32

In the years leading up to 2023, I've been pretty good about my employment. In the last year, however, I have burned through three jobs in relatively quick succession.

  • Job 1. Factory work. Was fired because I was too vocal about protected status issue. I even put in a "formal" paper complaint. I was fired 6 days later. The claim was "I kept making the same mistakes." I had proof and witnesses this was not true, but I never pursued legal recourse. Was not productive.
  • Job 2. Mom and pop shop. Owner was rumored to be a scammer/scum bag. Rumors turned out to be true. I walked when that became obvious. They are currently misrepresenting paperwork to claim I owe on a cash advance. I have proof this isn't remotely true, because I sort of expected it was coming and documented facts of my own.
  • Job 3. Inventory coordination. New changes were planned that "were not going to make my job obsolete." I was fired the week they rolled out the changes. The claim from the new manager was "He didn't want to do his job." Previous manager said "that does not sound like you."

Though I am making a case for myself, I'm not actually here to try and argue my innocence. If I had more than a passing interest in such things, I probably would have sued the 1st employer listed, as that is some pretty clear EEOC violation territory. Furthermore, I'm not here to gripe/rant. My problem is much more material than that.

I need another job but I'm not expecting good recommendations from my last THREE employers.

Basically, everyone looking to get hired somewhere makes excuses for why they got fired at the last place. Regardless of what I say, I expect a potential 4th employer to look dimly at the situation with the perspective that "if all these employers had/have some problem with him, then it must be him."

I can't be the only person that has been in this kind of situation. So, generally speaking, how does one work around this sort of problem?

(Please and thank you.)

5
  • 1
    Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on The Workplace Meta, or in The Workplace Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 21:05
  • Can you elaborate on the "protected status issue"? I don't think it's necessary to describe the protected status but rather what was the issue that you felt you needed to be vocal about? Also, EEOC implies the US but it might be good if you clarified the jurisdiction (country, state/province, etc.)
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 22:25
  • 3
    It was sexual harassment. And, yes, USA. Washington state.
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 18:07
  • 1
    Would it be worthwhile to get in touch with Employer 3 and try to get a nominal $1 redundancy payment (possibly with the understanding that a dollar bill will be left lying around somewhere) instead of an unfair dismissal case brought by whoever the applicable union is? #1 sounds like something covered by even American federal labour laws, so you might be able to get your former employer to call that a redundancy too, especially since it wouldn't cost them anything to pay you off from testifying in her sexual harassment suit. Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 7:01
  • I appreciate the utility behind the suggestion that one could contact the former employers and .... "confirm" that I would get a good recommendation. I'm far to scared of something like that backfiring though. Plus, short of actually getting the job, I wouldn't know if they actually kept their word.
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 7:38

12 Answers 12

54

Getting fired three times by three different companies in a year is a huge red flag to future employers, and to be blunt, there's nothing you can really do about that. You say that it's due to them rather than you, but so does everyone who gets fired. And at this point, potential employers are going to see it as a pattern, with you being the common factor.

So really it just becomes a numbers game. A lot of potential employers are just going to dismiss you off the bat - so you just need to keep applying and hope that you can find one who decides to give you a (fourth) chance.

And when they do, you need to make sure that you keep that job for a decent length of time, and that when you do leave, it's on good terms. Reputation takes a long time to build, and there's no real shortcut.


But you also need to do some self reflection. What you've posted suggests that you are 100% innocent in every instance, have acted impeccably, and that it's entirely down to your last three employers being dishonest and "scumbags". Maybe that's true, and maybe it's not. But in every case, they chose to fire you rather than the other employees.

So have a serious think and reflect on why you've ended up in this situation. And if the only answer you can come up with is "bad luck", then I suspect you'll probably be adding a fourth job to that list before too long.

