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Ask HN: Fired from my first job – how do I talk about it during interviews?
70 points by jhatemyjob 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments
Basically, I was on a shitty team at a zombie startup. I only stayed there because I wanted a "year of experience" ASAP. Some cliffs:

* 30% of their engineering team quit as I joined (apparently there was a big fight between the lead designer / founders, the designer got canned, the engineers quit in response)

* constant check-ins / viewing of our screen

* pile tech debt on top of tech debt (while not even acknowledging there’s tech debt in the first place)

* mandatory meeting at 5pm every friday, where we sit around a powerpoint drinking hard alcohol giving status updates

My manager was a negative person. He would constantly talk about how this is "garbage" or how that is "trash", and I was expected to agree with him. Always talked and about things he hated or how things sucked. Rarely anything positive. He never admitted he was wrong and the rest of the leadership was clearly upset with him, but could not fire him because of politics.

When I joined, I had a lot of suggestions for improving the codebase but my manager shot every single one of them down with, in retrospect, bullshit explanations. For instance, he has said:

* There is no reason to use Objective-C

* Nobody writes C anymore

* Killing an app in iOS via the app switcher is the same as `kill -9`

* It's impossible for anyone to understand our [60KLOC] codebase - BIGGEST RED FLAG EVER

After a while I told him I didn't like the job, and the only reason why I didn't quit was because I wanted a year of experience. I exercised 1 year + 1 month of stock options. I took vacation that would end 2 weeks before my 1y + 1mo. When I got back from my vacation they fired me for "performance".

I don't know what I'm gonna do in next interviews. Do I keep it on my resume or take it off? I don't want to go into my interview, have them ask about my experience at this company, explain I got fired and say "the company was shit" because that will be just me complaining.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

EDIT: More clarification here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20946023

 help




Yeah, this is an important career hack: leave your company while the leaving is good. If you stay until things go bad, then your resume will be nothing but a long list of firings and/or bad reviews. Sad but true. Took me a while to figure that out.

So your last work environment was a disaster and you got fired? Here's how to describe it in your next interview: It was a GREAT PLACE to work, I loved it, so many great learning experiences! Unfortunately the objectives of the company shifted away from my core experiences and I wasn't needed, so they had to let me go. But GREAT people there.

Seriously.


I agree with the spin of this comment, but would add you don't want to be sycophantically positive about working there.

If the place sucked, you can diplomatically point out it was a challenging experience (not ideal) and you learned a lot from it. Just don't dwell on the negative. Emphasizing the opportunities you're hoping to find in your next job might give the interviewer the impression you didn't find it to be a good fit.


I wholeheartedly agree with this comment. Interviewers are very stupid people that don't realize that they are practically selecting only for people who lie.

Why do you think I'm switching jobs, because it is so great I can't handle being so happy at a job so I have to switch? Or maybe because it is shit. But you can't say that. I tried being honest didn't work. I tried lying, it worked very well.


There is more than one way to be honest about a situation. This person can start talking about the company spitefully, trashing them to the interviewer. Unfortunately, some folks that do this also do the same to their current employer or coworkers.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'd rather not knowingly hire in this sort of toxicity. Tough love and unfiltered opinions (honesty) can simply be an excuse for being an asshole when there are other options.

The person can calmly describe that there were pre-existing problems, though, hint and be honest at them (but not dwell), and go on about how they learned some life lessons and so on. When describing the issues, use fairly neutral, non-value-based terms.

So instead of saying, "The company is shit", you can say things like, "I'm not happy at the company" or "I don't feel like i*m a good fit for the culture there". Perhaps your honesty needs help with presentation.


>Interviewers are very stupid people

By the tone you write in, my guess is arrogance may have played a role when it didn’t work. But what do I know, I’m an interviewer :)


I hate that I agree with you, and the one before 100%

They're selecting for social awareness by seeing if you are aware of and can follow arbitrary social rules. Whether you can tell pointless lies is a proxy for what they're actually interested in.

It's because they want you to lie to the customer, or at least, make him/her happy to make money.

why can't someone be honest about the bad experience at job?

If he says what he said here, the interviewer will likely think: This was either a person who was impossible to work with because they always think they are right or the company was actually bad. I can't know what is true so I'm going to take someone else.

