Don’t Terminate the Terminated Applicant Too Quickly!

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The Terminator: I’m a friend of Sarah Connor. I was told she was here. Could I see her please?
Desk Sergeant: No, you can’t see her she’s making a statement.
The Terminator: Where is she?
Desk Sergeant: It may take a while. Want to wait? There’s a bench over there. [points to bench]
The Terminator: [looks around, examining the structural integrity of the room, then looks back at him] I’ll be back!

Lesson: If you remember the next scene, you probably picked up on the fact that it’s not a great idea to dismiss the Terminator too quickly.

Perhaps the same goes for the “terminated” as well. Apropos of the premiere of “Terminator – Genysis,”the latest release in the highly-successful movie franchise, it may be a good time to re-examine the inclination to disqualify or relegate to the bottom of the candidacy list a person who, during the interview process or during a background check, is found to have involuntarily lost a job. Some may leap to the conclusion that the candidate had done something terribly wrong and were fired.

And maybe they did and deservedly got their pink slip. Yet that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not the right candidate for you.

According to Merriam-Webster, one definition of “termination” is “the act of making a person leave a job. The act of firing or dismissing someone.”

But it’s also “an act of ending something.” So a staff reduction in which a person lost their job may be considered a termination, although that termination may have had more to do with financial mismanagement and other economic factors affecting the company rather than the candidate’s incompetence in their job.

Don’t forget that it wasn’t many years ago that the economy was in tough shape and many people were put out of work due to circumstances beyond their control.

Since the start of the recession, 8.8 million jobs were lost, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  In the UK, unemployment jumped 13 percent between 2007 and 2008, and rose to 2,500,000 in 2010, the highest in 16 years.

Perhaps the “tarnished” candidates were highly talented but just not right for a particular position. They wouldn’t be the first.

Here are a few people who were fired but successfully applied their talents elsewhere:

  •  In 1919, a young man was fired from the Kansas City Star newspaper. He was told that he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Undeterred, he bought a company called “Laugh-o-Gram,” an animation studio. Under his guidance, it went belly up and no one was laughing. Still brimming with confidence and ambition, he moved to California and started drawing animated cartoons of a mouse. He may not have been a good newspaperman but that didn’t mean Walt Disney wasn’t a brilliant businessman, artist, and visionary.
  • In the ‘80s, this recent college grad worked as a salesman for a software retailer. One day he failed to open the store and was shown the door he’d forgotten to unlock. Shortly after his termination, he started his own company, sold it a few years later and made his first million. Since then, Mark Chabenisky – better known today as Mark Cuban – has made more than $2.4 billion.
  •  She was hired as an evening news reporter at a TV station in Baltimore. A woman with a very big heart – as we’d learn later – she was pulled off the air for getting too emotionally invested in the people in her stories. That “personal weakness” became one her many strengths as she applied her interest in people and media to become one of America’s most popular and wealthy women, with television programs, magazines, and even perfumes all named after “Oprah.”
  • Because he cut classes in college – to study more advanced material – the school’s most respected professor refused to provide this recent grad with a letter of recommendation. Without that letter, this lad couldn’t find a decent job, couldn’t afford to marry, and had to accept jobs tutoring children for chump change to earn money. And he was even fired from these lowly jobs. One might theorize that such an inauspicious start would lead to a life of continuous failure, yet for Albert Einstein, such career setbacks did not matter.

As previous employment history alone may not tell the whole story, a prospective employer may choose to conduct a thorough background check which consults multiple professional references.

While professional references tend to elicit generally positive responses that provide a prospective employer a glimpse of the candidate’s personality and qualifications, it may be prudent to consider relegating a single negative reference appropriately.

Professional references should be honest, and some information returned on the candidate may be negative, however a previous supervisor or peer may exceed permissible legal thresholds and offer an unsolicited derogatory opinion of a candidate.

Further, they may reveal that that candidate was fired. But that may have been a unique situation and not necessarily the fault of the candidate.

As you evaluate the candidate’s fitness for the position and your organization remember to consider the totality of the information provided by the candidate and that verified by your background check company.

Singling into an isolated source of data such as a negative professional reference or employment verification that reveals a candidate’s previous termination from employment as part of your adjudication decision does not necessarily paint an accurate picture of your candidate.

As the stories about Einstein, Cuban, and the others indicate, there are two sides to every story and a termination, whether warranted or not, doesn’t necessarily mean that the candidate will not deliver exceptional dedication, creativity, and performance as an employee for your company.

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Lewis Lustman

Lewis Lustman is a content marketer who enjoys developing materials that engage, inform, challenge, and hopefully entertain my audience. Lewis is a former journalist for Los Angeles Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and has worked for a number of leading advertising, marketing, technology, and PR firms over the years. Interested in a topic that he hasn't yet tackled? Drop him a line in the comments section!

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