Your Office Coach: Be careful, but honest, in describing dismissal

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Marie G. McIntyre

Posted: Monday, September 2, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 3:21 pm, Wed May 21, 2014.

Q: I’m having trouble explaining why I left my last job. For three years, I worked in a residential treatment facility for youthful offenders. Everything was fine until I was assigned to the third shift, which lasts from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Adjusting to this schedule was extremely difficult.

Because I could not sleep well during the day, I was always tired at work. I began falling asleep in the middle of my shift, which was obviously unacceptable. Since I was never able to break this pattern, they eventually let me go.

Now, when I apply for a job, I’m not sure how to answer the “reason for leaving” question. If I put “terminated” on the application, I never get an interview. If I tell an interviewer I was fired, I never get called back. I want to be honest, but I also want to be hired. How should I handle this?

A: Since you should never lie during a job search, you will need to be truthful without being self-destructive. For example, when applications request “reason for leaving,” you might give an ambiguous answer like “shift difficulties.” This is a true statement that can later be explained during an interview.

When talking with potential employers, focus on the physiological challenges of third-shift work. For example: “Although some people have no problem working at night, I could never seem to reverse my sleep patterns. Since I didn’t get enough sleep during the day, I kept dozing off during my shift. I was never able to adjust, so unfortunately I had to leave.”

Of course, this explanation works only if you are applying for positions with regular daytime hours. But I assume there’s no question about that.

Q: My new boss is driving me absolutely crazy. Even though “Ron” knows nothing about the work I do, he arbitrarily shortens my project schedules, then interrogates me about why I’m not working faster. When I try to explain, he ridicules me for goofing off.

Ron’s unrealistic expectations are like asking someone to have a baby in four months. I have been with this company for 12 years, and I’m good at my job. But now I’m wondering if I should quit before I get fired.

A: Based on your description, this guy either has no management experience or is not very bright. But despite his shortcomings, you might as well make one more effort to educate him before throwing in the towel. In a calm, nondefensive manner, try to help Ron see that the two of you are on the same side.

For example: “Ron, I understand that we need to accelerate the schedule, and I’m willing to do that. I just want to be sure that we allow enough time for quality checks. If customers start complaining about defective products, you and I will both be in trouble.”

If Ron begins to listen, then perhaps there’s hope. But if he continues to act like an arrogant tyrant, you may want to start exploring other options.

Q: After a bout with bronchitis, one of our co-workers developed a chronic cough. “Monica” has lengthy coughing fits two or three times a day and sometimes sounds like she is choking. We tried giving her cough drops, but that didn’t help. Her doctor says this problem is normal and temporary.

Several customers have asked whether Monica is contagious, which apparently she is not. However, since we are concerned about customer perceptions, we would like Monica to go into the restroom whenever she has an attack. How can we suggest this without hurting her feelings?

A: Even though your request is not unreasonable, being banished to the bathroom by co-workers might cause Monica to react defensively. So to avoid unnecessary conflict, try asking management to deliver this message. If Monica’s boss will agree to talk with her, that should take care of the problem. But if not, at least this issue should eventually be resolved by the passage of time.

Contact the writer: www.yourofficecoach.com

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