I fell asleep on the job — on my first day

A reader writes:

Last May, I graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s of Science in Telecommunications, Production with a minor in English. I’ve had just the most terrible time finding a job, in my field or outside of it. I’ve had several interviews over the last year of job searching, but not so much luck.

However, a few months after graduating, I came into contact with a company in my area hiring for positions in my field. By September, after having a phone interview and an in-person interview, I was offered an entry-level position with the company and I was ecstatic. It was great pay, eventual great benefits, the company was small but growing, the people all seemed super friendly…it was the perfect place to start my career.

My first day on the job rolls around and I was a nervous wreck. I was having stomach issues, nerves, and I tossed and turned all night. I made the hour drive to the workplace and went in with high hopes and a sense of accomplishment. All was going well and I was satisfied with the first day. I was scheduled from 9-5 that day to be able to work with the manager and learn the job before I started my real shifts and everything. It was around 4:30, I was sitting in the area with the manager, a coworker, and another associate. I guess in one way or another I dozed off in the chair, totally not intentional, just some horrible thing. And I know this is something you absolutely DO NOT do at work, and certainly not on your first day. But it happened.

Five rolls around, and I go home. I go in the next morning and my manager pulls me aside and says the whole thing about that’s unacceptable behavior and it won’t be tolerated and he let me go. I couldn’t explain or anything, his mind was made up. So one day and I get fired. And since then, I haven’t been able to get as far with a company…I can’t even seem to get close. This situation/experience has really killed my confidence in myself and I’m struggling to just get any kind of job now.

So, I guess I just would be super grateful for some advice and maybe some reassurance that this happens to people and I won’t be forever doomed and forever unemployed. I know I’ve just been a year out of college, but it’s still truly discouraging! But I truly need some help as to how to address this on applications and in interviews. I obviously wouldn’t bring this up if I wasn’t asked, nor would I put it on a resume because it’s definitely not something that would boost my value. However, if asked on an application if I’ve ever been fired/terminated/let go/asked to leave, is it lying if I say no or do I have to say yes…even though it was only ONE DAY with this company? I don’t know if that shows up on anything, but I definitely would want to be honest, but I’m just not sure how to go about it without making myself look super awful and pathetic.

Honestly, I just want to put this behind me and move on, I’m just having trouble doing so because I don’t know how to address it on an application or interview if it comes up, and because well…it has truly discouraged me and nicked my confidence down to just about nothing.

Ugh, that’s not good.

I remember starting one of my first jobs out of college and finding the first day absolutely exhausting, to the point that my eyelids felt heavy in an afternoon meeting that first day. There’s something about having to be “on” for eight straight hours when you’re not used to it yet that really can be exhausting. You get used to it pretty fast, but that first day when you’re just starting out can be brutal.

So while falling asleep on the job — let alone on your first day — is obviously Not Good, it doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person or that you’ll never get a job again. And I also suspect this will be a great story to tell in 10 years.

But it’s not 10 years out yet, and you feel terrible right now, so let’s tackle that.

First, I do not think you need to put this on applications, just as you’re not putting it on your resume. It was one day, for crying out loud. It barely counts as a job. The chances of this being tracked down and hurting you in some way are close to zero. (And yes, some people will tell you that you have to put it on applications anyway, because they ask you to list every job you’ve ever had, blah blah blah, but practically speaking, it’s incredibly unlikely to ever come up again. And the risk that it will is far outweighed by the probable harm of including it.)

Second, you say this has destroyed your confidence, but it should not. After all, you were not fired because of your work or your interpersonal skills or anything that’s really about you as a person. Unless you are in the habit of going around sleeping when you should not be, or not taking important things seriously (but you sound pretty conscientious, so I doubt that’s the case), this was just terrible luck.

Of course, if I’m wrong and actually you are pretty laissez-faire in your approach to important things, then take this as a wake-up call that you need to stop that. (Wake-up call! Hahahahaha!)

But you know, you sound like you’re mortified and like you absolutely understand that falling asleep at work isn’t okay. You don’t sound like someone who needs to be lectured or shamed about it. You get it. So this is a much different response and a much different prognosis for you than if you’d sounded cavalier about it or indignant that you were fired. The fact that you get it means that you get to move on from it, as is the case with most big mistakes.

I’m sorry this happened to you. It sucks. But you will move on from it, I promise, and meanwhile you have my permission to wipe this dark day from your mind and function as if it did not happen (aside from any wake-up call that it signals you need, and aside from 10 years from now, when you will pull this story back out from the far recesses of your mind and regale people with it).

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