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After 14 years of working as an executive assistant for high profile organizations, I took a job for an “up and coming” European company. I found myself the new HR Administrator to a team of 70 employees. I had almost no previous experience, but I loved my job! Last September, fourteen months into my role, I was fired. It was a bad situation and unjust fire, but that’s another story. Previous to this role I had a pristine employment history. During recent interviews I have described it as a bad fit and a learning experience, but have not used the words “got fired” yet. The CEO of the company is willing to give me a reference, but I won’t ask him to lie and he’s in France. How do I explain that my US boss won't?... (It’s all politics…)
Being fired is not the end of the world. I know it can seem like it, and you, rather unfortunately, happened to get fired at the same time everyone else is getting laid off. Although, this can certainly work to your advantage, as some people use the term fired and laid off interchangeably. (I don't. I think there is a distinct difference, but if you are asked, I'd say, "I was terminated." Nice, honest, no blame pointing, and possibly interpreted as laid off.) However, it is true that it is easier to find a job when you already have a job.
You would be surprised at the number of successful people around you who have been fired (and actually fired, not laid off) in the past. It's not uncommon. (Even though I do reject that oh-so-condescending line from Up in the Air: "Anybody who ever built an empire or changed the world sat where you are now. And it's because they sat there that they were able to do it.") Being fired is not the cause for success, but it doesn't mean you're a failure.
You have the CEO in your corner. He outranks your boss. List him as a reference, along with his title. Use your previous employers with whom you had a good relationship. The bigger problem you have is that the CEO is in France and many recruiters won't bother to call France. First, many of them won't even have the capability to dial international numbers on their work phones. Second, international dialing freaks people out.
So, in your case, I would ask the CEO, very nicely, if he would write you a letter of recommendation (in English, please!), that you can present at the same time you give a list of references. Do so with the explanation that because of the whole foreign country thing, you're providing this, but that he would be happy to give you a verbal reference as well.
A good recruiter will probably try to track down your actual supervisor, but if your other references pan out, you're probably in the clear. Just keep working at it. It's a terrible job market, but there are some jobs out there. Even an underdog will win sometimes.
Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.