In Australia I have always respectfully told the truth. It is no secret some companies have terrible management and IMO It can come across well to the type of employers you might want to work for. In this situation I might say something like - "Well I had some great ideas on ways that we might improve our technology stack but unfortunately the manager there seemed threatened by my ideas and shot them down without further discussion. In the end this friction seems to have lead to them deciding to let me go. I learnt a lot from my time there and look forward thriving in a more constructive environment!"

The "truth" isn't what's important, your attitude and reaction to the layoff is what people are looking at. How you handle yourself is what's important.

because you won't get hired. because interviewing in our industry is completely stupid.

yes, it is stupid.

Because everything must be positive, for the short amount of time you are interviewed. B company doesn't have empathy for the nuanced reasons why you left A company, the criteria the interviewer has doesn't account for any of it.

Would you buy a product with questionable reviews? It's how it is man.

This is great advice and something I've done repeatedly in my career.

When you sense that things are going bad (company is downsizing, running out of money, boss hates you, etc.) then it's time to start looking for another job.

It is much easier to land a job when you still have one. It also means the new company will unlikely call your current employer for a reference.

Finally, it allows you to leave on your own terms rather than get fired/laid off.


> I only stayed there because I wanted a "year of experience" ASAP

> I had a lot of suggestions for improving the codebase

It's important to learn politics and humility.

As a new graduate (or junior in general) on your first job you should be extremely careful about making suggestions to 'improve' things. Heck at any point of your career you should be careful about doing that soon after joining unless you were brought in as an expert to do just that.

From this and the rest of your post, I would suggest that you try to develop a more diplomatic, political, and humble approach in your next job. This is an important skill.


This. Don't even make suggestions in the first SIX MONTHS. Just listen and meet expectations for a bit and then take off like a rocket once you have context.

If you are on my team and make a possibly stupid suggestion, I would kindly point out that due to the development trajectory the suggestion isn't feasible (an example). If a junior dev (any dev!) is afraid of speaking, he/she will be missing an opportunity to either learn or improve. Of course, the tone of the suggestion (you should do this vs I think we may try this) and context can make or break the interaction. I don't buy into the respect by antiquity thing. Antiquity in a company only brings context and experience, not necessarily intelligence.

Asking and querying even hard question is one thing, but having " a lot of suggestions for improving the codebase" is a totally different level.

Even if you are convinced that your suggestions are the best and absolute truth, at a minimum be attentive and humble.

On one occasion a senior engineer came to my team and on the second week brought some major suggestions that were immediately accepted by the front end team, but that's the exception and not the norm

It doesn't matter if you are a newbie or more experienced, give some respect to the rest of the team


> If you are on my team and make a possibly stupid suggestion, I would kindly point out that due to the development trajectory the suggestion isn't feasible (an example)

I welcome input from even very junior people on my team. But important advice: if your idea is (respectfully) rejected by your team lead, then let it go. Don't try to passive aggressively (or openly) push for your idea after that time.


Same here. But it's all in the delivery. I find it's better to assume things are the way they are for good reasons you're not aware of. It's so common for programmers to look at some code they don't fully understand and think "this is stupid it shouldn't have been done like that", start to change it and then discover - lo and behold - the previous coder wasn't an idiot. They just knew stuff you didn't. Plus things morph due to different people, politics, time pressures, etc.

So I find it much better to first of all ask "hey, why does this bit do this?" Once you've got the answer, if your suggestion still holds, run it past the team at that point.

But yeah, I'd be more likely to promote/recommend someone who I can see understands when things are suboptimal, provided they take the time to understand the "why" first.


This would be a huge red flag for me. I fully expect suggestions from newly on boarded devs. That is actually one of their most important skill since they aren't encumbered yet by the existing context and can see things in different lights.

You can throw around ideas and ask questions etc. Just try not to sound judgemental, in this case sounds like OP was. That was my point (I want to edit my comment but it seems I can't).

I also look forward to what ideas new people bring. That's why you want a flow of people in/out of the company.


I was not being judgemental. As you could imagine, I am pretty upset at the moment...

Six months? Kill me. If I can't join a new team and be a productive/contributing member within the first 2 months then I'm going to be looking for the door. I 100% agree you don't want to go in guns blazing and most importantly PHRASING. Don't go in and tell people they are doing something wrong, make suggestions and ask questions like:

"Hey I saw you are using X here, is there a reason you are using X instead of Y?"

