Last year, I was heavily involved with a volunteer group in response to the triple hurricanes in the US, and in particular the response to Maria in Puerto Rico. I was a lead developer and support engineer. I worked with the group quite happily for around 4 months, after which the group's leadership made the decision to stand down and call off our response efforts, for various reasons that are unimportant here.

In the transition period after standing down, people started winding down, which had a nasty side effect of kicking a lot of deep-seated trust issues and personal disputes out into the open. To put it simply, a number of team leads, including myself, had issues with how higher leadership were running the group. In particular, a significant number of people complained that there was a lack of transparency in how people and operations were managed.

It culminated in some substantiated rumours that a small number of leadership would attempt to remove evidence of, effectively, a deliberate lack of transparency, against the wishes of much of the rest of the group. I made an attempt to preserve transparency that ended up backfiring on me, and resulted in a pretty nasty email chain between said small number of leadership and me. The ultimate upshot was my removal from the organisation.

I can't honestly point to one event that was the cause of my removal; there was a lot of conflicting office (and real) politics, personal problems, and trust issues, and I wasn't the only one caught in the fallout.

I'd like to know how I should deal with this at interviews. I'd like to include the experience I gained with this group on my CV, because it was in all honesty some of the best practical experience in the field that I've had. The work we did, and the results we got, are unquestionably good. The whole got-kicked-out thing? Not so much.

If I include this experience, I expect interviewers to ask (a) why I left, and (b) why I was there for such a short period of time. I'll need to have answers for those.

To be clear, this was not a case of ignoring a manager's orders: being a hastily-drawn-together volunteer group, there was no "official" management, and any leadership was formed mostly of the people who got there earliest and shouted loudest (to put it crudely). It was an arrangement that worked while we were in disaster-response mode, but once we'd stood down leadership suddenly lost much of its meaning.

How do I explain this?

  • 1
    Was this paid work or honorary - tat is not entirely clear to me?
    – Daniel
    Feb 8 '18 at 8:38
  • 2
    Regarding your questions (a)+(b): I understood from your description that response efforts were called off after 4 months - what more is there to explain? Why would that not be a satsifiying answer? Feb 8 '18 at 9:13
  • Did you have a paying job while you were in this volunteer position? I can't imagine ever asking why someone left a volunteer position. It doesn't have nearly the same significance as someone leaving a paid position.
    – David K
    Feb 8 '18 at 14:09
  • @Daniel Voluntary work, non-paid
    – ArtOfCode
    Feb 8 '18 at 19:18
  • @AllTheKingsHorses Response efforts were called off, but the group continued to exist.
    – ArtOfCode
    Feb 8 '18 at 19:18

In short, don't.

From your description it doesn't seem that your 'forced removal' from the group is relevant in this case. You've mentioned that the call was made to 'stand down' and then you ended up leaving after that; so the circumstances that came after that seem rather irrelevant unless there's further information that you believe changes the story here.

The end of the project seems like a pretty reasonable reason to leave and a 4 month tenure seems to be fine if it's just a hacked together group in response to an emergency. Your first paragraph I believe explains your situation fine.

  • "We decided to part ways" is accurate enough, and pretty clear.
    – Mafii
    Feb 8 '18 at 10:48

You made the situation pretty clear to me, as a complete stranger with no vested interest. At least your side of it.

If I were a hiring manager that needed someone passionate about what he/she does, that cares about work ethics and understands office politics, that will not bow down to the "needs of the many" philosophy in order to achieve some short-term goal while endangering the goal of the project, that has a strong moral fiber and is willing to challenge the assumptions of the (highly contestable but still present) "powers that be", I would follow a line of questioning that assess if you could fit in my existing company culture.

If I needed someone who just shuts up and takes it without emotionally investing in the outcome of the project, I would not hire you.

If I needed a real team member, that shares and provides feedback, even if that feedback could affect his relationships with higher-ups, I would make any effort to convince you to work for my employer.

IMO, this experience made you stronger, richer and helped you learn so much about yourself. People in HR seem to like these stories, for different reasons.

I would share this story in as much detail as I can with the hiring agent. It might save me the trouble of signing a contract with people that don't share my values.

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