I’m sure you all know just exactly how crappy the economy is these days; I have been experiencing my own personal recession since February, 2009, when I was laid off from a long-term job that I loved. Since then, I’ve been riding the rollercoaster from hell and I can’t seem to get off. I was actually hired less than 2 weeks after my initial layoff, and I soon found out that I was the fourth assistant my new employer had hired – in less than 2 years. Uh-oh. And yes, that job turned out to be just as crappy as I thought it was going to be, and my employer turned out to be someone who was not only neurotic and chronically disorganized, but anal-retentive (now, ain’t that a combination??). I lasted 4 months, and then she fired me about 10 minutes before I was going to quit anyway, because I had found another job.
I was hired by ABC Company, a job that I was thrilled to have; the pay was the highest salary I had ever had, and the company had a good reputation and great benefits. I thought my hard times were over. I was wrong. My hard times were just beginning. As soon as I started at ABC Company, I ran afoul of one of my supervisors, a bully who immediately singled me out for her unkind attention and made my life a living hell. To make a long story very short, she mocked and humiliated me in front of my co-workers and gave me lousy performance reviews. After several months of trying to fix the situation without success, I reported her to Human Resources. She was reprimanded, and 2 weeks later, I was summarily fired.
This left me in a very awkward situation. I had only been at this job for 6 months, and I had been fired, ostensibly because I “was not a good fit,” but really because I had gotten my supervisor a reprimand from HR. I needed to find another job, but how on earth was I going to explain what had happened to me?
I think I now know how convicted felons feel when they are released from prison and they attempt to start a new life on the outside. I had never given much thought about my own ability to get a job; I always took it for granted that I would be an asset to any company. After all, I have great skills, I’m intelligent, I’m resourceful, I’m creative, and I can spell any word you throw at me. I spent years temping, and never worried about not being able to find assignments because I was that good.
Now? It was different. It was all different. Somehow, my intelligence, talent, great skills and years of experience didn’t matter anymore, because I had been fired after 6 months on the job. In one fell swoop, my former boss had rendered me practically unemployable. Through no fault of my own, I was suddenly too big a risk. Nobody was going to hire me.
So, in desperation, I made an appointment for a phone consultation with a professional career counselor. When I asked her how I should handle my situation, she told me basically that I should just leave my first job – the one with the crazy lady – off my resume. I was fine with that; her explanation that a five-month job search in this economy wasn’t at all unusual sounded good to me. When it came to my unhappy 6 months at ABC, she suggested that I tell prospective employers that my time there was spent as a contractor on a long-term contract. That also made sense to me: no mess, no fuss, no icky personal details – and best of all, this was an explanation that I could give without crying. I bought in.
I shouldn’t have. The bottom line was that this professional career counselor encouraged me to lie on job applications, and I did. I thought it was a tiny little white lie, and that I wouldn’t be caught. The career counselor said as much.
About 3 months passed. I continued looking for work; I had a few interviews, and finally, I interviewed at a local company for a temp-to-(possible)-hire position to take the place of an administrative assistant who was on a medical leave for a serious illness. I trotted out my contractor story, and when my interviewer asked me if I would submit to a background check, I didn’t hesitate. I told her to go ahead. (I’d make a lousy criminal.)
I guess you can say that this was the second in my series of faulty decisions. My first bad decision was agreeing with the career counselor that I should fib about my 6 months at ABC, and my second bad decision was agreeing to the background check – and not coming clean right then and there. I was desperate for a job; unemployment doesn’t pay much, and believe me, trying to keep the lights on, buy groceries and pay my rent on less than $1900 a month here in the high-priced city of Los Angeles isn’t easy. My rent alone, for a small one-bedroom apartment, ate half of my monthly stipend right off the top.
So I went ahead and started this job. I started getting letters from the background check company, who had verified various things on my application. I was starting to fit in at my new job, when after about 4 weeks, I got another letter from the background check company; they had uncovered my lie about being a contractor.
That was the most humiliating day of my life. I knew I was going to be fired, so I didn’t even go in to work. That’s when I actually wrote the letter below to my employer. I had no choice.
If you don’t already know, you will soon find out that I made a single false statement on my application and in my interview with you, i.e., that I was a contractor at ABC.
I was not.
I owe you an apology and an explanation.
There was a reason for what I did: I am suing ABC for discrimination and wrongful termination. I can provide my attorney’s name, if you wish to verify.
The Employee Assistance Program set me up with an appointment with a career counselor. She helped me tune up my resume, and when I asked her advice on how I should handle this situation in interviews, it was her suggestion that I should say that my time at ABC was spent as a contractor. That seemed like a good idea to me, since it explained simply and without drama the fact that I was only there for 6 months.
I have been working since I was 17, and I have never considered filing a lawsuit against an employer. This is all new to me, and perhaps I made the wrong decision to take the career counselor’s advice with regard to saying that I was a contractor at ABC.
I regret that it all came out this way. I would have preferred to keep this to myself, as it’s a painful topic and I did not want to discuss it in job interviews.
I truly want this job. I believe I’ve done a good job, and I hope that you’ll make the decision to keep me on. I want to be very clear: I was not fired for stealing or for any kind of bad deed or incompetence, and I truly am what I have represented myself to be.
However, if you decide that you cannot keep me on, I will understand.
I think it would be easier if I don’t come in on Monday, that you read this letter from me – which explains everything far better than I could in person. If you decide that you can keep me on, please give me a call. If you don’t call, I’ll understand.
I regret any problem this may have caused you – it was not at all my intention.
In this time of economic recession, do you think honesty is the best policy when it comes to getting a new job? Why, “Of course!” you say. But hold on a moment…
Do you suppose that if I had told my prospective employers the truth about how I had been abused by my supervisor and then fired in retaliation, I would stand a chance of getting hired? Think about it for a second. The official unemployment number as of this date is still at 8.3%, the economy is still slowly recovering, and there are probably at least 50 (if not more) applicants for every position that opens up. I was told that there were over 300 applicants for the position I had at ABC Company. Given that kind of choice, would you hire someone who told you a story about being abused and fired? Probably not.
We’ve all been told that sweet little parable about the young George Washington, who, when he was asked by his father about what had happened to his treasured cherry tree, allegedly said, “I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet.” And we are all so very touched by his honesty, and little Georgie grew up to be the Father of Our Country because he was such an honest fellow who had the courage to tell the truth.
But I think that perhaps if little Georgie was trying to get a job in today’s economy, he might have told his father an entirely different story.