The response will be one of the following:

1. Oh, I didn't know about Y or I didn't know Y could do that

2. Yes we looked into Y but picked X because of A, B, C

3. X is just better, Y is stupid <- This is the mark of an insecure dev and you need to think long and hard about if you want to stay at the company

Also be able to READ THE ROOM, if you respond the #2 with "Ahh but Y can do A, B, C as well..." and you aren't getting any traction then cut your losses.


You can be productive. Just have to be careful not to be a judgemental jerk is all.

I realize it's hard to take a random internet stranger's opinion seriously, but my manager was really that bad.

I waited about a month before suggesting anything. And it wasn't even serious stuff (e.g. "I think we could use a C API here, that way we don't need a Objective-C++ bridge between the C++ code and Swift", his answer: "No." with no explanation - I'm pretty sure he didn't understand what I was suggesting, and had no interest in trying to understand)

Eventually I learned to make him think he came up with the idea, that was the only way things could get done. Unfortunately I wasted my social capital on the suggestions that had the most impact (early on, before I realized politics were a thing), but thankfully I managed to make some improvements.

> From this and the rest of your post, I would suggest that you try to develop a more diplomatic, political, and humble approach in your next job. This is an important skill.

Agreed. My biggest lesson for sure.


This may not be popular but you should, only to improve yourself, consider any mistakes you made and how you might’ve handled the job better. This is part of what your next employer will want to hear.

I am not saying it wasn’t a bad situation, just that you can still learn from it. Maybe, just maybe, the timing of your vacation could’ve been a little different? Maybe you could’ve worded ‘I don’t like the job I’m only here for a year’ a little differently.

Your next employer will have to decide whether the environment was toxic, or you were. Showing growth proves it was them and not you.


Put it on your resume. Gloss over the fact you got fired. Don't mention it. To answer the "why did you leave" question just say you felt it was time to move on and get more experience elsewhere. If they actually check references (assuming the company is still around) and ask why you didn't tell them you were fired go into detail then, explaining it was a "challenging company to work for", there were "management issues that lead to 30% of people leaving" before you joined, and in fact your firing may not have even been legal.

You shouldn't lie during an interview, but you're under no obligation to be so openly honest by offering additional details that you do yourself a disservice getting another job. I.e. If they ask you directly "were you fired from your last job?" I'd answer "the job was challenging. Let me elaborate...", etc. and if pressed actually say you were fired. But if they don't ask you that direct question, just don't mention or allude to the fact you were fired. At least that's how I'd play it.

Incidentally the same thing applies with "what were you earning?". Always ignore the question and deflect. Answer the question you wanted to hear which is "how much do you want?" and deflect. E.g. The correct answer is "I'm looking for $xx,000. So what sort of tech are they using?". If they press you for a figure just say you don't feel it's relevant because you took that job for a variety of reasons, but you're looking to make $xx,000. If they won't let it drop walk away unless it's megacorp that you're desperate to work for. "What's the minimum we can pay you?" is the most valuable piece of information a potential employer can find out about you and the last thing you should tell them.


I like your advice except for the "you're looking to make $xx,000'. NEVER say the first number IMO. The reason being is that it limits you to X% (prolly 5-10) range around that number. If you say I'm looking to make 80k, and they were going to offer you 120k, what do you think they're going to offer you now? Deflect until they say a number and then think carefully about making your counter.

You should be picking a large enough number you'd be happy with. If you think there's a chance they'd offer $120k to start with, go for that figure. If you join on $80k and they say "Guess what?!? We'd have paid you double!!!", start looking for other jobs immediately on that higher rate and don't even put the $80k one on your resume (I actually did something similar and doubled my previous salary in 4 weeks).

Suggesting the first figure is all about anchoring [1]. Once that first figure is out there it sets the tone for the negotiation. Many employers will try to offer you $current_salary + $small_delta. This advice is all about anchoring at a higher figure, breaking away from any relationship to your previous figure. So it's important you do say the first figure.

Also, the deflection is there to make the figure you want seem normal to you. It's no big deal you're asking for a whopping salary - that's just what you expect. The last thing you want to do is take a sharp intake of breath and make it seem like you're overplaying your hand. Just casually drop in $top_end_figure and move on with the conversation.

A great book on negotiation skills is "Everything is Negotiable" [2]. That book has literally made me thousands.

[1] https://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/negotiation-skills-daily/w...

[2] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Everything-Negotiable-4th-Gavin-Ken...


What are your strategies for tactfully deflecting this question?

