Further Questions: Is Having Been Fired a Deal Breaker?

Here’s another question inspired by a reader. I asked people who hire librarians:

Have you ever hired someone who had been fired from a previous position?  Is having been fired a deal breaker, or are there understandable circumstances? Is there anything in your application process which would reveal that a candidate had been fired?

Laurie Phillips

I have not, to my knowledge, hired someone who had been fired from a previous position, but since we don’t necessarily check references from every position the person ever held, it’s possible that I just don’t know. I think the circumstances would dictate if being fired is understandable or forgivable. As for our application process, not necessarily, but certainly that sort of thing may come out in checking references, or may become clear by the choices of references by the applicant.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

That’s a tricky question, and I can only answer it from the perspective of ‘have you submitted a candidate to a client who has been fired’, but here goes:
As a recruiter clients are paying me to find and introduce to them the best few candidates for the job they’ve briefed me about. The exact number to be submitted is agreed in advance with the client, but is generally between 3 and 10.  This is somewhat different from a job announcement, where all and any candidates who feel they are qualified for the role may apply.
The question therefore becomes whether ‘best’ could include someone who has been fired from an earlier job.  The answer to this depends on both how well qualified the candidate is for the job in question, and what the reason was for them being let go before.  If someone is extremely well suited for the role, and was fired for something relatively minor, then I might consider putting them forward.  I would probably have a conversation with my client first, to see if they were prepared to accept the application, before actually submitting the candidate’s resume.
It could also be that the circumstances that led to someone being fired, or prosecuted, are particular to one type of job/organisation and unlikely to arise or be relevant in another type of job/organisation, and so it’s possible that a client may not see it as an insurmountable barrier.  Again, the decision on whether they wanted to consider the candidate would rest with my client.
If the question is ‘would you register someone who has been fired as a candidate looking for work’ then the answer is yes.  Even if the reason for being fired were so serious as to have resulted in a criminal conviction (fraud, assault, etc), then in the UK these offences become what is called ‘spent’ (that is, the person no longer has to disclose they occurred) after a set period of time.  The period depends upon the severity of the sentence served.  It is illegal in the UK to refuse to provide services to someone who has spent convictions, under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
Also, in the UK, there is a clear distinction between a job being made redundant (ie the employer no longer needs anyone to do that particular work) and a person being fired (for some wrong-doing or poor work performance).  The former has little or no stigma attached to it (especially now after such a long recession) and I have often put candidates forward who are available because of redundancy situations.
– Nicola Franklin, Director, The Library Career Centre Ltd.

Terry Ann LawlerIt is certainly not our City’s or my policy to eliminate someone who has been fired from our pool.  There are sometimes very compelling mitigating circumstances to be considered.  So no, it is not a deal breaker.  In fact, I was once fired from a steak house in college, myself:)

I do not know if anyone I have hired has ever been fired.  It is possible.  I do not believe that our application process is set up to reveal a firing.  However, if you were fired from one of your last few positions and they are on your resume, it might come up.  In addition, if you are using references and they are from the organization which fired you, it might come up.
I once had a candidate mention that she had been fired from her previous organization for attendance issues and then not mention any thing else about it.  I was floored.  Were it myself, I would talk about those mitigating circumstances right away.  For example, ‘I or my child had a medical issue that is now resolved’, or ‘my relative passed away’, whatever.  I am not advocating that you reveal too much personal or medical information or lie on your resume, but if it is noted that you have been fired and there is a circumstance that you feel makes it understandable, by all means, mention it.  It might make all the difference.
On the other hand, you will need to examine this circumstance carefully and run it by someone else who will give you an honest opinion.  If, in an interview, someone tells me they were fired because their boss was ‘out to get them’, I would raise an eyebrow.  Be sure that your mitigating circumstance is mature, not petty and is realistic.  Personality conflicts don’t cut it.  I expect my employees to pretend to like each other and treat each other with respect, regardless of personal feelings.  So, if someone was fired for not being able to deal with someone they didn’t like, I might be hesitant to bring them onto my team.

Remember the rule that you should never be negative about past employers in your interviews.  There is always a way (sometimes hard to find) to frame your situation without the sour grapes.  Enlist friends or even a professional resume/job skills person to help you if you need it.

– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library
It is not something of which we would normally be aware, since we do not contact previous employers..  Being fired for being gay would be a plus, if revealed by applicant.
– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Have you ever hired someone who had been fired from a previous position? 

Yes we have.  Both directly to work for us and also to work with our clients. Also when screening potential temporary staff we usually allow for one ‘indiscretion’ as you quite often don’t get a true picture of both sides of the story.

A few years back I hired someone who I subsequently found out had been fired (from a very shamefaced employer who decided not to tell me at the time).  After a year it became apparent that I was going to have to also do the deed.  The individual beat me to it by handing in their notice.  Now how do I do a reference for that person?  I can’t say I fired them because I didn’t and it is not really politic to  say I was about to do the deed!  More recently I was about to institute dismissal proceedings against someone and they left in advance of the first official meeting to go to another job.  That hirer didn’t ask me for a reference so there was no dilemma.  Interestingly the person didn’t last long in the new job.

