IT Policies

Help desk worker blindsided by a performance-related firing

A help desk employee is fired without having been given any previous indications that he wasn't doing his job well. How does he handle this in future interviews?

A help desk employee is fired without having been given any previous indications that he wasn't doing his job well. How does he handle this in future interviews?

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"I'm wondering what opinion you and the TechRepublic community have on this situation. My employer decided to let me go because they were not happy with how I am doing my job. They cited a couple of examples of things I had done shortly after I was hired, which I feel I have improved in. The main issue, however, seems to be how I am making use of my time, spending too much on helpdesk type tasks and less on projects and new inititives.

While it is true that I have spent my time this way, I wasn't aware that this was a problem until I was told I was being let go. To them, this meant I was not capable of doing the job. Citing that I was not aware this was a problem, I asked to be given a chance to improve. I was denied because of a big upcoming project that my boss wasn't aware of until the last minute and they felt they couldn't take the chance on me being able to improve. I was even told by my boss's boss that his belief is that people aren't capable of any long-lasting or permanent change. It was also said that I wasn't doing enough to manage a help desk employee I was responsible for. Again, if I had gotten some feedback, a few simple changes would have fixed that. They have been nice enough to keep me on even after hiring my replacement to help out until the project is finished, so at least I have a job for some time while I look for a new one.

Now I am wondering how to handle this with potential employers. Normally I would be upfront with why I am leaving my current job, but given the economy and how many other people I have to compete with, it is hard to see honesty as the best policy. I took a good, long, hard look at myself and I am sure I would be able to perform my current job to my employer's satisfaction if they had given me some feedback and a chance. If I did not believe this, I would look for a lower level job and admit that I bit off more than I can chew. But how do I explain to someone that I wasn't given a chance to do what I know I can and was fired and expect them to hire me when they have a hundred other candidates that were simply victims of the economy?"

I'll have to begin by acknowledging that there are two sides to every story, and we, of course, don't have your boss's version. The "couple of examples of things" you did shortly after you were hired could include burning the server room to the ground as far as I know. However, because you were never given any constructive feedback during your tenure on the job (which you told me was one year), I have to file this one under "monumental management failures." Your boss's boss's belief that "people aren't capable of any long-lasting or permanent change" might belong in an argument for the death penalty, but it has no validity in the workplace. He didn't even give you a chance to prove otherwise.

Some managers have such strong expectations for work performance that they think employees should just magically pick them up by osmosis; some are just too uncomfortable offering constructive criticism, so they avoid it. It's extremely unfair. And if your former boss continues to manage the way he has, he may find himself immersed in a lawsuit someday. And the courts that decide on employment issues don't look kindly upon firings that aren't backed up by previous documentation of employee problems.

As to your question about how to handle the issue with potential employers: It can only make you look worse in an interview if you try to explain the circumstances around your dismissal. Unfortunately, you were fired. Don't add any more focus to the issue by what will be perceived as whining. I would use your boss's own explanation -- that things were moving toward projects that didn't match your skill set. Good luck!

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

16 comments
ewrrewr
ewrrewr

Well, the problem is the boss's expectations Vs job functions defined while hiring. People are hired based on certain job functions later the expectations change but unfortunately most times employers/bosses never reveal their expectations completely to their employees. Every grown up in this world will try to improve or meet the expectations of their bosses if it is expressed and moral.This is one of the tool employers use to fire or reduce the workforces.

jeslong
jeslong

I would suggest with your next job that you take the initiative to communicate with your future boss or bosses and document those conversations. Sometimes management seems to busy to talk, but if you make the effort and they reschedule or avoid the issue, then you will have that documented. Also, management typically appreciates having an employee come to them for coaching. It shows them that you are proactive and approachable. Good luck!

mstarks10
mstarks10

You were not fired, they wanted to get rid of you for some reason and most likely to save money. They brought someone in who's probably a contractor. If you were so bad, why keep you on. As far as what to say to future employers, tell them you were downsized. First in first out. There's nothing you could have done to keep your job. Your direct manager was responsible for training you and making sure you were aware of the responsibilities of the job.

ChrisEvans
ChrisEvans

Personally I think this is the worst kind of management. To let someone go based on performance when they have had no indication of any kind and / or the opportunity to improve is extremely poor. You should have been given regular performance appraisals where these issues should have been raised and you given guidance on improvement. Whilst I am sure you are upset to be leaving it doesnt sound as though career development is high on the agenda so you may well be better off out of it in the long run.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

Not what I would call it anyway. I would stick to your advice, "I would use your boss?s own explanation ? that things were moving toward projects that didn?t match your skill set." and say that you were "let go". That's more what it sounds like. In the current economic times that's not unusual.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

The one and only time it happened to me: By law, employers now can only verify employment. They are no longer allowed to comment on performance or even why you no longer work there. If asked, just say there was a difference of opinion and the separation was mutual.