Personally I try to start a discussion about how important benefits are to me, and the fact that they can make comparing salaries between companies meaningless, so I can't really talk about pay expectations until I have a good understanding of the full compensation package.

But I'd love to hear some other approaches to go to.


Yeah usually something along these lines, if they press on first number I'd say something like, "I'm open to considering a variety of offers, but I'd have to see what the whole package looks like, and I'd really be interested in hearing more about the company first."

https://haseebq.com/my-ten-rules-for-negotiating-a-job-offer...

I don't know if this is the specific article addressing that question, but this guys writing on negotiations was very helpful to me.


Are benefits that important? You can't spend Nespressos and table football. It's different if you mean equity/pay/overtime, etc. that sort of financial bundle. The other stuff is just window dressing that the company keeps after you move on. I'd put it firmly in the nice-to-have category.

I mean health benefits specifically. I have a child with special needs. The difference between his therapy covered with or without coinsurance can be 20k per year out of my pocket.

*Edit: Of course this isn't something I want to let a prospective employer know, so I try to keep it generic by referencing benefits.


management issues that lead to 30% of people leaving

Agreed, but it would even be better to give a numbers, like 5 of the 15 members quit, so it doesn't look like you're exagerating. If you need to say something negative about your old employer, try to focus on facts and give details to make it more credible (and then steer the conversation to a more positive topic as soon as possible).


I think you need the position on your resume since it's a large part of your professional experience. Just put the dates, and if you are asked about why you left, you could tell a short version of your story.

For instance, you didn't like the environment which didn't care about technical debt, thought it was time for a company change, and when you voiced your concerns honestly, they let you go.

People know there are toxic environments out there.

Very important: Try to get the new employers to fall in love with hiring you before you get to that question. You can do this by having a great introductory phone screen (try to focus them on telling you about/selling you on the position before they can focus on you. During that conversation you can explain how your skills are in line with what they need, talk a little shop, show you are qualified).

Another way to achieve this is to have a great github/personal web page. If you do these things, employers will care much less about what happened at your last position and want you because of what you can do for them.


Any sign of negativity - complaining about your prior job, or worse, the people there, is a huge red flag in an interview. They don't know you, so they only can assume it's as likely you were the problem.

Interviews are, fundamentally, sales propositions. You shouldn't outright lie, but you don't need to focus on the negative things either. People on the spectrum (as many engineers tend to be...) find this kind of stuff very hard. But for most people, it's fairly normal to sugar coat things to keep the social machinery flowing. It took me a long time to learn this.


Sounds like you were stuck in an awful situation. Echoing the advice that some of the others have provided you, I’d suggest being honest, but without badmouthing the company/people you worked for. If someone asks give a brief explanation on how you did interesting work and learned new things but eventually were let go. Don’t dwell on it and don’t use it as an opportunity to seek “revenge”: you’re not going to get anything out of it and it’s a huge flag for the company that’ll hire you (will they say bad things about us if we fire them, too?)

Also, just as an FYI: while your manager was wrong with most of his statements,

> Killing an app in iOS via the app switcher is the same as `kill -9`

iOS apps are essentially SIGKILLed if they’re swiped up on in the app switcher.


Thank you for the advice. I will try my best to not badmouth my former manager.

> iOS apps are essentially SIGKILLed if they’re swiped up on in the app switcher.

Sorry, I worded that poorly. To be clear, he use the word literally to describe it. Which I think is pretty misleading. iOS still calls the delegate method (and probably some other stuff) beforehand.


Not if the user swipes up on the app from the app switcher: you’ll literally be sent a SIGKILL from the OS.

Oh. Wow. I feel dumb now.

Don't bad-mouth your previous employer, but you can put things diplomatically. For example you can say "it was a very challenging work environment" instead of "my boss sucked."

Also be prepared to talk about everything you learned and what you could have done better yourself. It seems like you have a good idea with hindsight about a lot of things that didn't seem right at the time.

But as noted by others, employers understand that there are toxic work environments out there. Be honest but don't belabor the point.


Hey there. I was in your shoes, as well. I was fired from the first organization where I'd been employed in a particular technical role, the one in which I intended to make my career. I was good at it technically but had a number of personality conflicts, partly out of frustration with things that were happening at the company and partly from personal shortcomings of my own in dealing with those frustrations. They fired me for "performance" which - take heart - can basically mean anything and nothing, and is much, much easier to deal with than having been fired "for cause".