Is having been fired a deal breaker, or are there understandable circumstances?

Being fired is not a deal breaker.  There are understandable circumstances and I often think that people can be fired unjustifiably.  I would examine to the best of my ability the full circumstances and if there was room for doubt then I would give that person a second chance.  If the person was to work for a client I would, with the agreement of the individual, tell the client.  We have recently done this and so far all is well.  People make mistakes and also don’t always fit the culture of organisations.

Is there anything in your application process which would reveal that a candidate had been fired?

Short of directly asking the candidate a yes or no question and hoping they tell the truth, no.  Employers make all sorts of agreements with people when firing them.  Often we have taken up references, both verbally and in writing and dismissal has not been referred to even when we have known it to have occurred.  Recently a candidate elected not to tell us they had been fired and it only came out when a full security check was done.  It is rare that employers carry out full security checks.

A ‘no’ answer to the reference request question ‘would you hire this person again?’ is an alert.  It would result in my making a phone call to the client to ask them what their policy was in this area.  References, both written and verbal can be a minefield and are not always reliable.  Networking (gossip) is useful when checking, but one must make every effort to verify the information if it comes via an indirect source.

– Sue Hill, Managing Director, and Donald Lickley, Consultant, Sue Hill Recruitment

Paula Hammet“Is having been fired a deal breaker?” Depends. Were you laid off, fired with cause, or denied tenure?
Unfortunately lots of people have been laid off in the past few years due to budget shortfalls.  I wouldn’t hold that against someone.  I would want to know what they have been doing while unemployed. Did they update their skills and education? Volunteer or intern with an organization where they could hone their professional chops? Keep involved with professional organizations? Take the initiative to try something new? Start a well-respected blog? In a rapidly changing profession, what did the person do to keep in top form?
I work in an academic library where librarians are faculty and are represented by a strong union. In such an environment, a person would have to do something pretty serious to be fired with cause.  I would want to investigate, including talking with prior supervisors, before I would feel comfortable making a job offer.  It may have just been a spectacularly bad fit, but it’s a big red flag.
With a denial of tenure, again, I would want to know why, and I would appreciate an upfront, succinct and candid statement from the candidate. I don’t need details, but I would want to know if it was due to lack of or poor scholarship,  or was there perceived deficiency in the candidate’s ability to do their primary duties?  Not all academic libraries require the same level of scholarship, so make sure you understand the requirements of the specific jobs to which you are applying, and seek assistance early on to truly understand and meet the requirements. Rather than actually being denied tenure, it’s more likely that after 2-3 years of poor performance evaluations someone will realize that particular job is not for them. If that’s the case, be honest with yourself and with hiring committees. One library might not hire you, but you might be a great fit in another.
“Is there anything in your application process which would reveal that a candidate had been fired?”
I’ve been on a lot of hiring committees, and I don’t like to feel like I’m being worked or that someone is trying to hide something in their application. Be honest. Address the issue in your cover letter. If you’ve had successful jobs since then, it’s less of an issue. Don’t bad mouth prior employers. Be professional.  There’s a lot of competition out there, so be honest with yourself about why you were fired and see what you can learn from it.
Good luck.
– Paula Hammett, Librarian at Sonoma State University

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading!  If you’re changing color due to emotions engendered by something you read  here, you might be a comment-chameleon.  So comment, comment, comment-chameleon!


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Other Organization or Library Type, Public

4 responses to “Further Questions: Is Having Been Fired a Deal Breaker?

  1. Anonymous

    I think that have a fired isn[t neccesarialy a deafult circumstance. In fact, in Perú there are some situations that mekes it occures, but it isn{t for a deal breaker instead for a political situation or enterprise policy.

  2. Cat

    Regarding “personnel issues” in a firing/resignation: I understand the adage that co-workers don’t need to like each other to get work done. However, what if you were threatened by a co-worker, and when you reported it, administration treated it like a joke, even though this co-worker has access to guns and is vocal about their ability to use them. In the aftermath, you are harassed by the one who threatened you in the form of increasingly frequent visits to your workspace under the guise of “just being polite and having a friendly chat” with your staff, even though everyone is uncomfortable in the wake of the threat. Harassment also takes the form of unnecessary shuffling of items on your receiving shelves by the aggressor (in your workspace, of course) lasting up to 10 minutes at a time, and occurring every hour or so – clearly unnecessary to the aggressor getting work done, not having occurred before the threat, and highly disruptive to you and your staff. You try to structure your workflow so that both of you are productive, but you don’t directly interact – basically, the aggressor is not allowed to enter your workspace, and you make alternative arrangements so they can get what they need to do their work. Administration refuses to back your process and insists that the one who threatened you should be allowed access to your work area whenever they “need” it, even though you can demonstrate that the person really doesn’t “need” access to your area to get their work done. You can prove continued productivity, and even an increase, in both your and the aggressor’s areas in the wake of the ban with hard statistics, but are still told you have to let the aggressor have access to your space. Would leaving or getting fired for non-compliance in this scenario make you look petty and unreasonable?

  3. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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