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?


“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!