My Boss Told Me To Quit or Be Fired

Editor’s note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues — everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. My boss told me to quit or be fired

For the last six months, I’ve essentially been on “probation” with my supervisor, determining if this manager role is a good fit for me. His conclusion is that I do not possess the skills necessary for this role. Instead of terminating my employment, they offered me another position – a demotion to a role that I was supervising. They stated they do not want to lose me. Even though I do not yet have another job lined up, I have decided to turn down this role. I do not feel it would be a good move for my career, nor for this team. When I turned down this offer, I had the option to resign or to be terminated. I chose to resign.

Given the situation, what should I tell my team and colleagues? I’m not leaving by my own choice – even though technically, I am the one who has chosen to resign because I did not want the other options. I don’t want to leave on bad terms or badmouth my boss, as I know that can haunt you later! But how can I be honest about the situation without tarnishing my reputation or my boss’s?

Often in this situation, people work with their manager on messaging that lets them save face a bit — so that you’re not stuck saying “they wanted to demote me” and they’re not saying “we asked her to leave.” One option people often use is a simple statement that they realized (either on their own, or mutually with the employer) that the role wasn’t the right fit. Some people will assume there’s more to the story, but it’s a good, basic line to use when you don’t want to get into details.

So, it might sound like this: “I appreciated the opportunity to work with all of you, but ultimately didn’t feel it was the right fit for me.” Or, “I realized that ultimately I’m looking for a role with more ___.”

2. We accidentally left our new employee behind when we went to a staff lunch

We have quarterly staff lunches, but due to our size and our work, we have to split the lunch into two groups. My new employee, who started a few weeks ago, was put into the second group. While the staff left, my colleague went to the bathroom and in the rush of getting taxis, etc., she was left behind. My employee is furious.

I am her direct supervisor but was not part of the planning committee. What can I do, as I don’t think this was intentional? I am also new to this organization and I feel terrible. Our manger only said, “Why didn’t she just get her own taxi to join?” I am not sure this an appropriate response and would like to tell people to just apologize to her. But everyone is taking the lead of the manager and no one has said anything to her.

While that was an oversight that shouldn’t have happened, she’s furious? That’s a bit of an overreaction. I agree that she should have just gotten a taxi herself, but even if she didn’t think to do that (or for some reason thought it wasn’t an option), fury isn’t really warranted here. I would tell her that you’re very sorry that this happened, that it was obviously not intentional, and that you assume that in the rush to get into taxis, each group assumed she was with the other. Maybe add that you’d like to take her out to lunch (or take her and rest of your team, if it’s a small one) to make up for it. And you can also make a point of showing her that she’s valued in other ways, and go out of your way to include her in group discussions and anything else that comes up. But this shouldn’t require a major to-do beyond that — so if she stays furious, I’d look into what else might be going on.

3. Should I recommend a former coworker for a job if I liked her work but others complained about her?

At my last job, I was treated pretty badly and I quit. A colleague of mine who still works there has also been struggling there lately and wants to quit. When the company I just got hired at asked if I knew anyone who specialized in finance, I thought of my colleague right away, but didn’t say anything. I want to help her out, but I haven’t even started the job yet. Also, although I have always got along great with her, others have complained about her being fussy. I want to protect myself at this new job (I had been out of work for months), but I feel bad for not passing along this opportunity to her. What are your thoughts?

If you can genuinely vouch for her work and think she’s good, recommend her. They explicitly asked you for recommendations, after all. But if you have reservations about her work or style, then yeah, you don’t want to stake your reputation on someone you have qualms about. One middle ground is to give them the full story on her — good and potentially not as good. (For instance: “She’s amazing at X and Y and I’ve always found her easy to get along with, but I know that some people found her overly process-oriented.”)

4. Explaining what I’ve been doing since getting laid off

I recently had a phone screening, which I thought went well, but I got the expected question of “What have you been doing in the meantime since your position ended five months ago?” My answer: I’ve used various software on my own machine to maintain my skills, attended various conferences recently to maintain awareness about the industry. I also mentioned how I have been aggressively applying for jobs (with several interviews, albeit no offers). I also mentioned how I’m about to begin my seasonal work, which I’ve had for several years.

I understand why managers ask that, and am fine with that, but was what I said fine? I tried to be as honest as I could in the question.

I’d leave out the part of aggressively job searching in the future. Interviewers who ask this question are looking for answers like volunteering, taking a class, learning a new skill, working in your community — something that’s going to make you a more valuable employee when you return to work. Also, rightly or wrongly, talking about an aggressive job search risks coming across as a little desperate and like you might take any job, rather than specifically being interested in this one. (If it helps, imagine a date telling you that she’s been aggressively looking for a relationship; it would be a turn-off for similar reasons, even though I realize the context isn’t a perfect parallel.)

5. Can I ask why it took so long to be contacted for an interview?

I applied for a job four months ago and was just contacted for an interview. During the interview, it it appropriate to ask why it took so long (in a polite way, of course)?

Sure. But you need to sound like you’re asking to better understand the role and its context in their organization, not like you’re just annoyed that you had to wait so long. I’d say it this way: “I noticed the job has been open since November, or at least that’s when I applied. Can I ask what’s been going on with the role since then?”

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

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