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Introduction: After 3 years in my first job as software engineer I was called into office by HR. I have been told to either sign a contract which stated that I left the company freely or that I will be fired (it would have been an 4 year long apprenticeship).

The reason given was the performance (My instructor still defended me and my working colleges where surprised. This are some of the things which made me think performance isn't the reason) As I was very young and inexperienced I did not hesitate long and signed the agreement. Then a week later (the notice period was 3 months) a meeting for the whole company was arranged where the suicide of my boss (company owner) was announced. As far as I know he was the only person responsible for my firing and committed suicide one day after I've been fired.

Working with the owner: I did not have a lot to do with the owner besides that I and an other apprentice had to help him move. I saw him very rarely. Sometimes he made some strange and aggressive remarks and I always tried to respond calmly and not "fighting". It was more a one sided "not getting along" relationship.

Aftermath: I went on completed my apprenticeship somewhere else and worked on several other places since then. In interviews I get almost every time asked why I left this company as it is normal in Switzerland to complete an apprenticeship at the same company. I have two answers which I gave and I got the job with both answers.

  • Not getting along with the owner
  • Not getting along with the owner + suicide

Question: What should I say at a job interview?

  • Should I tell at the interview about the suicide?
  • Should I tell something completely different then not getting along?

Clearification

  • I do not want to tell that I wanted new challenges as this is not true and would be something strange to seak without a finished apprenticeship.
  • If I say the reason is "performance" shouldn't I add something like: I do not think that was the reason. Or anything to make it clear that "performance" could not have been the only reason?
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    Don't ever say you left a job for not getting along with someone. It will never look good for you. – dfundako May 4 '17 at 14:32
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    Future employer doesn't need to know about what you have mentioned above. There are surely other reasons you had for moving forward, or at least choosing your second job over the first one. – user34587 May 4 '17 at 14:43
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    Just say that you were looking for new opportunities. There are quite some questions around asking what you should tell to recruiter, the answers are basically the same whatever the situations is : no bad thing on yourself or either on the company. – Walfrat May 4 '17 at 14:47
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    You will not have to bear this forever. After your next job, nobody will ever ask why you left any other job than the one you just left (or will leave as soon as you find a new one). – Kent A. May 8 '17 at 4:13
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    No, no, no, no, no, no! "My boss fired me and then he committed suicide the next day." No, just no. If you says that, I will begin to wonder if you had anything to do with the "suicide". No, just don't take that path. – Masked Man May 9 '17 at 0:24
27

An important point that has been missed is:

You were not fired

The whole point of the agreement you signed is that you left voluntarily (unless I've missed something from your description). You may have been threatened with firing, but they didn't fire you.

So the best statement about that job is:

It was determined that I was not a good fit for that job, and I agreed to leave voluntarily.

If they want more details (which they probably will) tell them "my performance was not what they expected" and explain how your performance has improved since then.

  • Do not mention the suicide. Mention his death only if you are specifically asked what happened to him (extremely unlikely)
  • Don't talk about your suspicions of any other reasons for your being let go. If they ask about your relationship with your boss, be honest though.

Whatever you did at that job, it will not stay with you for ever. If you performed well at subsequent jobs, that will override your first job. Most employers probably don't care about it much any more - especially if you can show you learned from it.

Incidentally, the point of them making you sign the agreement is that you would have no recourse to sue for being fired. That's what they wanted from the agreement, but the upside is that you can say truthfully that you were not fired.

It's too late now, but if I had been compelled to resign by a boss who then committed suicide (or even left the company) I would immediately go to whoever was now in charge and ask if they still wanted me to leave? If it really was all his idea they might void the agreement and keep you on. One possible interpretation of the fact that they made you sign the agreement is that HR thought they were on shaky ground firing you.

  • 1
    Disagree with "my performance was not what they expected." If OP voluntarily resigned, all that needs be said is "it was an apprenticeship, so I left for better opportunities." If they question whether subsequent jobs were better opportunities, then, perhaps, a mention of "I did not feel the apprenticeship was giving me relevant work experience, since my only interaction with my boss was helping him move." Telling them you were not fired, then elaborating that your work did not meet their expectations is pretty much saying "I was fired." Just my opinion. – PoloHoleSet May 8 '17 at 21:44
  • @PoloHoleSet That works fine until they ask the company for their side. Then you look like you are not telling the truth. – DJClayworth May 8 '17 at 22:27
  • Since the company asked for a resignation, pushed for it, actually, and signed off on it, they're not going to say anything other than "OP resigned on this date." Period. What it comes down to is that he was not fired. He resigned, the company agreed and agrees that he resigned. Ostensibly the practice is to prevent the person from collecting unemployment which would raise their UI rates. No one is going to ask for a reference from that company because his direct supervisor is dead. Most companies won't give any information other than confirming employment dates. – PoloHoleSet May 9 '17 at 13:55
  • Just to clear up the misconception, company's UI payments are based on the number of employees and the amount they pay them. They do not go up because they fire someone. – DJClayworth Sep 19 '17 at 13:48
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    And just to add some more confusion: Whether UI (unemployment insurances) rates go up based on history totally depends on the insurance system used. In the USA this can indeed be the case, depending on state.However, OP indicated they worked in Switzerland. There, unemployment insurance contribution is simply calculated as a percentage of the employee's wage, and does not depend on the number of layoffs. – sleske Feb 23 '18 at 16:24
26

First, definitely don't mention the suicide. It doesn't really speak to why you left and any causation is purely speculation. All this does is blame your dead boss for thinking irrationally, which never looks good.

