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How do I "position" getting terminated from a job because of my inability to play "internal politics"?

Answers

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

I don't believe this question is one that can be answered on its face without specific details.

That said, the “strategy” in answering would be to answer truthfully and succinctly and then follow on with a question of your own to move the conversation forward and away from this potential pitfall. This follow on question “could” even ask about how internal politics play out inside their company. While that might seem dangerous, to not ask is to perhaps jump directly from the kettle into the pot.

Topic Expert
Moshe Kravitz
Title: Director of Finance
Company: IDT Telecom
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, IDT Telecom) |

1. A practical rule of thumb in interviewing (and in life!) is: Never speak derogatorily about company X to company Y because Y is thinking, "What will he say about me to company Z?"

2. Gloss over the termination event as briefly as possible to satisy the potential employer that it was not due to any shortcomings in you and they need not be concerned about a recurrence. Then turn back to discussing the position. Since it's probably an emotional issue with you, practice with your friends giving your brief, objective answer until it's emotion free enough to say it live at an interview. Something that is still bothering you will likely emerge somehow as an issue in the interview process.

3. Concern on your part to avoid this situation in the future is quite valid. Be cautious and diligent to check out the new company, but not neurotic.

Lyle Newkirk
Title: CFO
Company: Corrigo Incorporated
(CFO, Corrigo Incorporated) |

How you respond can make the difference between getting your next job or not. Assume that a new employer will find out the answer anyway so do not mislead.
Have a canned one sentence response that you can say in your sleep and that does not sound defensive.
Practice your answer over and over and practice your body language as you say it.
Get a trusted friend or colleague to critique it.
Do not disparage.
If you were replaced due to politics, a way of saying it is that your supervisor wanted to put his/her own person in the job and there were no open lateral moves. End of story.
If it is a negative work environment, word will get out but it need not come from you.
If the former employer is disparaging you and it is not truthful or is misleading, you have a legal action against that employer and you should pursue it to at least eliminate the negative press.
Good luck.

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP of Finance & Operations
Company: RBA Consulting
(VP of Finance & Operations, RBA Consulting) |

Cindy's advice is good.

If this company is not for you, then best to exit - in today's connected world, best to go on the best terms possible. I've seen too many one-sided stories float around, so find a firm that fits you.

Good luck.

Kurt Kipfer
Title: CFO Emeritus
Company: International Medical Group, Inc.
(CFO Emeritus, International Medical Group, Inc.) |

Dear anonymous,

Am i misreading this questions? Positioning to get terminated? Why would one "position" to get terminated ... for a possible "severance" or to collect unemployment? If the job or company isn't a fit or you don't subscribe to the internal politics of your employer, why wouldn't your search out new employment opportunities and then tender your resignation? Or if you don't want to go thru the time involved to locate a new job while still having to tolerate your current undesirable work environment, then tender your resignation as soon as conveniently possible. What has happened to professional ethics?

Please tell me i have misread your question?

Philip Grantham
Title: Managing Director
Company: Columbia Consulting Group
(Managing Director, Columbia Consulting Group) |

As a recruiter, I hear this often....sometimes it is a convenient way to avoid the difficult reality that you really did not perform up to the expectations placed upon you. Since we all have worts, it is best to own up to the shortcomings manifested in that position, and indicate how you are better for the experience. That is, turn the liability into an asset.

Scott Gunn
Title: CFO
Company: In-Transition
(CFO, In-Transition) |

I would agree with the comments thus far, but there are times when one "does not get along well" with others at certain companies and as such is "terminated" and this has nothing to do with results or not meeting expectations. What is the advice in this case?

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Hi Scott,

I read the posted question differently than some of the others who chimed in ... as if the poster "had" been terminated because he did not play the internal politics game. So my answer on strategy should answer your question. Given the few details provided, I don't believe it is possible to "specifically" answer the question beyond how to approach answering the question.

I hope that helps.

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP of Finance & Operations
Company: RBA Consulting
(VP of Finance & Operations, RBA Consulting) |

Scott -

To your point of when you do not get along well and being terminated for other than results.