pompeychimes
pompeychimes

I've been fired or forced to quit a few times. I never reveal this to a potential employer though. I put my own spin on things. I don't know what the law says about references by former employers but its probably vague at best and different from state to state. A good spin artist is well prepared. I do background and reference checks on myself. I know what's going to be said about me ahead of time. Plus it's always good to know what your former employers policy on references is. Most bigger company's restrict what they say to protect themselves. My last company from which i quit (Before being fired) only confirms employment dates and title.

ke_gordon
ke_gordon

I was in similar position once when I worked on a 2nd level helpdesk. Everything was going great. No complaints from my management. My call stats were slightly over average. But, I believe in quality not quantity. Turns out later I found that management believed in quantity not quality. Developed multiple scripts saving hundreds of man hours of work mostly on my own time. Got lots of kudos from the first level manager for helping her team. I went in for my performance review. No raise. I went in for my bonus review. I got a low review. At this point I figured I was being managed out of my job since I was one of the highest paid agents on the desk. Cost per call was the defining measurement for this manager. I was lucky enough to work for a large company so I found another job. So it happens everywhere. As far as your case is concerned and assuming you told the whole story I would say three things. 1. You boss' boss is right. At least in his case. People are not capable of permanent change. He was probably mentored by an idiot so he too is an idiot and incapable of changing his beliefs. 2. As far as your resume goes, since you were not walked out the door you are not fired. If you are training your replacement or working until the current project has ended then you have been laid off. Work your tail off until you leave. If nothing else it will get you fired up for your next job. 3. Learn from this. In your next job badger management to put you on projects even if it means OT. You will be seen as someone who wants to advance. Add value to yourself by taking classes or getting certifications. Ask your boss what skills they value. Don't make the mistake I did in the past. Make sure your boss knows exactly what you do. Toot your own horn. No one else is going to do it for you. This should help unless you get another one of the wing nut managers that we all know are out there.

tokharian
tokharian

Keeping her on gives her an opportunity to resign rather than being fired for cause, btw. At least that is what she can say. Of course, the best thing would be to find another job, any job.

jamie_love
jamie_love

communication is key to management - it's the boss's responsibility to tell the worker when expectations are not being met. It's the worker's responsibility to be alert to expectations and to be able to improve greatly if you expect to keep your job. Sounds like your focus was more on tasks and not on projects. I run a help desk and the amount and complexity of projects has multiplied by ten since I started, plus the expectation of high level of service is the same. I am good at juggling, and giving feedback when I think expectations are too high. I also have to deal with a very difficult boss who is a workaholic. In short - it is not easy.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

I once worked with a woman who was given the task of being the liaison between the users and developers. While the developers were in a single location, the users were spread, quite literally, across each of the fifty United States. During the time in which she held the position issues as they arose were handled swiftly and to everyone's, or so we thought, satisfaction. Then the time came annual performance reviews. While she did not get release, she received the worse review possible. And, the reason for this bad review? It seems that her manager didn't like the fact that much of her time was taken up by being on the telephone with users. The majority of reviews from that particular manager were along similar lines that year. The general consensus was that manager wanted to "free-up" bonus money because the manager wanted a new boat.

1bn0
1bn0

"They have been nice enough to keep me on even after hiring my replacement to help out until the project is finished" That's not fired, Thats outsourced or replaced with a lower cost alternative or the relative of the management or maybe both of the last two. When you are fired! for non-performance you get escorted from the premises.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Must be an employer, and you are admitting your use of this despicable tool. Or, you are not an employer, and it comes out your ass.

Wick Tech
Wick Tech

I agree...you are not fired if you're still working there, so look now, and then your just changing jobs, and shouldn't have to justify or clarify the job loss.

kino.mondesir
kino.mondesir

Being let go is never easy. I believe its best not to let the new employer know that you have been fired. Legally your old employer cannot release the fact that you were fired only weather they would rehire you and your start and end dates of employment. You can simply put that you were laid off. In this economy I do not believe that would be too far fetched. Others on this forum will tell you to be honest but remember that they have work, you do not. If you go into details about your firing with your prospective employer they may look at you as a problem employee and not want to be bothered. Your goal right now is to get another job do the best you can. No knows what they would do in your situation because they haven't been their, including me. But I would know what I would do after. Work extremely hard on landing my next opportunity. Also know your job. Becareful accepting positions in firms that you have a gut feeling could be trouble. Sometimes desperation makes us do strange things. If you don't feel good about a company after you interview with them, do accept the position. It will never end good...

jpdagger
jpdagger

While I certainly sympathize with this individual, I have to play devil's advocate and point out the personal accountability. I have been down this path (less the firing) earlier in my career. The lesson I learned is to take the initiative myself and ask - INSIST - on feedback from management. Even if they responded with the same unreasonable argument with which this individual was given, I at least knew sooner rather than later and had shown that I am concerned about their view of my performance. It's all about C-Y-A. -J

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