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At the beginning of April I started a job at a company developing responsive web software in PHP. It was for an entry level position and they told me they understood that I didn't have much experience and were willing to put the time in so that I could grow into the role.

During my time at the company I somewhat felt like my immediate supervisor didn’t like me very much and didn’t want to help me learn the role, this could've simply been my own perception but I'm not sure. There were 2 or 3 times when he sent me a list of minor issues with the work I had done and each time I worked quickly to resolve them and take a brief note on what I did about each issue in case I was asked about it. Because I felt like my supervisor didn't like me I was trying to work hard and not to push his patience with me by asking too many questions and it may have just made the situation worse by making them think I was antisocial, again I’m not sure if this accurately describes how they felt.

Today the company told me that I wasn’t a good fit and they had to let me go. There reasons were that they felt they needed someone who could work more independently with PHP. Afterwords they told me that some of my work was actually quite good and was being put into production; some of my work has been in production for around a month now. They also mentioned that it wasn’t because of any personal issues. I made sure not to say anything rude or have an attitude about it but I probably left more abruptly than I should have.

Once I got home I messaged my immediate supervisor on Skype and apologized for this and told him that I just felt awkward about it and wanted to get out of there without making a scene or anything. Then I asked if it was OK to use them as a reference, he said yes and gave me his supervisors contact info.

Given this information, I feel like I may not have been given an accurate reason why they let me go. My question is about how I should proceed finding another job? Is it a good idea to use them as a reference? What should I put on my cover letter to address this? And how should I address this in future job interviews?

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Roll with the punches. It is mild disappointment but really no big deal.

You lost this job. You had 0 experience when you started, now you have 3 months of real life coding experience and code in production. When interviewing for another position, you need to explain what you learned from this experience, if you can.

Maybe lesson is that you need a position where you can get more handholding, you will be not afraid to ask questions, and you are willing to work for less while learning your craft. Some internship position.

Or maybe as Vienthni says, only after they filled the position cheaply by some low-skilled beginner, they realized they need someone more skilled, and they got a budget to do it. It happens quite often. Happened to me.

Find a recruiter who can assess your skills and will work with you. Robert Half Technology has pretty decent online test, allows even non-technically skilled recruiter evaluate your technical skills and see which parts of technology you understand and which you don't (and gives you tips what you need to learn. And it is free, so there is no reason why not to do it).

Is anyone in your team willing to be your reference? Find out, remind them what you did, and then recruiter can call your reference and find out what they really tell about you.

Learn as much as you can. Work on your own projects. Find local meetups, where you can talk to people in IT in person. They can see if your questions make sense, if you are worth investing time into. They may know about open positions. Consider relocating to areas with better opportunities, if your area is too slow.

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My question is about how I should proceed finding another job? Is it a good idea to use them as a reference?

If you have to ask, the answer is almost certainly no. Refer prospective employers to people you know will help you.

Employers know that good employees are sometimes terminated. They just want to know why you were terminated. If asked, tell them about the work you did, that you told them you were inexperienced when you started, but that after a couple of months they decided they needed someone more experienced. Then tell them what you have been doing since then to make yourself more valuable. You will be largely judged on your ability to produce working code. If you can do that you will be fine.

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First you say this:

Once I got home I messaged my immediate supervisor on Skype and apologized for this and told him that I just felt awkward about it and wanted to get out of there without making a scene or anything. Then I asked if it was OK to use them as a reference, he said yes and gave me his supervisor’s contact info.

Then you say this:

Given this information, I feel like I may not have been given an accurate reason why they let me go. My question is about how I should proceed finding another job? Is it a good idea to use them as a reference? What should I put on my cover letter to address this? And how should I address this in future job interviews?

Being let go after 3 months is nothing to be proud of. That said, some of your work did make it to production, so that is a feather in your cap. So this is tough.

The reality is any employer who thinks you were not a “good fit” is not a reference.

That said, you can perhaps get away with placing the basic info on your resume so they can confirm your history.

But then that said yet again, being at a job 3 months won’t make you shine.

My gut tells me that maybe the best tact is to play it by ear. Send out resumes that exclude the past 3 months.

And as for your boss saying, “…he said yes and gave me his supervisor’s contact info.” That just sounds like some generic statement he said to make you feel good to make you happy & end the conversation. Ditto with this, “Afterwords they told me that some of my work was actually quite good and was being put into production.” It all sounds classic talking out of both sides of one’s mouth.

The reality in the business world is if you not at a gig for at least 6 months, your experience at a gig shorter than that will be questioned.

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It was not a "good fit" in the sense that they ultimately decided that they wanted someone with stronger PHP expertise. You gave it your best effort and I hope that you are coming out of this work experience with a stronger knowledge of PHP. The fact that they are willing to be a reference is a major plus in your favor.

Just keep improving. The more you improve, the more you put the negative parts of this work experience behind you. Some of my greatest successes arose fro some of my worst failures, so think positive :)

Stick to the "not a good fit" story and tell the interviewer that you managed to impress your previous employer with your ability to start aggressively from scratch and get it done, and that you are now (hopefully) much stronger now than you were back then :)

I suspect that your problem with your previous employer lies far more in your failure to deal with people effectively than in your initial lack of technical expertise. You let your lack of technical expertise undermine your self-confidence, which prevented you from working more effectively with your management. In my view, you just worried way too much about "what will they think?" and not enough about what you needed to get done.

Here is a hint: you can ask any question to anybody as long as you're asking it the right way. When I start out, I am neither afraid nor worried about looking like a fool. Because I know that I will only get better and stronger from that initial point. I usually set expectations at interviews by saying that I will ask a lot of questions initially, some of which are downright stupid. Then I follow through on what I say :)

Cite your work experience to future interviewers. Describe clinically what you did and how some of your code ended up in production. If asked why you left, say that they decided on the basis of their experience with you and what you achieved that it was time for them and that they were ready to pay for a much more senior software engineer. They agreed to be your reference, so do it. End of story. And in your next job, stop speculating about other people think - you will drive yourself crazy that way.

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Some thoughts:

  • If you learned things in this job, these are the things you should emphasize when applying for other jobs. In addition to PHP experience, perhaps you learned how to work as part of a team, or you learned the value of communicating both questions and progress to the people on your team, or you identified areas of study you need to do which you have been working on since you left the company...
  • In explaining the termination, I think you can say that though it was an entry level position, the employer expected more expertise than you had at that time. Despite this, you are proud to say that they did put some of your work into production. Cite any continuing education you are pursuing to grow your skill level.
  • Test the reference. Find someone you trust (preferably that has some experience in HR) to call and ask reference questions, so you know exactly what they will say about you. They may give you a perfectly fine reference.

It is easy to fall in the trap of thinking someone else is to blame (they didn't like me) or conversely, of thinking poorly of yourself. Every problem is an opportunity, every experience a lesson. Use this experience to become a stronger employee that an employer would love to have, and BELIEVE this about yourself when you go to interview. Good luck!

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