First, do an honest assessment of the situation. What is not working for you? Is it the culture (wrong type of firm), co-workers (you cannot choose those) or what you want (does role fit you). This will help you determine if the situation can be salvaged. If not, it's good information to avoid a repeat.

Second, if you are in situation that cannot be salvaged, then start using your network to help land a new gig. No different than above - try to go out on the best terms possible.

Third, if you are terminated, then go back to the people with whom you had good relationships and seek a referral. The sooner the better. Ask them to post it to your LinkedIn profile, a public endorsement is a powerful tool.

Lastly, I've worked in 5 industries with folks from 25 countries - so I've had my fair share of challenging work situations. I found going to lunch or coffee with those who presented the most challenge was a good way to smooth a situation - once we got to know each other outside of work, it helped us work together better or at least understand how to work with one another.

Jim Covington
Title: Consultant
Company: Self
(Consultant, Self) |

I'd respond with the fact that there are certain values that you strongly believe in. For me: Teamwork, responsibility, integrity, respect. When you really get down to it... Bad politics is a violation of one of these four core values. I once left a company as they insisted on hiring illegals and the owner and I could not agree on putting the company at risk for $6,000 fine for each illegal employee and putting him at risk for felony penalties and jail time. Integrity = 0. Ultimate responsibility to the organization =0.

That may not be the case in your situation, but if it is... it can be "justified" and presented as a positive.

All the best!
Jim

J. Ed Neufer CPA
Title: Consultant
Company: CONSULTING
(Consultant, CONSULTING) |

This is just speculation, but if someone is positioning termination, they must really not like the company's culture, industry, location, or questionable/illegal practices (or a few individuals), are fine with receiving severance (or unemployment), and/or the role is not ideal from a personal perspective. I've worked for people that made work life very difficult (many times due to internal politics), and I've worked for companies that inappropriately communicated with my ex-wife after the divorce was well, well final. That DESTROYS trust. Sometimes there is severance when people have been given no other roles or possible scenarios.

Mark Stokes
Title: CFO
Company: Private
(CFO, Private) |

If you are going to blame the company that terminated you for anything, you had better have a great reason and hope the recruiter/hiring manager doesn't call your old company for a "blind" reference on you. Going negative usually only serves to reflect poorly on you. The hiring manager will see things more through the eyes of your former employer (the role that your new manager will be taking on) than through your eyes. So you may not get a sympathetic audience and you may only scuttle your opportunity with the new employer.

If it was just "I didn't get along well with someone (or many people)", this will not go over well. We all have had to deal with better or worse work environments and colleagues. If we left when the going got tough, that would be "quitting". As in, "you're a quitter". So your reason has to be more than that. Especially at higher levels in the organization. You will always have tough people and tough situations which are not to your liking. The hiring manager will want to know that you have the steel within you to get past tough people and times. That's management and leadership, along with maturity and fortitude.

The tough part here is that you got terminated. That means that you failed to win at whatever "politics" were being played. This says that your performance was not good enough for another exec or the CEO (if you are at or near the executive ranks)to come to your rescue. That's a tough spot to be in. Could you recast it in any other way? Such as, "they eliminated our function", or "the company was contracting and I put myself on the chopping block b/c they would no longer need my skills" or the like? Sorry, this is just a tough one to deal with b/c there are so many negative connotations that are so difficult to defend w/o digging a deeper hole.

I definitely like Mark's advice of going back quickly to find references if they are available.

Scott Gunn
Title: CFO
Company: In-Transition
(CFO, In-Transition) |

I think that the advice track here is "going negative" and is not helpful. Termination happens and those that have never gone through it, then you are fortunate. A person can take responsibility for what happened and grow from it. Termination does not need to be a "career killer". How about some advice for how this person can communicate that he learned from the experience and is better for it?

J. Ed Neufer CPA
Title: Consultant
Company: CONSULTING
(Consultant, CONSULTING) |

Mark,

While I respect your thoughts, was that a general comment? What if the employee only went negative after the company did? What if the employee knew that the company was bad-mouthing them, perhaps forcing them to go out of the industry without a noncompete, hacking into their private PC/network and monitoring their private phone (hurting potential opportunities), saying they quit and weren't terminated (impacting severance), but also keeping their e-mail active for years and posting online profiles of the person still working there (despite always denying pay and benefits)? Ghost employee or identity theft? Sounds malicious, or at least highly political, to me. All the person can do is try to negotiate or get attorneys, law enforcement, and/or other regulators involvedd.