9
  • 49
    Even if the last 3 employers were dishonest "scumbags", the real question is "what signs was I missing to even accept a job at those employers?" There are questions to ask in the interview about operations which can give indications about how they operate.
    – David R
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 15:11
  • 18
    This is the right answer - it's not impossible to have 3 bad employers in a row, but even if you did, there should still be some significant self-reflection and planning before your next job. "Just keep applying until something works" is how you end up adding a fourth paragraph to this question next time around. Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 15:30
  • 7
    @DavidR you are suggesting that anyone who works at 3 scummy employers deserves to remain unemployed forever and the way to avoid that is to not work at 3 scummy employers? Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 18:44
  • 22
    @user253751 That doesn't seem like a reasonable reading of his comment. It seems they are suggesting the OP learn from their mistake (here, working for three separate classes of "scummy employers") and find a way to not make it again. Just because you're the victim doesn't mean you can't learn from the experience. And if OP wants to figure out how to break the cycle they will need to learn what happened before to try and ensure it doesn't happen again -- even if OP's original comment was completely true and they were entirely blameless the whole time. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 1:37
  • 12
    @user253751 It is related to the answer, and I do not see any other interpretation of it than the one explained by Richard Rast. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 7:13
37

These are not high level jobs. They're in the sorts of positions where high turnover is half-expected and no one cares much about references or digs deeply into past jobs. Having said that, the perception is you are a troublemaker.

Just keep applying until you get a chance to be sacked again.

3
  • I agree these jobs are so minor they don't even seem worth referencing in any way but vaguely if pressed. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 15:59
  • They were entry level positions in or around fields that I have education and expertise. My problems were mostly inter-personal, the work was cake and by all rights I should have A+ marks there. I agree with the perception of me, which is the problem presented in the question. Not sure "just keep trying" is the best answer, but it's certainly an easy one.
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 17:55
  • 3
    @Charlie Why are you applying to entry level jobs if you have "years of" expertise?
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 23:25
23

Regardless of what I say, I expect a potential 4th employer to look dimly at the situation with the perspective that "if all these employers had/have some problem with him, then it must be him."

I agree. You'll need to come up with a good reason why your next employer should expect you to stick around longer.

So, generally speaking, how does one work around this sort of problem?

You find a long term job and put these behind you.

The fact that you found 3 jobs in short succession (presumably without good references from the prior jobs) strongly indicates that you can find a 4th.

1
  • 3
    I appreciate that you actually read my question, rather than just glance at it. I also appreciate the positivity in the last sentence.
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 17:47
20

user1532080's comment is the answer: Your references from a past job can be anyone you worked with at that job. You do not have to use your direct supervisor, or whoever it was that was directly responsible for letting you go, as a job reference. It sounds from your descriptions like you know at least one person from jobs 1 and 3 who you could confidently use as a reference, use them instead.

3
  • 1
    Yes and no. Some employers will specifically ask for most recent supervisor, or a reason why that supervisor wasn't chosen as a reference.
    – G_B
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 9:15
  • 1
    ...segueing off GB's comment, particularly in online applications where the format is dictated for you, you will be required to list your managers if you are listing that job reference. That being said, there are certainly ways to play this angle in many forms of job application. +1
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 17:43
  • 4
    I'm not in the US, but for EVERY job I've applied to over the last 20 years I've used someone who was not my direct supervicor as a reference, with the reason being that I didn't want my direct supervisor to know I was looking for new work.
    – Player One
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 22:42
17

A resume is a sales pitch

Don't mention jobs you don't want to mention. A resume isn't a biography, and you are under no moral or legal obligation for it to be a complete list of everything you have done.

I'm not advocating you lie on it. I'm just saying it doesn't have to be complete.

You can leave whatever gap you want in your resume with anything true in there. You could mention only one job in that gap, and use your previous manager (the one that liked you) as your reference; he is, after all, the one that you spent time working for.

Explain the gap

You could explain your employment after leaving your last long-term job didn't work out well, and decline to share references. You have years of good references; use them.

Right now labor markets are tight. While this might have a small impact on your ability to get a job, it won't be decisive.

In the future

Interviews are both about selling yourself to be hired, and determining if you should work with the people. If you get the sign that they are not on the up and up, wait and get a different job, unless desperate.

Don't take a job with someone rumored to be a "scam artist". Talk to people working there that aren't the hiring team and see if they have a toxic workplace.

When working there, if you lack the economic social and professional capital to speak up, only do so with the understanding that you'll lose your job by doing so.

Aim to work at a place you are certain can give you a good reference, and work there for 2+ years; that would be enough that your 1 year of bad job luck becomes unimportant.

2
  • 5
    Very much this --- there's not reason to point out three unsuccessful jobs. [I honestly think I would claim 2023 I spent as a carer, hence no work history, but I'd NEVER take such commitment again.] Just have a gap in the resume --- except in some high-pressure environment where all is gung-ho and you have to "work hard and play hard", it's not that weird to have a gap; especially post-pandemic. Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 10:56
  • This is the best course of action in your situation
    – Strader
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 3:29
7

Extra Interview & Application Work

You'll have to put in more work during the application process. Whether this be by applying to more jobs, thoroughly polishing other areas of value on your resume or by increasing your credentials, something has to change in the current cycle you're stuck in. Since this is an area of weakness which you are aware of, finding other strengths you can provide to counteract this will help.

