‘JT & Dale Talk Jobs’ is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country and can be found at JTandDale.com.
Dear J.T. & Dale: Last year I was dismissed from a job as a supervisor on a construction project. When I started the job, my immediate supervisor told me not to do anything without his OK. As the project proceeded, I pointed out problems, but was rebuffed. One subcontractor did a great deal of damage, and although I kept my supervisor up to date, he failed to deal with it. Eventually, the errors became public. The person supervising me was in charge of hiring and firing, so you know what happened to me. Now there are rumors circulating about the incident, and they all have me at the center of the difficulty. How do I deal with this in interviews? — Harlan
J.T.: The best way to deal with negative rumors is, in your interviews, to demonstrate your knowledge and thus prove your professionalism. You can do that by laying out what should have happened at that last job, but didn’t. It’s OK to state facts, as long as you can do it without sounding angry. Rehearse till you can state simply that you wanted to do X, Y and Z because you knew it would yield the right results. In short, showcase your knowledge so they know you are qualified. If they ask why your ideas weren’t implemented, be truthful and say the person above you overrode your decision, and leave it at that.
Dale: However, the fact is that you got fired, which means that you got blamed, which means that most hiring managers are going to be suspicious. If you try to deflect that by calling yourself a “scapegoat,” or otherwise blaming the blamer, you’ll just seem slippery. Instead, find a way to make what happened seem understandable, something that people can identify with. Perhaps this: “It was like I was an assistant coach on a team where the head coach made some bad decisions and decided to fire the assistant so he could say he was making changes.”
J.T.: Although I wouldn’t be afraid to share the mistakes you made and what you learned from them. Employers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to be capable of learning from your mistakes. By sharing what went wrong and how you would now do it differently, they realize you are among the most valuable of employees: the learners.
Dale: Still, when it comes to the Big Mistake, the project that went awry, I would suggest only admitting to this: “I was too loyal and stayed too long.” No hiring manager rejects a candidate for being too loyal.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm, jtodonnell.com, and of the blog, CAREEREALISM.com. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com.
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