This post was written by Alison Green and published on Ask a Manager.
A reader writes:
I’m interviewing for a job at a smaller company in my field. The company is interested in a niche secondary specialty of mine. They don’t engage in some of the traditional silo-ing of people in my job function but actually let us be in meetings with clients, I’d be managing freelancers from the jump in a way that would help me move my career forward, and the powers that be also intend for me to create my own department and processes in the long run. This is all very appealing.
During the interview, I was told that the last person in this position left because he didn’t want to grow the department. But when I tracked him down on LinkedIn, he told me he was fired with no reason or warning about a month ago.
Normally, I’d assume this is a huge red flag, but this guy seems like kind of a crank, from my brief conversation with him. He told me he’d worked at the company for two whole years … but his own LinkedIn profile made it clear he’d been there for 1.5 years. He insisted that the motivation behind letting him go was his asking for a raise … but the number he asked for is within the range I was told about in my interview, so the company is clearly fine with paying it — just not to him. He angrily told me the position was at-will employment … but that’s all positions in our field in the U.S. He also said he felt betrayed that he only got a week of severance … but that’s honestly more generous than most companies in our field would be with a person who had only been there a year and a half.
He then asked me to submit his resume to my current employer, even though I explained that my recommendation doesn’t carry a lot of weight. The resume in question was full of obvious errors, which is strange given that our field is a type of editing work, and the second page was all information that felt irrelevant at best and like an overshare at worst — including that he’d been on a men’s volleyball team in college but the team was terrible.
I don’t really know what the next step is. Can I admit that I spoke to the guy and ask my interviewer what happened to get a better idea of how likely I am to be suddenly fired in this position? (But I don’t want to get him in trouble for talking with me.) Do I assume this guy was secretly fired for a good reason, since he honestly seems kind of off?
My advice: try hard to find other connections to the company through your network so that you have more than this one person’s opinion to go on.
A lot of what you’re seeing from this guy raises flags about him, not the company. Some of it is just neutral (like saying he’d been there for two years when his LinkedIn makes it look like 1.5 years — people round up, especially in casual conversations; that’s not a big deal). But the rest doesn’t make him look like the most reliable source — not a monster or anything, just not someone whose input you want to put a ton of weight on.
Don’t tell your interviewer that you spoke with the former employee, at least not without permission. He presumably figured he was talking to you in confidence and was more candid than he would have been if he knew what he said would make its way back to the company (which he might be relying on for references in the future). People will stop being candid with fellow networkers if they have to worry what they say will be repeated back to their employers.
Maybe they did fire him with no warning. Maybe he did something egregious enough to warrant it (and the employer is giving you a vague cover story to protect his privacy) or maybe he was warned and felt blindsided when it happened anyway, which isn’t uncommon. Or sure, maybe this employer fires good employees for no reason and with no warning — but there are so many other possibilities that you can’t really know for sure.
What you can do, though, is to keep gathering data. Lean on your network to try to find other people who have worked there and can add to the data you’ve already gathered. You can also ask to talk one-on-one with people on the team and then ask them about the culture, how they get feedback, how transparently things operate, what the manager is like, and whether they feel treated fairly and are happy there. The more data points you have, the better able you will be to decide if there’s anything to worry about or not.