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Background

I have lost a job after five months, being told the reason is a "personality clash" in how I work, i.e. I "change too much stuff".

Question

Since I only was aware of the months-long debate about to keep me on the day they decided not to keep me, I now find myself on the job hunt with absolutely no preparation (not even knowing what to look for) Therefore, my immediate question is: How do I approach potential employers given a record of "not fitting in"? An aggravating condition is that this is not the first time this has happened, and I'd left the job I had for this one only after 10 months (see questions about job hopping).

In all reality, I do want to find an environment which fits my personality better, and I believe that my direct supervisor did not see me as entirely worthless (though he could have simply been very good at telling lies to make me feel better). Still, my previous company did not want to invest the time and effort into coaching me into better conforming to their structure (I had made conscious developments towards that in the interim, but this apparently was insufficient), which is obviously a red flag to anyone else.

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    It doesn't matter how you approach your next prospective employers if you're going to lose your job again within a few months for the same reason, not "fitting in" The question is, what have you learned from your experiences so that you don't lose your job again for the same reason? – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 3 '14 at 22:06
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Yikes, I am an uninvested observer and I already question your employability. I shudder to think how your story would sound if I were interviewing you.

  1. Firing people is expensive. Sure, some companies are dysfunctional and one screw up might get you canned, but it seems fishy. It also seems fishy that you didn't know that your library might've been used outside of the team. Or worked with people in your team to review the code so it would've been caught.
  2. Usually, you know if you're on shaky ground. Sure, it's possible that this was right out of the blue. But in my experience, it's exceptionally rare for someone to get fired without them knowing it was coming. That you had no idea does not speak well to your perception and/or social skills.
  3. Software Engineers get a lot of leeway when it comes to personality. It's changing slowly, but let's face facts: software engineers are still perceived to reliably have personality quirks. They're largely forgiven (read: mitigated) by the larger company since their work is so vital (and because it's too expensive to hire skilled "sociable" software engineers).

I don't bring this up to be mean; I bring these points up because as a hiring manager, I would be highly skeptical if you presented me the facts like you have here. Worse, it seems by your question that you think you are completely blameless for your situation. Maybe you are.

But if you're not, then continuing along as is will just lead to troubles with your new job, regardless of how you present your past.

How do I approach potential employers given a record of "not fitting in"?

That said, let's get to the question at hand.

You approach from a position of humble confidence. You sell employers on your good qualities, focusing on them. You bring up your weaknesses when asked: "I have at times rubbed people the wrong way. I'm not sure what it is, but am aware of it and looking for an environment that's good at feedback so I can improve" - while downplaying them plausibly. The goal here is to make them comfortable that your weaknesses won't be a problem in their environment, and your strengths are something they value.

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What commonalities are there between the 2 positions that should tell you about what kind of workplaces don't work well for you? This may be worth considering in terms of what kind of qualities in a work environment do work well for you. There is some analysis here that only you can do as I'd suspect there were other issues with that last position other than changing one piece of software.

As for dealing with this in future interviews, I'd argue that the insight you get from looking into how those positions didn't work out is the secret. I've had a couple of places where things didn't work out well and I would likely say that in that environment, I was an island which didn't work well for me. The key is to not bad mouth the past employer while acknowledging what preferences I may have that made the fit not work in the end.

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