Packed up desk and left. Now what?

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Q: I left my last company after a conflict with a co-worker.  I was angry and irritated.  I packed up my desk and left.  I didn’t give notice, I just left.  In hindsight, I know I made a huge mistake.  I have learned from that mistake.  My question – did I ruin my chances of finding a new job?  What does my old employer say about that?  Should I even give them as a reference?  I was there for 8 years, which I feel like is a giant part of my work history.

A: I am a bit stunned.  Eight years with this employer and you packed up your bags and just left?  Everyone gets into conflicts at work.  Most of us take a deep breath, take a walk, do some soul searching and then return the next day to try to resolve the conflict.

Most employers expect that employees will provide a reasonable notice period before they leave an organization.  Two weeks’ notice is what most employers expect before an employee separates.  Depending upon your level and responsibilities, some employers may expect more.

I think you need to give your old employer as a reference.  I would call and ask them what they would say.  Hopefully they stick to the guidelines of “name, rank and serial number.”  By that, I mean that maybe they will confirm your name, title and dates of employment.

You should think about how you are going to explain your current status and your resignation from your last company.  You can certainly focus on your contributions over the eight years, but you will likely get the question: “After 8 years of employment, why did you leave ABC Company?”   I am not sure of the specifics of the conflict with your co-worker.  Was it a conflict about product design?  A project plan?  A client issue?  If it was a concern similar to that, you can offer a generic explanation like: “I had a different opinion about how we should handle a product design issue.  I thought X and it went in a different direction.  Then, I thought that it was best to leave ABC.  I had given them 8 good years of my design expertise but felt it was a good time to move on.’’  If pressed on if you gave your former employer the proper notice, you should disclose the truth.  I wouldn’t offer that you “packed up your desk and left,” unless I was force to share that detail.   It conveys a message of professional immaturity.

Finally, realize that conflict occurs every day in workplaces — your workplace, my workplace and the workplaces of others.  It is inevitable.  However, think about better ways you can resolve conflict.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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