Manager, forced to move on, should get agreement in writing

Dear Joan:
Within seven months of starting a job at a growing advertising agency, I was promoted to manager above the person I had been assisting. I built a department (hiring, acquiring equipment, developing procedures—the works).

My only feedback was positive. They said I was doing great. Then, a subordinate threatened to resign, citing a personality conflict with me. My department was interviewed and I was abruptly fired. The management would provide me no explanation or examples (in order to protect the people involved) and therefore no opportunity to address or fix the "problems."

While it’s clear that my promotion created a dynamic that is hard to overcome, I had worked very hard to encourage input, opinions and communication, so as not to be a dictator manager. I was shocked and hurt that I was the only one accountable for the "deterioration" in relationships.

The management was very regretful and apologetic. (They said they had not given me enough support.) I was told that I could say that I left on my own accord. But, while I have letters of recommendation from the employer, I just do not trust that they will honor this explanation in a reference check. For example, the employer reneged on a bonus that was promised for a big project that I had just successfully completed.

I do not want to jeopardize future employment if they were also to renege on my explanation for departure. This is my first "real" job out of college (talk about getting your feet wet). I learned a lot and made considerable contributions. As the president told me, as he was letting me go, "The company couldn’t have gotten to where it was without me," which makes it all seem all the more absurd that I was so expendable. I am at a loss as to how to explain or account for the experience without being evasive or sounding like a sour grape. Any advice?

It sounds as if you don’t trust your former employer to do what he says he’ll do. It would be a good idea to put your oral agreement in writing. Write in a neutral tone. Simply state that the letter is a summary of your oral discussion, and you want to make sure that you both have a clear understanding. Thank him for his letter of recommendation and say that you assume he would also give you a positive reference, if a potential employer contacts him. Clarify that he gave you permission to say that you left on your own accord. (Incidentally, this is a common practice, especially when the company feels partially responsible for the derailment.) Finally, close by stating that unless you hear from him, you will assume that he is in agreement with the details of the letter. Your former employer may not even be called for a reference, but if he is, you’ve just reminded him to keep his word.

It will be easier to get a new job if you are applying for a non-managerial position. Your brief history as a manager will be less important. If you are interested in a technical position, you could say, "I was promoted to a manager position after only seven months at the company. Although I may be interested in moving into management again some day, I feel that I have a lot to contribute as a technical performer."

Another approach is to say, "After being with my employer for only seven months, I was promoted over the person I was hired to assist. Needless to say, this created a difficult situation with the former manager and her staff." Expect some probing questions, because the interviewer will want to tunnel in to see what you might have done to contribute to this situation. Your responses will need to be positive and non-blaming. State that it became clear that you were in a no-win situation and you felt that it was better to start fresh.

Focus on your successful results and be ready with examples of bottom line accomplishments. Tell interviewers what the president and others said about your work.

Don’t let this situation destroy your confidence. You are obviously a very talented person who was thrust into a very complex and political situation. The job market is good for someone with your abilities. Brush yourself off…you’ll be just fine.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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