September 11, 2013
Q&A: How do I explain getting fired for being tired?
Q: I’m having trouble explaining why I left my last job. For three years, I worked in a residential treatment facility for youthful offenders. Everything was fine until I was assigned to the third shift, which lasts from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Adjusting to this schedule was extremely difficult.
Because I could not sleep well during the day, I was always tired at work. I began falling asleep in the middle of my shift, which was obviously unacceptable. Since I was never able to break this pattern, they eventually let me go.
Now, when I apply for a job, I’m not sure how to answer the “reason for leaving” question. If I put “terminated” on the application, I never get an interview. If I tell an interviewer I was fired, I never get called back. I want to be honest, but I also want to be hired. How should I handle this?
A: Since you should never lie during a job search, you will need to be truthful without being self-destructive. For example, when applications request “reason for leaving,” you might give an ambiguous answer like “shift difficulties.” This is a true statement which can later be explained during an interview.
When talking with potential employers, focus on the physiological challenges of third-shift work. For example: “Although some people have no problem working at night, I could never seem to reverse my sleep patterns. Since I didn’t get enough sleep during the day, I kept dozing off during my shift. I was never able to adjust, so unfortunately I had to leave.”
Of course, this explanation only works if you are applying for positions with regular daytime hours. But I assume there’s no question about that.
Q: I am extremely upset about a recent reorganization. For several years, I have been a project manager in an international nonprofit agency. As part of my job, I have always been expected to attend senior staff meetings and participate in critical decisions.
Last month, the board brought in a new president who immediately began making major changes. He created the position of program director, then promoted one of my co-workers to fill it. This guy is now my boss and has taken my place in all the important meetings.
I would still like to have a career with this organization, but I’m feeling very discouraged. Do you think I should talk to the president?
A: The answer to that question depends on what you want to say. If you hope to convince the president that these moves were a mistake, then no, you should not talk to him. Criticizing his decisions will only get your relationship off to a rocky start.
On the other hand, a positive, productive discussion about your role and his expectations might be quite useful. But even this conversation should be delayed until your disappointment and resentment are completely under control. These negative feelings are usually difficult to disguise.
Although your reaction to this sudden reduction in status is certainly understandable, I hope you realize that such changes are not at all unusual. Turnover at the top almost always results in a revised organization chart. But if you can support the president's vision and work well with your new boss, then perhaps the next promotion will be yours.
Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at yourofficecoach.com.
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