It was scary, and I wondered exactly the same things you did. I can offer you this advice FWIW. I found another job within 6 weeks of being let go, and I had two other offers on the table.

* Be honest. If the web form asks you if you left the company voluntarily, say no. If you left on bad terms, they'll generally ask you whether they can contact your last employer for a reference, and you can say no. They'll get the picture.

* That said, you don't exactly have to lead off every interview with it. Honestly, I don't think any of the interviewers I talked with even asked me about it. They're interested in their own impressions of you and the work you've done.

* You should prepare a short explanation that - and this is important - doesn't blame or denigrate your prior employer. I mean it. Swallow whatever feelings you have about the situation and be professional about it. A new employer may not care about the circumstances of your leaving your last gig, but they WILL certainly care about the bitter, angry guy they just interviewed for this position. Something along the lines of "My leadership and I agreed that I was no longer a good fit for the position." It sounds gross, I know, but it's not really meant to be believed, and allows everyone to save a little face.

* If they press you, you might frame it as "personality conflicts" or "communications issues". However you decide to frame it, rehearse the explanation and maybe a quick followup. You don't want to start to ramble when you're on the spot, because that'll make you nervous and you may stumble into saying something you regret.

I know exactly what you're going through. We had just bought a house, we had a nine-month-old baby, and we didn't have much in the way of savings. It was scary as hell. But you square yourself up, set your jaw, and do what you have to do. You'll get through it, and one day you'll laugh about it. I promise you you're not the first person who's been fired. Hang in there.


I went through a different situation about 18 months back, the upshot being I voluntarily left as well as being unable to ask for references.

I was devastated at the tine and it took me a year to recover.

Your advice is excellent, full of pragmatic wisdom and, had I encountered similar guidance during my convalescence, I likely would have regained my confidence sooner.

Especially useful is your suggestion to “be professional about it” as a contextualization for words “that are not really meant to be believed, and allows everyone to save a little face”.

(My problem was partly that I was so angry about being mistreated that I thought the truth should come out and my manager should be held accountable. If I could have let that go sooner, I’d have recovered faster.)


Thank you. This helps a lot.

You didn't get fired.

You left a startup that was shutting down, you had 2 weeks notice left and they let you go early. Unless they have documented instances of poor performance they can't really give you a bad reference. Also if there's severance pay that they're not paying because they stand by 'poor performance' they're probably asking illegally.


Don't be too negative of the previous company while interviewing because it comes off bad. But if you can explain things that were good, and things that were bad so it's not all negative the interviewer will understand.

You should only go to work to make money and further your career. Your next interview should know they've only got you in front of them because there is a pay rise on offer.

Don't spend more than a sentence or two discussing your previous role. Describe their business model and leave it at that.

90% of your interview should be finding out what skills and tech your new employer needs and explaining to them why you're perfect for delivering those skills.


I don't think anyone has addressed references yet, so as a member of many hiring teams, I'll take a stab at it.

A positive way to look at being fired is that your company was having problems and your managers were stressed. You set a goal to stick it out for a year and you achieved that goal. Rather than only giving the usual two weeks notice, you let your managers know in advance that you were planning to seek other opportunities. They decided that you didn't need to work a notice period and released you immediately. We hope things have improved for them. You didn't do anything wrong. They didn't fire you because you stole from the company or were accused of sexual harassment.

I will say that 20 years ago, particularly in large software companies, it was common that you would give your notice and security would escort you to the door. Companies didn't want you to work through a notice period because you were deemed "disloyal." Maybe your manager didn't grow out of this mindset.

In terms of a reference, if they are smart they won't say anything negative. Most companies won't simply because they want to avoid litigation. It sounds like they have much more important things to worry about than damaging your career.

Hopefully you worked with other people who can be references for you... probably worked with you more than your managers. LinkedIn is a good resource for this.

You can still use references outside your employer... from school, from volunteer work, etc. Personal projects you work on can also be excellent examples of how you do things when not influenced by office politics. As best you can, build and document a case that you do/did good work. The company won't be around long to be a reference in the future.

I'm sorry you had a miserable experience, but as a hiring manager it wouldn't detract from my view of you. On the side, I'd think you would appreciate working for me more since you had a bad experience somewhere else. Be thankful that you were there, yet thankful that you aren't there any longer.

I appreciate that you stuck it out and that you are willing to ask for advice when you aren't sure. I think you have good qualities that I look for when hiring.

Best of luck in your career.