I tend to focus on what I can provide rather than what I can't. Avoid bringing up excuses for why these past jobs didn't work out. I have moved jobs more than the average person in my industry and I just choose not to bring it up. Sometimes employers will ask for rational as to why there was so much movement; I tend to respond with clear and direct answers, but avoid badmouthing or playing the blame game.

"It wasn't a good fit."

After stating the previous jobs weren't a good fit, offer up exactly why you see the position you're interviewing for IS a good fit; and mean it. Finding a job which can last you will help you solve your current dilemma.

6

Having seen close-up how the scenario in your job #1 play out a few different times in the USA at large orgs (not as a participant), I can tell you that "putting in a paper complaint" is NOT something one does without being prepared to be terminated or retaliated against regardless of whether one is at fault or not.

The way it usually goes is that the aggrevied employee gets a lawyer, and in coordination with the lawyer files a complaint, along with a letter asking for their job (with conditions) or some settlement in exchange for leaving. In reality, NO ONE EVER stays at their job. The typical outcome that I have seen (about four times now) is that they get a settlement amounting to some small multiple of their monthly pay. Whatever happens this is very stressful for everyone involved (except the lawyers). It's MUCH EASIER for you to stick around until you find something else. And no, it's not a "life changing" amount of settlement money, you would still need to find some other work after "winning" and it could easily damage your reputation.

I don't like the tone of some of the answers you've gotten here. Although they're right that this is at least in part "on you", many good, earnest people get into problems like this because they're naive or have the wrong idea about how things go in the workplace.

Next time you get into a situation at work, try to get some advice/perspective from people that you trust in your personal life. Do it before you start the job and certainly before you file "a paper complaint".

3
  • 1
    In such a situation, the settlement should also stipulate what the company will say to any future employer who asks about the circumstances of the termination.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 19:57
  • @EvilSnack Indeed... things like that are excatly why one uses lawyers.
    – teego1967
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 11:54
  • 1
    Appreciate the info in here. Indeed, I wish I had known that was the inevitable outcome and played my cards differently. And, yes, it always takes two to tango. If nothing else I have learned that we have no human rights, and to keep your mouth shut about it like you love the abuse. (while secretly pimping yourself out to someone else for more money if you really can't take it.)
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 7:26
4

Shady

Don't list your previous 3 employers. If they weren't government jobs then there is no way for a potential employer to know your work history unless you reveal it via resume, word-of-mouth, social media, etc...

Obviously there are going to be caveats:

  • Business owners talk as do people in general
    • It would be trivial for someone to say "wow, you actually hired them?" once you start working
  • You'll have to explain the year-long gap in your work history

Honest

List the employers. Yes, you will be asked about them. It is perfectly fine to say things like "I felt mistreated" and separated and decline to give a reference.

As long as you don't give off any "they're out to get me" vibes then you'll have better success than you think.

If you've made a whole personality out of your protected status then employers would rather not have you there; this is particularly true at small businesses and in low-skill labor. Sorry, but welcome to the real world.

8
  • Why is it shady to not mention jobs? A resume isn't a biography. It is a sales pitch.
    – Yakk
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 20:33
  • @Yakk it depends on the format of the resume, and it's fairly easy to figure out somebody's actual work history. If it comes off as dishonest you can be fired for lying on your resume. I have no idea why this answer suggests only government jobs can check your work history -- private companies absolutely can, and routinely do, although it's not 100% of the time. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 1:39
  • @RichardRast I recommend re-reading my answer carefully. There's no central database of your employment unless you held government jobs. So you are free to omit that employment history because it won't show up on a background check.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 1:47
  • 1
    @RichardRast I don't mention what I had for breakfast last Tuesday on my resume either. Omitting information is not a lie, it isn't even deceitful. I am unlikely to lisst every job I had as a 17 year old coop on my resume, because nobody should care: the resume is a list of reasons to hire me, not a biography.
    – Yakk
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 14:39
  • 1
    @RichardRast How does an employer check out work history which an applicant did not provide?
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 12:37
2

Networking

You should start networking based on people who know you, then expand from there. The optimal goal is to have an informal chat with a person who has hiring capabilities.