As to saying that you didn't get along with your boss, it's generally not a bad answer, but it's not a very good one either. It's not clear from the details you gave whether you actually didn't get along with your boss or not. All you say is that he wanted to fire you for performance reasons, not that you butted heads. Saying you were forced to leave because your boss didn't like you also blames someone else and makes it sound like you don't know how to get along with someone.

I think it's perfectly fine to say that you left for performance reasons as long as you follow up with why it's not an issue anymore. You were young and in your first job, but you learned from the situation and now have more experience and are a better worker.

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    Not wanting to be picky, but he was not fired. The point of the contract he signed was that he 'left the company freely'. Firing was going to be the next stage, but wan't needed. – DJClayworth May 4 '17 at 20:52
  • @DJClayworth Good point, I've updated my answer to remove that. Also +1 to your answer which makes good use of that fact. – David K May 5 '17 at 12:04
4

If you had this experience over 5 years ago, abstract it from your resume. The older something is, the less relevant it is to your work history. Once it is:

  • more than 5 years since you left...
  • more than 2 jobs ago...

Then make it hazier on your resume. For example:

  • Don't give months on the resume so that you're showing the gap - do it in years. Assuming you weren't out of work for a year, it won't really show up.
  • Consider when you drop the whole job, or have a vague "other work included X, Y, Z" if the things you did were particularly interesting.

In short - figure out why the resume item is causing the question, and eliminate the cause. You can afford to provide a LOT less detail a couple of jobs later.

In the meantime - you do have to be honest - you left the company, it wasn't working out. I'd go with as short and sweet as possible.

  • It was 6 years ago. Wouldn't it be suspisious when the months are missing? I fear that the cv will be thrown away at the first glance. – user69374 May 4 '17 at 15:38
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    Generally good advice, but I recommend being a little cautious with eliding the months. I once interviewed somebody who left a position in January $year and started the next position in December $year+1, but just listed positions by years, and you can bet that this left a bad impression with all the interviewers when we found out the resume was hiding a 23-month gap. Do fuzz (or drop old jobs entirely), but don't fuzz so much that the truth would raise eyebrows. – Monica Cellio May 4 '17 at 18:11
  • At the point of 6 years, I really wouldn't care. You've done 6 years of good work, maintaining a position or moving between a small number of jobs. The 6 years of recent history is going to count a whole lot more than a weird situation 6 years ago. If you had bad work habits or had a style that was really hard to get along with, or a history of being unproductive - it would also show up in the last few positions. – bethlakshmi May 15 '17 at 14:39
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The reason given was the performance (I do not think this is the reason). As I was very young and unexperienced I did not hesitate long and signed the agreement.

If you want to explain in interviews, I would change this paragraph as follows:

The reason given was the performance, but I was very young and unexperienced. Now I have more experience.

No need to disclose further about such delicate issue. If for any reason the interviewer ask about boss, put it simple.

He passed away / he is dead1.

1 Not exactly sure which is better to say, but interviewer will stop asking about your previous boss.

1

In general, leaving a workplace beacuse you haven't gotten along with someone would raise a red flag to most HR people (the good ones would certainly inquire further about that, either with you or with that company). That's not a good thing - it can indicate you are not good at working with others etc.

I don't suggest you lie about why you left, but usually that is due to a number of different things - finding the work boring, wanting a new challenge etc... Consider the whole range of reasons you have left the place for - and stick to one.

As for the suicide - even if it were relevent to your leaving the job (and there is nothing in your question that indicates that), why bring that up? It only brings up awkward questions that you will not be able to answer.

0

I have a slightly different take, though I do agree that you shouldn't lie. Telling someone you left the company for some other reason just isn't good practice. While it's common (and expected) to tell things in a manner that paint you in the best light, i.e. accentuate the positive and minimize the negative, telling a fabrication is just a bad idea.

What I wouldn't come out and flat out say is that was for performance because you don't believe it was. You'll probably have to mention that word because they did but you'll want to get your side in as politely as possible. Were it me, I would say something like...