Mark Stokes
Title: CFO
Company: Private
(CFO, Private) |

Ed:

Fair questions. My take (and YMMV) is that if your former employer did that to you, your next call should be to your own lawyer for redress. But regardless, your new employer won't know about that (unless they read about your termination in the paper, in which case you've got bigger problems :)) and won't much care about it. I'm with Jim on this one, which is the less said the better. If something does come up or it needs addressing, keep it as positive as you can. Negativity towards past employers tends to reflect negative light back on the candidate or it creates questions in the mind of the listener about the candidate. I would just stay away from the whole enchilada if at all possible, and when not, don't attack b/c it may well backfire.

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP of Finance & Operations
Company: RBA Consulting
(VP of Finance & Operations, RBA Consulting) |

Ed -

The issues you raise cross the line from an "inability to work together", which is the area I was commenting upon, to direct actions by a company to damage an employee reputation.

You are correct that the types of actions you describe require a different response involving legal counsel.

However, what many have advocated (hold to your integrity, stay positive, and move on to the next career move), I believe still hold true.

I have two colleagues who had to engage in legal actions against a prior firm.

If asked why they left, neither bad mouthed the firm once, they would simply say "I am currently pursuing legal action against my former firm, so I cannot disclose the specifics. However, I do have references from former colleagues".

In short, they turned their focus on the next gig, not the on-going legal matters, in order to hit the networking circuit with a positive attitude.

Jim Schwartz
Title: Corporate financial advisor
Company: Wabash Financial Strategies
(Corporate financial advisor, Wabash Financial Strategies) |

As long as you didn't do anything illegal or patently unethical, the reason you were terminated is irrelevant to anyone but you. From a personal development standpoint, it's wise to learn from the experience and try to adopt behavior or procure education or training to avoid a repeat.

My favorite response to this question is to follow the KISS principle. The less said, the easier it is to avoid appearing defensive or digging a hole for yourself. Thus, "My job was eliminated." should suffice. If accurate, you can add the brief comment "as a cost reduction move" or "there were no performance-related issues." Even if you're given a reason for termination by the former company, it may not the "real" reason. The same logic applies when a company doesn't hire you. Take the reason with a grain of salt.

There was an earlier suggestion that it's okay to hit back if the other party hits first (i.e., the former company is bad-mouthing you and that justifies a similar reaction from you, etc.). Even if you're suing your former firm, take the high road in communications with friends, networking contacts and potential employers. Having been in the work force over 40 years and also having sales experience, I can attest to the fact that you never know what the future may hold. No matter how justified you believe it is or how good it will make you or your spouse feel, you simply cannot afford to trash customers, co-workers or companies that may have slighted you in some fashion or as a way of trying to get a sales edge. It only reflects negatively on you.

As a hiring manager, it's a turn-off when applicants complain about or disparage former firms. It immediately raised questions about whether the person was difficult and would become a managerial headache for me. If there was a true conflict with your supervisor, who may be contacted as a reference, it is important to understand what responses s/he might provide. Don't assume, ask. It may not be as bad as you think because most companies are wary of getting sued. You might even try scripting out a response or supplying talking points (by phone or in writing) for the former supervisor that relate your skills and successes to your proposed job responsibilities. This, of course, doesn't guarantee those points will be mentioned. Finally, if the new employer is likely to hear unflattering things in a reference investigation, lay appropriate groundwork with them in order to avoid surprises.

J. Ed Neufer CPA
Title: Consultant
Company: CONSULTING
(Consultant, CONSULTING) |

I hear you loud and fairly clear. It is understandable that people might not favor a perspective that asserts "they started it." People who know me know that I'm most often a positive person. However, only after attorneys have perceptually failed, law enforcement and/or regulators have not perceptually done what was expected, and the company has provoked responses (saying one quit or was still an employee while denying pay and benefits) did any retaliation emerge. I really thought I was out of options, and so I adopted the most reasonable stance. The priorities were not always consistent, and so I developed backups just in case things got really loose. Should try more to Live, Laugh, Love perhaps.