Well, you will become the people you surround yourself with. You will not change them but they will change you.

"Always talked and about things he hated or how things sucked. Rarely anything positive."

I don't know if you realize everything you talk about your first job is negative.

I would focus on the positive and minimize exposure if it really was that bad, which I doubt, because your manager told you reasonable things.

I am c programmer myself, with lots of experience programming lots of other languages, and programming raw c is extremely inefficient use of your time, most of the time.

With less than 1 year of experience, your suggestions are of very little value, and if you get experience working with a bad team, you are not improving but learning bad habits.

In an interview, tell the truth, but you had a bad emotional experience and are highly biased against your old job. Look at it as a neutral third person looking from outside. Be grateful for it, and start looking at the good side of it. Write it down.

Forgive them, you decided to work with them so you were as responsible as they were. It is your fault as much as it is theirs. Forgiving them is forgiving you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrdEMERq8MA

On future projects and endeavors start focusing on what you what to do, not on what you don't want to do. Companies love people that is proactive and efficient, not people that blames others, complains and put excuses.

But it should not be about passing an interview. Your attitude should change.


PS: As an exercise you can put things in perspective.

70 years ago, if you were to live in Germany, Poland or Russia, you will see your neighbors, friends and family slaughtered by war, your daughters or sisters or mother become raped, your possessions were looted or bombed or fired.

That actually happened in places like Syria or Congo or Central African Republic recently.

And the worst that happened to you? Your ego was hurt.


"After a while I told him I didn't like the job, and the only reason why I didn't quit was because I wanted a year of experience"

OK the company sounds pretty terrible and it's good that you're now able to dedicate time to finding a new job with a more sensible company. But unfortunately telling them this was probably a bit of a mistake, you should keep your cards to your chest in future.

However I really don't think you need to stress too much about the "Why I left" part. You'll be asked about the technical stuff long before that even comes up, and if it does ... "Well I came back from vacation to find out I was fired for 'performance reasons' - it never came up before, I think they were upset I didn't cancel my holidays to meet the deadline for ${project}. To be honest I'm a little glad as the job was wearing me down - the team was quite unstable (30% of the engineering team quit when I joined), we had little opportunity to tackle technical debt ...". If the interviewers are reasonable they'll sieze the opportunity to ask you about how you would have preferred to handle the technical debt (or whatever the other carefully selected problems you raise here) then you're back talking tech stuff again.

Others have said that you don't want to bring it up or complain as it'll be a red flag. But I don't think they'll automatically assume the employer was right, they'll be trying to figure that out while talking to you. You have the advantage in this situation because you're the one who's able to do the talking, not your previous employer. If you're calm, polite, reasonable and able to talk objectively about the situation then they'll assume it's your previous employer who was at fault :-)


First, I wouldn't say anything negative about the company or my experience there. As you observe about your previous manager, people don't like negative people. Your prospective employer won't appreciate hearing you complain. Negative people are also disproportionately likely to be the source of problems themselves, so complaining a lot about your previous experience will be waving a red flag that you are a potential source of problems.

When discussing your previous positions stick to facts (I did X, Y, and Z) and positive notes about what you learned and accomplished.

Second, I wouldn't tell people that I was fired. I would list a year of experience there. If someone asked why I left I'd say that I learned a ton, the work was interesting - whatever true and positive evaluations I had, but ultimately I wasn't sure I could accomplish my career goals at the startup and so, after giving it a year, I've decided to consider other opportunities.


I’m not sure I agree with all the comments here.

You can explain this story the same way as you did here, with perhaps a little less bitterness. Something like:

“This was my first job. I thought I needed the experience, even though I knew the company was somewhat toxic. It was not going well, but thought I’d stay because it would look bad if I left. Then I told my boss things weren’t going well and he fired me, which to be honest was a relief. So all in all it was a big mistake and a waste of time, but at least now I know that company culture is important and this is also why I want to join your great company blah blah blah”


Honestly most hiring managers I’ve encountered don’t really probe into it. They will ask why you left. Say the last place was a good learning experience (after all, you did learn a shit ton of things you don’t like), and then switch to what you are looking for (ie listing out opposites of what you experienced).

IMHO, I think you should avoid saying "the company was shit" and instead focus on what you have learned in a year, how you have improved, what are your achievements. During this year, you have been contaminated by the negativity. Try to clean up your mindset.