"While we had 3 very productive years together, toward the end of my employment, my manager and began to have conflicts which came on suddenly that hadn't been a problem before. I loved my job I thought I'd been doing well, but after discussion, he and I agreed that I would leave voluntarily. While the paperwork when I resigned said "performance", I don't really know the actual reason. I was hoping to continue to discuss my performance with him during my notice period but shortly after our conversation, he left the company."

You can tell them that you did take the criticism to heart and was able to improve since that day and have continued to work on that since then.

What you've done here is

  1. Stated that you left voluntarily
  2. Admitted that it wasn't really that voluntary
  3. Admitted the reason you were given
  4. Denied that you believed it really was performance
  5. Related your boss' unusual behavior (left suddenly)
  6. Admitted that you've improved regardless

What you haven't done is bring up suicide. Regardless, I suspect that leaving suddenly in India is highly unusual and they will inquire further. You can then do your best to look very uncomfortable discussing it if they ask and haltingly and hesitatingly tell them the meeting a week later.

The reason I would try to find a way get them to ask about it is because it's germane to why you left. I wouldn't say anything negative about him specifically but any reasonable person will infer that a person who forces someone to quit and then kills himself the next day might not have been thinking straight and I think that's a valid point to make/

  • @PoloHoleSet Feel free to make your own answer. – Chris E May 8 '17 at 22:06
  • No need. Comments are here for feedback on answers. Sorry if that bothers you. – PoloHoleSet May 9 '17 at 13:59
  • Yep. My comment fit those guidelines. Thanks for confirming. – PoloHoleSet May 9 '17 at 14:27
  • "When shouldn't I comment?" "Criticisms which do not add anything constructive" Perhaps you would like a link to "constructive" now? – Chris E May 9 '17 at 14:43
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Realize the reason why you always get asked why you left is because that's a standard, boilerplate question for each and every job you've ever had. Tell us what you did, tell us why you left.

They don't actually care about your first apprenticeship and why you left. Now, the company demanded that you state you left freely. Do you think they would contradict something they demanded (to avoid paying you an unemployment claim)?

So you don't want to say you left for different challenges, fair enough. How about "I left to seek better opportunities."

Keep in mind, (A) you have a formal document that states you resigned, of your own free will, that the company signed off on, and wanted you to offer, so they are not going to dispute it. (B) Leaving your first job, described as you as an apprenticeship, after three years is not going to make anyone dig or raise any eyebrows if you say you left to seek better opportunities. (C) You have gone on to work at several other places since then. They are going to be more interested in your more recent history. (D) You had an erratic, not mentally-well boss who was hostile towards you and who you mostly interacted with, as a software engineer, when you and another person had to "help him move." To say you left to find a better opportunity is completely accurate.

Honestly, no one cares about the circumstances, as long as you weren't fired for cause or for something unethical or criminal. You can give a vague, boilerplate answer that is not lying to their general, boilerplate inquiry. They are not going to dig, and if they do, the company is not going to dispute that you resigned, of your own free will, since you did. They are not going to say anything else about it. Though it probably looms large in your mind, because it was your first job, it was a bad experience, and there was a highly dramatic, unhappy ending to it, you're just an entry-level guy the crazy boss dumped on and pushed out, years ago, before offing himself. They're not going to dish dirt on you. It's not in their interest, and you're not that important to them, today, this far removed from the events.

If they want to confirm via reference for that job, tell them your former boss is dead. If you have more recent references, they aren't going to even want that one, and no one is going to fault you for not being able to get a reference from a dead person.

-1

"Why did you leave that job?"

"Oh, that was very sad. [Look sad.] My boss was very ill and he, he passed away. [Make a hand gesture meaning 'whatcha gonna do']."

Few interviewers if any are going to have the stones to investigate the connections between his illness, your departure from the company, and his departure from this Earth.

If pressed, tell the complete truth: "His disease was... of a psychological nature. He became increasing erratic, fired a number of us, and then took his own life. I suppose I could have asked his inheritors for the job back, but... it was just too much and I thought it better to move on."

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    "He became increasing erratic, fired a number of us" - You're just making things up now. – David K May 4 '17 at 16:54
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    That also doesn't answer the question: if your boss passes away, the company will assign you a new boss, not fire you. – lambshaanxy May 5 '17 at 5:42
  • @DavidK -- well, I wasn't there, but the OP claims, "Sometimes he made some strange and aggressive remarks." – Malvolio May 5 '17 at 6:30
  • Thats how he was behaving in generell. But the intepretations you make are wrong. – user69374 May 5 '17 at 9:32
  • @Dr.Fre -- I was not "making an interpretation"; I was "creating an impression". You may or may not think your firing was a consequence or symptom if his mental degeneration, but you cannot say for sure, can you? Make the statements in sequence -- he was crazy, he fired me, he killed himself -- a listener is free to attach his own idea of cause and effect. And honestly, I don't think the impression is dishonest or misleading. It actually sounds pretty likely that because he fired you while he was crazy, he fired you because he was crazy. – Malvolio May 6 '17 at 15:57

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