Dear Kate & Dale: My sister could get fired or quit and have a new job within weeks. I, however, have been looking for nearly a year. My sister said she never tells prospective employers that she was fired, because they can verify only whether or not you worked at the company. Is this true, and would you recommend it? It seems dishonest, but I am the one still looking for employment. Ė Shon
Kate: On the employment application, in the "reason for leaving" box, you should not state that you were fired. Thatís too harsh. Instead, write, "Prefer to explain in person," and then have a good story. Why were you fired? Most times, itís impersonal. That is, the company was downsizing and you were caught in it, or you worked for a boss who fired everybody.
Dale: Yes, have a story, but if Iím the manager and I see "prefer to explain in person," I roll my eyes and put the application in the reject pile. Whoís going to volunteer to hear someoneís tale of woe? Instead, Iíd put on the application some clichť like "Left to pursue other opportunities." You just leave out the part about the hand in the middle of your back, pushing you out. In the interview, you can say, "I was planning to leave, but they beat me to it." Or, "It wasnít a good fit, and they did me the favor of pointing that out to me." Then you smile, explain what youíve learned from the experience and how youíre determined to find the right place to be the great employee you can be.
Kate: As for what your ex-employer can and cannot say about you, it depends on the state youíre in. So perhaps your sister is right. It seems to work for her, so maybe you should take her advice. If you find yourself obsessing about what the old company is saying about you, you can get someone to call them and say, "Iím calling for employment verification," and see what they are telling people.
Dale: Iím betting youíll find that your old employer is not the problem. Thatís when you can ask yourself what else your sister is doing that makes a job search easy for her. Get her to role-play with you, and perhaps you, too, can breeze into a new job.
Dear Kate & Dale: Iíve been working with a career coach, and while he is knowledgeable, I donít feel we are making the right personal connection. I have another coach in mind, but he is suggesting group sessions. They have five people in a session, which seems too large to me. What do you think? Ė Deidra
Dale: Kate is the expert on this, but let me interject a general comment. Iíve been doing some creativity work with hospitals and pharmacists, some of whom have been researching group sessions for patients for all types of ailments. Now if ever there was a situation that seems to call for personal attention, itís discussing your personal health issues. But patients who try the group sessions prefer them. In the group, you get to hear all the other questions, get comfortable discussing health topics and have more time Ė an hour versus 15 minutes, say. No wonder the group sessions are given higher ratings. The same advantages to group interaction occur in career groups.
Kate: Absolutely. There is feedback and suggestions from peers, as well as networking and support. Further, the group is actually a practice interview. You are forced to cover topics succinctly and learn to get to the important points up front. Thatís why weíve come to believe, after years of research and experimentation, that five to seven is an ideally sized group. We believe you also should have private time with the coach, but the group will make you better, faster.
Kate Wendleton is the founder of The Five OíClock Club, a national career-counseling network (www.fiveoclockclub.com). Her newest book is "Mastering the Job Interview and Winning the Money Game" (Thomson Delmar Learning). Dale Dauten is the founder of The Innovatorsí Lab. His latest book is "Better Than Perfect: How Gifted Bosses and Great Employees Lift the Performance of Those Around Them" (Career Press). Please write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.