FWIW I do have other experience. I have been programming for fun since 2010. And I started programming "professionally" since 2014, but it's not at in a traditional job setting. I had a couple of products on the App Store but the market changed and the money dried up. Hence the job, and why I wanted a year of experience.

ALSO, there was another team that I think I would have been a much better fit for (tech lead actually gave a shit about programming and gave people autonomy) but unfortunately I did not take the initiative to switch over.

I have references from other people at the company as well, including the CTO, that I actually liked working with, and they liked working with me. Unfortunately they were not on my team.


Lots have people have talked about how to conduct yourself. With regard to references, I'm not sure if this is right for your situation, but consider the following:

If you got on with the CTO, I would reach out to them and ask if they could be your reference. Since they outrank your manager, most companies will happily take a reference from them, especially if you worked with them directly a bit.

It might be a tricky political conversation, but if you suggest that you were disappointed how things ended, and you know how sometimes your manager can, how shall we say, put things in a negative light, they really ought to be willing.

(If you're somewhere with labour laws, consider talking to a lawyer, and be willing to threaten to get a good reference and a resignation, not a firing.)

Any new company, just give the CTO as the reference. If asked about it, just say something like they were best placed to assess you during your time at the company where you worked with a variety of people.


Only volunteer your good references, and consider auditing your ex-employer by having a friend call HR asking about dates of employment, performance and references. Many states restrict what can be said about former employees, double check that what HR says is compliant with your local laws.

There was no HR.

In a small company, some other position will field the inquiry. Could be CEO themselves, or their assistant, or some other executive/partner.

Welcome to making money as a software developer. Your experience is nothing exceptional in IT, most startups are pretty bad if you ask me. You can be more picky with companies, but that will make it tricky to find a new job in time.

My advice for your next job: don't mention any of the bad things you've experienced, talk about all the good things you've learned, the great team you had etc.. always remain positive in every new interview. And don't expect a great developer experience when you enter a new company, (although it sometimes happens), you work for money in the first place, and coding is your skill.


"It was my first job experience, and though in retrospective I think me and the startup didn't really fit well, I learned a lot."

And you go on from there.


> I don't know what I'm gonna do in next interviews.

Personal disclosure is a desirable managerial trait.

So, you got booted. They said 'performance'. You say the place was dysfunctional.

Question: What did you learn from this experience?

- What do you think you would do differently?

- Will any former colleagues/supervisors serve as a professional reference; vouch for the quality of your work?


> What did you learn from this experience?

Spend as much time as possible with my manager BEFORE accepting the job. Keep my yap shut unless I have something useful to say.

There are other "lessons" I already knew, but intentionally went against because I wanted 1 YoE and/or wanted to see what would happen: Quit if I don't like it, don't tell your manager you want to quit unless you're actually quitting, don't be negative.

> What do you think you would do differently?

Switch teams.

> Will any colleagues/supervisors serve as a reference; vouch for the quality of your work?

Yes. There were two engineering teams, I was on the shit one. There was a better engineering team (led by the CTO). Every time I worked on their codebase / interacted with them it was a positive experience. The CTO and a few people on that team reached out and said "let me know if you need anything" - so I think I'm good.


> The CTO and a few people on that team reached out and said "let me know if you need anything"

Good. So, be sure incorporate this into your disclosure. That will mitigate potential Red Flags to new employers.


Thank you for walking me through this. Sorry to keep pestering you, but as far as my disclosure goes, what do ou mean? I'm not entirely sure I follow. Are you saying I should stick to those 3 bullet points you outlined?

It’s highly likely during the interview process, someone will ask why did you leave your last company?

Be prepared to answer. Networks often overlap in mysterious ways in the business.

ex: Truthfully, I was let go. My CTO and colleagues will vouch for the quality of my work. But my direct reporting manager was a bit difficult.

That’s why I am being very strategic about my job search, really focusing in on the people, culture, and reporting relationships.


If the company goes belly up that can be a good point for you. You left "Because it was becoming clear the company could not survive." Don't put all the blame on the managers, put a lot of blame on their competitors and customers. If the company is alive but on the ropes, the same tactic can be used.

People get fired, I wouldn't worry too much. Figure out a narrative that sounds good and some positive references.

Keep it there. Be honest, tell interviewers what happened.

Sounds like a shitty company; so I wouldn't expect a glowing reference...


I think being honest about that can work, here. Anyone will understand that your former boss was not a good boss.

Tell the truth, your lie will be detected sooner or later.

Fake it until you make it.



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