

Question: Should I ask for interview feedback from a panel? This is for a job that I didn’t make the second interview for. — Curious and Confused 

Dear Curious and Confused,

Without question, always get feedback! Not just in interviews, but long after you land a role, feedback is your friend! Perception is reality. You may think you’re hitting it out of the park with answers and appearing charismatic, only to learn that your longer-winded answers make you appear less experienced than you actually are. (Just an example, of course!)

Here’s a script you may find useful:

Hi {Recruiter Name}, 

Thank you for updating me on the status of my candidacy with {Company}. Though I am disappointed to not move forward, I respect the team’s decision and would greatly appreciate any feedback you or the team have for me! 

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

All the best, 

{Name}

Feedback will also help shut down unnecessary, negative head talk as well as give insight into something you could potentially work on. Perhaps you learn they’re looking for someone with more technical training, something that you can’t control and couldn’t have accomplished overnight. However, it could influence your decision to go back to school or pick-up a certification.

And I wish this went without saying, but once you receive the feedback, gracefully absorb it and don’t go back and forth with the recruiter. In the past, we’ve had candidates reach out for candid feedback, only to get a strongly-worded email in return. (It’s never a good look, and the recruiting world is smaller than you think.)

Best of luck!

Question: How do I handle being denied a promotion despite proven achievements/workload? — Bummed and Bruised 

Dear Bummed and Bruised,

First, I feel for you. I’ve been there, and most of us have. I’m going to address the question in two ways.

Emotionally, separate your worth from their decision. When several people are going out for a promotion, many factors can play a part in the end decision. And unfortunately, office politics can be to blame more often than it should. A rejection doesn’t make a reject, but rather, it helps signal where you should be putting your energy instead.

Professionally, do not let this be your excuse to shut down, turn a cold shoulder, and stop doing good work. For one, it will make you look small and immature, only signaling that they made the right decision. (Story time: Someone at a former employer was passed up for a position in 2018. The person who had been hired was quickly promoted, and the role became vacant again. Unfortunately, the person who was passed up had snubbed the hiring manager in their communication exchange after asking for feedback. It was the sole reason they weren’t considered when the role was opened again.)

Next, get feedback on measurable goals you should have for the upcoming quarter, and regularly check-in with your manager for coaching and progress updates. And get their feedback documented in writing! Always get everything in writing. (Slack does not count.)

In short, keep it professional, keep your standards high, and keep emotions out of it.

I hope this helps!

Question: Can a potential employer tell why I got fired from my last job? — Fired and Fearful 

(Editor’s Note: The following answer has been amended for accuracy. Please remember that employment laws vary by state.)

Dear Fired and Fearful,

I am assuming you’re speaking to the stage in an interview where a recruiter calls a candidates’ former employer to conduct employment verification and reference checks.

When performing employment verification checks, a recruiter has the ability to ask a set of questions including:

What were the dates of employment?

What position was held?

What was the reason for separation?

The last question can be asked but often is not. And during my active years in human resources, I was always advised to not ask this question. It leaves the former employer open for a defamation suit should a former employee and former employer have two different accounts of the termination (and little to no documentation to support the truth.) Can it be asked? Sure. Have I ever asked? No. Would I advise a recruiter to ask? In 99% of situations, no. Have I ever been asked the details of why a full-time employee was fired during an employment verification? No.

Now is there a secret database storing a “permanent record” with information on your termination that all HR professionals at any company can see? No. However, when you exit a company, paperwork is filed and stored in an HRIS system, if the company has such a system. Paperwork details are going to vary by company. When I was at smaller agencies, we kept more robust notes. When I was at a larger employer, the system tagged an employee as “terminated” regardless of if it was involuntary or not. Unless personally close to the situation, or something more intense had happened, the details of an involuntary termination were not explicit on a former employee’s employment file.

My best piece of advice is to be forthcoming and tactful. Avoid white lies, but make sure you’re thoughtful with the story you tell. Explain that it wasn’t a fit; what you did to make the most of the situation; and how you bettered yourself in the process. And avoid bad-mouthing the company or casting them as a Big Bad Wolf. Own your experience.

Jazmine has been a contributing writer for The Financial Diet since 2015. While her spending habits have changed over the years, her advocacy work surrounding social change and mental health has not. She hopes her writing and activism can empower all women to occupy their space at work — and everywhere else. Outside of TFD, Jaz (as she likes to be called) is a career coach, full-time writer, and a plant + dog mom residing in Dallas, Texas. She spends her “fun money” on trips to Trader Joe’s, throw pillows, and white wine. You can follow her Target shopping adventures here, and learn more about her at JazmineReedClark.com.

Image via  Jazmine Reed-Clark

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