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What if I didn't leave my last job on good terms?

The Hiring Process Ask the Employer

This month, we asked our panel of hiring professionals to respond to the following question from a job seeker:

"I did not leave my last job on good terms. What, if anything, can I do to prevent this experience from interfering with future job opportunities?"

Here's some of the great advice we received from our panelists:

When it comes to reference checks, keep in mind that there is a difference between a company providing a reference vs confirming prior employment. Employment verifications done by the HR department will only validate basic information, such as dates of employment, salary, title, etc. Most companies will not give an employee reference, according to company policy; however, you could ask a co-worker or another manager for a personal reference, if a reference is absolutely necessary.

Try to focus on the positive by sharing the good things that happened during your employment; for example, you were given 3 raises and a promotion while you were there. Another good rule of thumb is to ask for copies of performance reviews (if they are favorable), accolades or kudos received during your work life and have copies of those documents ready to show prospective employers when needed.

It may also be helpful to note that most employment applications have a section where you can indicate if the prospective employer can contact your past employers.

If you did not leave your last job on good terms, be honest about the reasons why but avoid using phrases such as "a personality clash with my boss", "didn't like the people I worked with", "there was change within the organization that I didn't agree with", "the organization was headed in a direction that I wasn't interested in", etc.  All of these phrases could be true; however, it leaves the interviewer with the perception that you are not adaptable, you do not interact well with others, and you have your own agenda.  If some of these reasons are true, that's great, but be specific about why you didn't like working with the people in your organization, why you were not interested in going in the same direction as the organization, etc.  Being specific will eliminate any questionable speculations the interviewer might have about your person and will validate the work ethic and standards you set forth for yourself.  Being specific with reasons why will sometimes eliminate unnecessary reference calls to your past employer as well.

Lastly, Frederick County Workforce Services offers a class called "Interview Success" that you may want to consider attending. The instructor discusses specific ways to answer interview questions relating to this particular circumstance. Check the FCWS Calendar of Events to find out when this free class is offered.