www.asktheheadhunter.com | September 30, 2008
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How do I say I got fired?


I was Director of Development for a non-profit organization and was recently let go without being given a reason. I believe it was because we had a disagreement about fundraising. I felt my boss was too demanding and high strung, and he felt I was not aggressive enough. When I apply for jobs and they ask me what happened, what should I say?

I have been saying, "I was let go without being given a reason, without any warning." Would it be better to say, "It was decided they need someone with a different type of fundraising background"?

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Nick's Reply
First of all, let's quibble about semantics. While I'd go with your second statement, you phrase it as a passive sentence. "It was decided..." 

You make it seem that some unknown force took action, which makes you and your boss appear to be puppets of fate. That's how cowards phrase things. Use a definite source of the action: "My boss decided the organization needed someone with a different background." Then add. "I agreed. Our philosophies don't mesh. In that business, it's crucial to mesh. I'm looking for an organization that I'm compatible with." (Don't worry that you might turn an employer off by saying that. If you're not compatible, it's best to know immediately.)

Don't avoid discussing the fact that you were let go, but check your personnel paperwork carefully. Did they actually terminate you, or did they ask you to resign? If you resigned, just explain that you decided it was time to join another organization, where you can be more productive. But, Getting Fired is a State of Mind -- leave it behind.

If you were terminated, well, let's use semantics to your advantage. "We parted company because I'm more interested in X and they are more interested in Y." Do not disparage your boss, or the organization's style. It's okay to be different. 

Clearly, there was not a match on fundraising philosophy. You might as well lay it out to any prospective employer up front. "The organization believed in raising money this way... [describe], but in my professional opinion, it's more productive to do it this way [describe]."

That way, you jump right into the subject matter: how to raise money effectively. You're sharing useful information, and that should move the discussion into the right direction. Again, don't worry that your philosophy might not match this organization's views. You're not going to succeed in an organization that doesn't agree with you, so why not find out now how they operate? If, on the other hand, the employer agrees with you, well, you've found a match!

Handling it this way is honest, and it quickly advances the interview toward a good outcome. By discussing fundraising methodologies that you agree with, you're displaying your motivation and your skills. That's chiefly what a job interview should be about.

If the prospective employer doesn't ask, there is no need to say you were let go unless your ex-employer is making a big deal of it. Will they say that if asked on a reference call? You should call the HR department at the old organization and politely ask, "Look, if another organization calls, are you going to tell them we parted company, or that I was terminated?" Again, it's better to know now.

Nick Corcodilos
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