If you have been fired from a job or forced to resign in the past, there are a few simple steps you can take to minimize the impact this event can have on your future of becoming a police officer and passing the law enforcement background check.
First, you should know that according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, a little over 2,000 people are fired every month. So you are certainly not alone and in fact you may be in some very good company. In 1985, Steve Jobs was fired from Apple computer, a company he co-founded. Jobs returned to Apple in 1998 and made the company the technological giant it is today. Michael Bloomberg, who is one of the richest men in the world and a three time New York City mayor, was fired in 1981 from the Salomon Brothers investment banking firm. So you can certainly have been fired in the past and still be successful.
Second, employers realize that people can be fired or forced to resign for a number of reasons. Some of them are legitimate and sometimes employees are let go for more questionable reasons.
In this business insider article, some of the top reasons listed for getting fired include complaining about your boss on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, becoming embroiled in office politics, being caught lying or stealing, and excessive absenteeism. Of course the best solution is to avoid being fired in the first place, but we can’t always change the past.
Most terminations are classified into firings for-cause and without-cause. In some jobs, you must be fired for a specific reason and there needs to be a well-documented justification for you termination. In other “at-will” jobs you can be fired “without cause,” for any reason whatsoever. We will talk about strategies for both these circumstances a little later on in this article.
Frame the Conversation
Public relations experts, experienced trail attorneys, and political strategists all agree that the best strategy for disclosing negative information is to get out in front of what happened and “frame the conversation” in advance. “Framing the conversation” can include putting the incident in perspective, filling the story with all the correct facts, and generally offering some context. If you leave the conversation “wide-open” for your previous employer to talk about, they may not give the same context.
Being fired is certainly something that will come up during the police background check. Therefore, it is important to put what happened in context and to “craft your message” in advance, so as to portray what happened in the best light.
When crafting your message about getting fired, you should never lie. You need to be honest about what happened, but this doesn’t stop us from portraying what happened in the best possible light.
Focus on the Positives When Fired For Cause
If you were fired for cause and legitimately made a mistake, your best strategy would be to admit your mistake, portray it as a youthful indiscretion (if applicable), and focus on the positives. The positive part of getting fired is always the lessons you learn from the experience. You could talk about how you learned how important it is to have open lines of communication with your manager and regular feedback meetings. Depending on what happened, you might also say that you learned that organizational changes may sometimes require that some employees may be fired, but that this also represents an opportunity to seek new challenges and for personal growth.
You can also talk about the successes you have had since being fired and how long ago it happened. You should also speak about other long-term jobs you have held without any issues and all the successes you had with the organization in question. Don’t let the conversation just focus on the negative of being fired.
As a side note, when talking about getting fired, it is important to not seem angry or defensive. You should check your body language when talking about the issue in-person with potential employers. Make sure your posture is relaxed and open.
Being Fired Without Cause – Team Up with Other Fired Employees
If you were fired without legitimate cause, because your boss was a jerk, or due to office politics then there is a good chance that you are not the only person who was treated this way. Get in contact with other past employees who were fired by this same boss and have them write you a short and professional letter describing their experience with the same employer and boss. If several other people were fired for no apparent reason and they too were mystified by what happened, you will likely shift and deflect the focus of the conversation onto the boss and their poor management skills. If there is an ongoing pattern of poor communication with other employees or impulsive firing decisions for example, your future employers are more likely to recognize this was the real problem behind what happened.
Another tip is to get a letter of recommendation from another supervisor or manager in the organization who understands what really happened behind the scenes and thinks highly of you. They may be aware of some of the inner-office politics or other factors that unfairly contributed to your separation from employment. They will likely be unwilling to comment about these factors in writing, but would likely be willing to talk about all the great things you did with the organization during your tenure.
During background checks, background investigators expect that an angry ex-spouse may have an axe-to-grind with you and will speak poorly about you, however this is all taken in context. If a common theme appears with all your past romantic partners, there is likely cause for concern. If it is only one angry ex, out or several, there is much less cause for concern. The same rule applies for employers. If you were only fired from one job in your past, yet you have had an otherwise long standing work history and positive work references, this will likely be only a small part of an otherwise glowing background report.
Hire a Reference Checking Service
If you are not sure what a past employer might say about you, you can inexpensively hire a reference checking service from the internet who will call all your prior employers and ask for a job reference. They will try to probe several areas, like asking if the employee is eligible for re-hire, what the reason for leaving was, etc. They find out what your former employers are willing to disclose and then provide you with a detailed written report of what was said.
There are no federal laws governing what employers can say about you in the context of a job reference so the information that past employers will provide often varies. However, the libel and slander laws are such that many Human Resources department’s best practices are now to only confirm basic information like dates of employment and job title.
By knowing in advance what past-employers are likely to say about you during a job reference, you can frame the conversation towards the positives and craft a message to address any negative information up front. Being fired in the past is hardly a deal breaker in your law enforcement job search and is more common than you might think. By following the tips listed in this article you should be able to successfully pass the background check and keep a prior termination from becoming a deal-breaker in the hiring process.