It's not good to lie to someone as to the reason they're being terminated (especially if someone is spreading something around without your knowledge, which eventually becomes YOUR knowledge whether it's accurate or often not!), and I don't worry about digging a hole for myself or hearing anything in the media. There's always a little "he said, she said," but documentation helps! Interesting you say attest, just not a word I typically use. Are you speaking of a particular former firm, because I'm not aware that there's a major problem with them? Last time I was an actual employee of a firm was 2002. The problem didn't start then. Anyway, I'm currently not married (divorced from ex in 2005, but the justice of the peace would not be too far away for wife #2).

And yes, I'm always careful not to assume!!! I figure one often doesn't know all the details or facts when making assumptions, and/or being thrown into an officer position while someone wants you to accept responsibility for actions occurring previously without your knowledge! That's why positions just below officer are sometimes appealing, but some officer positions are comfortable after getting an idea of the situation.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

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I would disagree. If a reference check to the prior employer is done, it may be very relevant, particularly if the answers (the candidate's and the company's) don't jive.

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I agree with the KISS principle - but it MUST be grounded in truth. To say "my job was eliminated" if in fact "eliminated" is really "terminated," don't do it. If you begin the process on a lie, and sometimes even a little distortion of the truth, you are setting yourself up for a huge fall when, not if, the lie is uncovered. And that ... can cause more harm than being rejected because you told the truth.

To reiterate my strategy in the initial answer, answer and then ask a question to keep the conversation moving forward and away from the details of the termination.

subraramanyam P
Title: consultant
Company: retired
(consultant , retired) |

Except this “Position” everything else of the question is telling me that this question is India specific and the phrase “internal politics” is the most copyrighted word in this part of the world. Internal politics in accounts position erupts from the corrupt people who are in the higher positions. Basically when their activities are being watched or when their activities are curbed by new systems, new controls new reporting methods, they tend to look for avenues to get rid of this person who is very active in bringing controls. If that is the case, stay there and also get mentally ready that you will be fired at any time. And then work late hours and prepare a good amount of record on the mid deeds – with proper supporting examples – no guessing is valid – so you need to look for the actual cases – either earlier before you joined, after your entry to the company and start preparing a record and submit it to the directors, CEO with a letter asking them to accept your resignation as your continuation in the organization will give no scope for his performance.

J. Ed Neufer CPA
Title: Consultant
Company: CONSULTING
(Consultant, CONSULTING) |

I'm fine no matter what happens...whether it gets ugly or whether there's a good, negotiated resolution/offer/settlement. The records are there (and/or the potential witnesses), and I know what people were actually around and what position they held within the company. But am not going to believe a resolution until it comes from a company representative in writing, or into my Chase account! Because otherwise it's not just a cultural, internal politics matter, it really could be a potential Medicaid fraud matter...

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

If the question is being asked because you are having problems in your current position due to internal politics here's what you should do: some companies are and some are not a cultural/political fit for some individuals. If you are being sidelined, undermined, set up for failure, whatever it is, this is a toxic environment for you and you should either seek a conversation with your superior for a mutually agreed upon exit terms or continue to do what you believe is right. In the latter case, you will eventually be let go (but with a severance). If you don't think you can take one more day then by all means quit but make sure you have enough savings to sustain you until you find your next job.

If the question is being asked because you already have been terminated: since you were unable to play the internal politics then you need to be sure to get any resentment and anger out of your system before you interview for a job you really want. Those negative feelings WILL be noticed by your interviewer. There's nothing worse than a bitter, negative interviewee. Practice with friends or go on interviews for jobs you are not really interested in and practice your answer until you are comfortable giving an answer that does not put you in a negative light. Try to stay as close to the truth as you can. Don't dwell on the past and steer the conversation to what you can do for them and why you are a fit. No matter what people say - if you come across as relaxed, confident and seem to fit into their culture, nobody will care what happened at your previous employer.

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