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I was still early on in my career; I had made my first job change, and I soon would be coming up on my one year anniversary with the company.

I had just received a new project.  My boss, the president, told me he suspected that we were overstaffed in accounts receivable given the business volume we were experiencing.   He told me to spend a week in the department and do a staffing analysis.

So I did exactly that.

Of course, the AR people were nervous.  I did my best to calm them down as I did my data collection and analysis.  I involved them to the extent that I felt I could.  I mapped the department’s processes to the extent that I could.

I did the best I could.

I didn’t think the department was overstaffed.  I was confident that my conclusion was supported by solid evidence and sound analysis.

My report was not well-received.

I was directed to spend another couple of days, revisit my analysis, and come back with an “updated” result.  Uh-oh …

I didn’t sleep for a couple of nights.

Maybe he wanted to simply have me back up his decision to downsize the AR team.  This would mean that I would need to change my answer, even though I didn’t have any analytical reason to.  And, of course, it would also mean AR people would lose their jobs, and that the organization as a whole would be weakened by an overworked and understaffed accounts receivable team…

At some point I also came to wonder if he had a more insidious intention; perhaps he had me in his sights, and I would be gone regardless of what I reported back to him on the AR staffing.

The follow up report back meeting lasted maybe 10 minutes.  It might have been more, but, to be honest, I simply don’t remember.  I also don’t remember a word he said.

I think I was able to work out the week, a couple of days at most, to at least write up status reports on other projects.  I vaguely remember getting impromptu visits to wish me well from some of the AR team…

But what I do know is that I started with the company on the first working day of that year, and my last day with the company was the very last working day of that same year.

It was a few years later that I ran across a leader who shared with me the idea that you only give away your integrity; no one can take it from you.  Upon hearing this I immediately thought about the accounts receivable staffing project…

I still don’t know for a fact what happened, but I suspect I know.  And while the explanation really doesn’t matter, what does matter is this — I left with my integrity intact.

Ever since then, when applying for new jobs, and being asked on the application if I ever was fired, I unhesitatingly mark “yes.”  And when asked to explain briefly in the box below, I usually write something along the lines of —

“I was asked to give away my integrity, and I declined.”

And when making it to the interview stage, I am often asked to elaborate.

I tell this story…