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Earlier this year I was terminated from a multi-year engineering job for being late on delivery of a project.

At the time, I saw my firing as bordering on illegal termination since I was working massive overtime to finish and hadn't been warned beforehand. In fact, I'd gotten a bonus just a month earlier and during the previous year, I received an award for outstanding performance. Others working on this same project weren't fired.

In interviewing for another job, am I obligated to mention this when asked why I left? I have been saying the project ended, which is true. Would this partial answer be considered dishonest? To what degree should I attempt to explain without coming across as a complainer?

A further note: would "I was let go" be sufficiently forthright? One or two times I've been asked if I was part of a general layoff, and I've simply answered "no."

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I feel there are two parts of what you are asking:

In interviewing for another job, am I obligated to mention this when asked why I left?

First, this should be mentioned if they ask why you left, which is not 100% sure to happen.

If they ask, you should answer truthfully, but you are not obliged to give a big explanation or justification. Saying that the project ended and you were terminated is part of the truth; it's up to you how much more detail you put into it, but I suggest you try to keep it brief.

Just, whatever you say, try not to phrase it as "I was scapegoated" or similar, as that could be perceived as badmouthing or victimizing yourself to evoke a response or bias their decision.

Yet if they check with that supervisor, he can say I'm not re-hireable. How can I handle this so I'm not victimized by my previous employer's actions?

You can't handle or control what your previous employer will say.

I feel like you are being a bit negative on this one; there is no guarantee that your past employer will say that, and given your good performance and bonuses we can see there are many positive things you did on that last job that are worthy of being mentioned.

What you can do is to mention the award you got for outstanding performance on your resume (if you got space to spare), or also during interviews when they ask about your previous job. This will make evident the fact that you were a valuable member on that job despite being terminated.

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In interviewing for another job, am I obligated to mention this when asked why I left? I have been saying the project ended, which is true. Yet if they check with that supervisor, he can say I'm not re-hireable. How can I handle this so I'm not victimized by my previous employer's actions?

You aren't obligated to offer a reason why you left unless you are asked. Even then, you don't need to supply a reason - although not doing so will likely end the interview.

If you are asked, you should be honest.

Just saying "the project ended" is being intentionally misleading and is thus not a wise path to take.

Consider indicating that you were fired since that will certainly be discovered in a background check anyway. But also make sure that you indicate you were completely surprised, and why. Indicate that you delivered the project late despite your best efforts. Explain the kind of work you did and how much extra time you put into it. Explain the bonus and award you received.

Avoid using words with negative connotations like "illegal", "unfairly", "scapegoated" and "victimized".

Instead focus on the positive. These things happen. On occasion that we are let go in spite of heroic efforts. Don't be defensive about it. Be proud of what you did accomplish. A good potential employer will understand.

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