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In the past two years, I quit two jobs and was fired from one without cause. I'm a senior-level web developer, if it matters.

The first, after a year working there I was significantly late being paid several times, so started looking for a new job. I received a better offer from a more established company. The last day, the owner and another employee conspired (really the only appropriate word) against me and tried to threaten me to stay (as they hadn't found a replacement) I didn't, and it burnt bridges.

The second job, I was doing great, had an exemplary performance review two and a half months in. I was told my skill level was above that of my peers, and they were talking to me about moving into a more supervisory/instructional role. Two weeks later I was fired without cause, and given no explanation other than "it's not a good fit." Several other recent hires were let go the same week.

Because I was fired without cause I qualified for EI (Unemployment Insurance.) After two months I had a couple of job offers, and took the position with slightly better pay and work from home three days a week, even through it wasn't the better cultural fit.

The cultural fit ended up being a huge issue. I was also given impossible deadlines, I wasn't allowed to work from home, my employment contract wasn't being upheld, significant unpaid overtime, I was given several new contracts to sign without remuneration. The icing on the cake was that my salary was being paid by a government development agency for one job, but I was required to do unrelated work for other companies that the CEO owned. Unethical at best, fraud at worst.

I tried many times to deal with this in a professional manner, but the situation wasn't getting better so I quit with cause during the probationary period, and reactivated my EI claim. The product was due to launch on the 15th, so I gave notice late September, for the 15th which was two and a half months in.

In that time, the CEO started spreading rumors that I was fired for breach of trust. I addressed the rumors with the CEO, they acknowledged starting them, and felt they were justified in lying so I walked away that day, rather than stay in a hostile environment. The record of employment they issued does say "quit."

The problem is now I'm left with zero references for my last two years of employment, and I was self employed for about two years before that.

I don't necessarily want to be self employed again, so how can I delicately address these issues in an interview? Should I simply tell the truth? Is there a better way of wording these issues?

Would or should these issues be held against me?

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    If you had to choose between two candidates, one who had been happily employed for the past few years and one who had a lot of excuses, what would you do? – Amy Blankenship Nov 4 '14 at 5:08
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    Two equal candidates? Hire the other one. That's why I'm concerned. – evandentremont Nov 4 '14 at 15:47
  • Also, if your reputation is destroyed in one town, you might have to move. – KatieK Nov 4 '14 at 17:54
  • That's something I'm considering right now, I'm on the east coast and there's a lot of better opportunities in and around Waterloo/Kitchener. Its not like I have a bad reputation per se, and I'm known as a competent developer. It's HR people that I'm worried about, and even if I do move the lack of references would still be an issue. – evandentremont Nov 4 '14 at 19:30
  • Not sure of your jurisdiction, but IME (in the UK) you do have references - of a sort. The HR departments of all the companies you've worked for are required to supply your joining and leaving dates, and possibly why you left (quit or fired). On top of that, if there's anyone at a company you worked with and got along with you could ask them to provide a "personal" reference, they wouldn't be acting on behalf of the company in this. Then you have proof you were employed, not dealing drugs or in jail, and you have one/some ex-colleagues prepared to say "this geezer's kosher!" – Grimm The Opiner May 22 '17 at 14:40
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I've worked at several terrible places. I know very well how life can give you a bad draw (look at one of the questions I asked before which put me in a similar situation to you, but was for one employer, and a much longer period) and how that can leave you in the lurch. The unfortunate thing is unfair or not, your work history will be held against you.

I worked for several really bad people in a row. I won't get into all the details, but the gist of them are as follows:

One place I was let go because I had the stomach flu and took too many days off work (2 days) another place I worked at I was continually asked to do illegal things, I ultimately left after giving them an ultimatum about it, but they went around saying they fired me because I asked for a pay rise (dunno why they gave this as the reason as it still makes them look like a tool). The 3rd one as I mentioned previously, can be found in one of the questions I've asked on this site.

Consequently, I only included one on a resume since I worked for them for a few years and it would leave too much of a gap. The others were for a couple months a piece and I removed them and it's yet to be an issue (Whilst I have included this employer as a reference I have generally been asked who would I like contacted and I obviously exclude them from the names that I offer).

The one which you were fired without cause seems to be the least disastrous one for you, so you might wish to leave that one on and remove the others, but up to you to decide which one is best. This is a temporary hurdle, once you get some positive work experience behind you the gaps won't matter as much, it's just going to be a bit of work till then, but I'm sure you'll manage.

  • Yeah, I was at the first one for over a year until the paycheques started slipping, so I can't feasibly leave that off. I'm thinking leaving the third one off is the best thing to do. – evandentremont Nov 4 '14 at 18:34
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    that's fair enough. For what it's worth I can commiserate with the paychecks slipping off. Another place I worked at which I forgot to include - they just up and shutdown the business without informing me (I was the only paid staff as it was a family business). I literally drove to work to find it cleared out and with with a massive closed sign on the window. I wasn't able to get a hold of the manager and I never did find out what happened. I realise now that irregular pay checks are a warning sign not to be ignored :) – pi31415 Nov 4 '14 at 18:50
  • Agreed! It's never a good sign. – evandentremont Nov 4 '14 at 19:27
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(NOTE: This answer assumes that you are entirely the victim of circumstances beyond your control and that you don't bear any responsibility for the outcomes in any of these positions. We'll set the likelihood of that aside for the time being, but of course this would be a good time for some self-reflection.)

Robert Heinlein once said that the best way to lie is to tell just enough of the truth and then stop. I think that applies in your case.

Your work history can and will be held against you. Anyone who compares you to a candidate with 3-4 years of employment in the same organization will likely see your job-hopping as a negative regardless of the reasons. However, you have a few alternatives:

1) Leave one of the jobs off your resume. This may be seen as dishonest by some people, but it could also be argued that your resume is understood to be a somewhat sanitized version of your employment record. It's easier to explain an abrupt departure from two jobs than three, and it's also easier to explain a six-month gap in employment than three jobs in 6 1/2 months. I'm not exactly recommending this approach, but if you decide to do this, the third job is the one to exclude.

2) Include all three jobs, but talk about your reasons for leaving only in vague terms. You could say, for example, that you had ethical concerns with your first employer (you did - not paying your employees on time is unethical), that your second employer was very pleased with your performance but laid you off after a short period (which appears to be what happened), and that the third employer was a bad cultural fit.

In either case, there's no need to go into too much detail. The more detail you provide, the more you look like someone who habitually makes excuses instead of someone who has had a stretch of bad luck.

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    That's kind of what I've been considering, leaving the third one off entirely / treating it as contract work. Re: Beyond my control, The first one the company was having cash flow issues, the second I was one of many recent hires laid off. No question in my mind for those two. The third is a tough one, in theory I could have accepted that the job was entirely different than described and not complained about unpaid overtime. The federal gov't agrees I quit with cause though. – evandentremont Nov 4 '14 at 15:42
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    @evandentremont: It sounds like the first two were cash flow issues. If you were laid off at the same time as others with no reason, then it's money. That is very easy to explain. I agree with Roger, ignore the last one. – NotMe Nov 4 '14 at 22:24

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