Ask people in your target companies if they can use some help and which areas. Hopefully you have skills in those areas. Mention how you can help and find a hiring manager who needs help. You can slide into an opportunity that is related to your optimal goal, but be patient. Be an outstanding employee until a better position opens up within the organization.

Keep a list of tasks you are asked to perform and then honestly, record how well your performed them. Also come up with strategies on how you could improve your performance. After 3 tasks, see if there are any patterns and work on those. Again, the goal is build a reputation that you can use to create the path to a better opportunity in the company. Be Flexible. Reminder: you are there to help out the organization.

The Past is Past

I haven't mentioned your past, as you want to learn from it and focus on how you can improve and assist the targeting organization. Switch or guide conversations about your past to how you can assist the organization, learning from the past. You may want to create a plan from "learning from the past", so you can show the doubters in the organization. Emphasize on using your skills to assist and improve the target organization.

1
  • 2
    Networking is how I got these last three jobs, actually.... Not saying that is a good thing or a bad thing, just... it's what happened. It works to get you a job!
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 17:30
2

The main points I'd suggest have already been covered by other answers, but one more thing that can help:

Volunteering

Non-profit volunteer organisations are often short-staffed. Depending on the role and responsibilities, they may be more willing to overlook weak references. That then gives you a new job-like object on your resumé. The closer the volunteer work is to the kind of work you're trying to get hired for, the more useful this is.

But even if it's not related to your target field, it still gives a chance to demonstrate your ability to work with others, and possibly some networking opportunities. Should your job search drag out a bit, it also provides a good answer to "what have you been doing since your last job?"

(Obviously, you should be candid with the organisation that you're only doing this while you look for paying work, but that's not necessarily a deal-breaker.)

1
  • 2
    Under comfortable living circumstances, this is a very good out of the box strategy. Not sure why it got down voted.... SE sucks sometimes.
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 17:27
1

Do you have a reasonable thing you could have claimed to be doing for the last year? Studying, travelling, etc.

Realistically speaking, you're unlikely to get caught out if you just leave those jobs off your CV.


As a bit of other advice, this isn't just "unlucky", this is you putting yourself in bad situations repeatedly. With, perhaps, the exception of the first job. You went to work for someone you knew was sketchy, and stayed past the probation period in a job where you knew there were impending redundancies. I understand that beggars can't be choosers to some extent but try and exercise some due diligence and be a bit more careful with who you choose to work for.

All the best of luck.

-3

If you have serious grounds to sue any of the former employees (as you claim), and can manage to, you could try to sue. If the facts are as strong as you claim, significant reputational damage has been done to you, by these employers.

I'd instruct my lawyer to push for a settlement with them, in which you can include some stipulations about what is going to be said to references, as part of repairing the damage to your reputation. We've included a similar clause in a settlement with a landlord before, including who would provide the reference.

This is likely to not be the best of your options, but it is certainly a path you could choose - if you have strong evidence, a willingness to get lawyers involved, and are certain enough that the facts will make opposing legal go "we really can't let this get in front of a judge, let's settle"

A simpler option is probably going to be finding someone who can speak for your work - the last job sounds like "laid off" rather than "fired" - if it is laid off, then make sure you're not describing it as a firing. I'd ask previous manager if they can provide a reference, if they were willing to speak up about you before.

7
  • 6
    "I'd ask previous manager if they can provide a reference, if they were willing to speak up about you before." - 100% the best solution if you can make it work. This gives you a safe reference from your most recent employer. Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 11:42
  • 9
    The problem with suing former employers is that every potential employer knows that they will also be a former employer at some point. Even if you win, it will be in the public record and not look great for you. Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 15:27
  • 2
    @JackGifford that is exactly why employees don't have human rights. Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 18:45
  • 1
    @JackGifford's comment is indeed part of the the problem. Also, lawsuits cost money, take time. There are also other obstacles too, namely that the remaining employees fear for their jobs, and are under no obligation to stick their necks out to defend me. Also, yes, I agree with user253751, this is why employees don't have human rights. To me, the fight not worth it when I could spend that effort working toward getting a different job. Though, I do keep getting told that I should sue.
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 17:26
  • 1
    @P.Hopkinson. Of the pieces of advice that are going to assemble into a whole answer, using the good manager from the last job is top three to be sure.
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 18:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .