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Is There a Better Way to Explain Being Fired?

Is There a Better Way to Explain Being Fired?

J.T. & Dale

March 02, 2011

It’s not easy to explain being fired when job searching. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though.

‘JT & Dale Talk Jobs’ is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country and can be found at

Dear J.T. & Dale: I worked at a large health insurance company for 10 years, until I got terminated for receiving an e-mail from a co-worker. The e-mail got hung up on the server, and by the time the problem was fixed, the company had terminated the person who sent the e-mail and everyone he had sent it to. I had no idea what was in it, and still don’t. Is there a correct way to state why I was let go? Is there a more professional term than “terminated” or “fired”? — Christy

Dale: I bet when you’ve told friends that story, they’ve said, “Unbelievable!” They believe you, of course, because they know you, but I fear hiring managers are going to think “Unbelievable!” and mean it; after all, they are accustomed to being suspicious, and will assume that there’s something more going on. I wish you’d track down the other people involved — it’s good networking, anyway — and find out what was in this poison e-mail.

J.T.: Getting back to your question, simply state you are part of a “group termination.” If they ask what happened, say the company decided a group should be let go for receiving an unauthorized e-mail from an employee.

Dale: Argh. That still leaves unanswered questions, which I fear will put Christy’s application in the “when in doubt, leave it out” pile. Given this was a group event, and that it had nothing to do with performance, I would call it a “layoff.” What the company did was so wrong, so stupid, it comes across as weird corporate voodoo, and you don’t want to go around confusing prospective employers.

J.T.: Well, Christy, apparently I have more faith in hiring managers than Dale does, but either way, what you do now is find people willing to be references. My guess is HR will only verify dates of employment and salary history, so if you can get some of your former colleagues to vouch for you, it would offset what happened and give you all the credibility you need.

jt-dale-logoJeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm,, and of the career management blog, Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with

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