Clarify recent job dismissal

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q. I was recently asked to leave a job after my probationary period. The human resources manager emphasized that this was not a disciplinary action. She said management viewed me as dedicated and hardworking, but felt the position had not worked out as expected.

This outcome didn’t surprise me, because the entire staff seemed to resent my being hired. I was given the same responsibilities as a senior employee who clearly considered me an unwelcome rival. My manager was seldom around and made no effort to clarify my duties or resolve conflicts.

When interviewers ask why I left this company, I’m not sure what to say. I know honesty is best, but I don’t want to sound too negative. What do you suggest?

A. First, let’s consider the statement “honesty is best.” As an applicant, you should scrupulously avoid being dishonest, because that can lead to all sorts of problems. However, you must also remember that “honesty” does not mean describing your opinion of events in gory emotional detail.

Most questions actually have many different honest answers. During interviews, your objective is to provide a truthful response which will not alarm potential employers.

For example: “I found myself in a situation where there was a lot of disagreement about my role, which created considerable confusion. I left on good terms at the end of my probationary period, because everyone agreed that the position did not seem to be working out.”

Talk with your former HR manager to see if the company will provide a favorable reference and describe your departure as a resignation. Since this parting sounds fairly amiable, management may have no desire to interfere with your future employment.

Q. My new manager appears to be very controlling. “Stan” recently hired me as a consultant because I have the skills he needs for a technical project. He often says, “I don’t want to sound like a micromanager,” then proceeds to deliver a detailed critique of my work.

Stan once asked me to attend a meeting with him, but told me not to say anything. His method of questioning is much more investigative than collaborative. I need to nip this micromanagement in the bud before it gets any worse. How can I tell my boss to back off?

A. You seem to be confused about roles in this situation. If you are a consultant, then Stan is not your boss, he’s your client. Successful consultants must be able to work with a variety of client personalities, even when they are very frustrating.

While some clients are easygoing and hands-off, others are highly directive and engaged. Stan obviously falls into the latter category, so instead of resenting his involvement, you must adjust to his particular style.

If Stan critiques your work, try to understand his preferences. When he asks “investigative” questions, answer calmly and completely. If he prefers to be the speaker in meetings, abide by his wishes. Ultimately, Stan’s opinion of this relationship may determine whether you are invited back for future projects, so try to keep that in mind.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

Twitter: @officecoach