Getting Fired Is A State of Mind

by Nick Corcodilos

You've heard the conventional wisdom: it's easier to win a new job if you already have a job. In other words, a person who is employed is viewed as more desirable than someone who is unemployed. And the terrifying corollary: If you've been fired, forget it. You're mud.

My advice: don't sweat it. As long as you know you're a good worker, that your skills are solid, that you work with intelligence and enthusiasm, and that you're pursuing the right new job for the right reasons, you can get over the "I was fired" hump.

Getting fired stimulates a lot of emotions that can leave you wasted in an interview. So, it's important to consider what it really means to be among the "fired" in today's business world.

Getting fired doesn't make you a failure.

Getting fired implies a subjective judgment of you, not an absolute, objective one. One boss's fire is another boss's hire. If that sounds trite, it is nonetheless true. People tend to forget it when they're suddenly left hanging in the breeze.

People get fired for lots of reasons. The worst is that you weren't doing a good job. But, even that is a subjective judgment. An executive I know was about to be dumped by his boss because in the boss's judgment, the exec wasn't performing well. Before the boss could actually fire him, two other departments in the company started bidding for the exec. He is now comfortably esconced in a better job with a better boss. The two managers who bid for him weighed what the old boss said, but they judged the candidate on his ability, reputation and prospects, all of which are excellent. If he had actually gotten fired, several other companies would have been thrilled to hire him, too. Today, his performance is outstanding and he's very happy.

What this means to you: Lead with your credentials and reputation before you apologize for what one employer thought of you. Use your references and mutual professional contacts to establish your credibility with a new employer.

Getting fired may mean your employer is a failure.

Once upon a time, if you got fired you had a lot of explaining to do. Then, it was more likely you were at fault than that your employer was in trouble. Today, the downsizing phenomenon has put so many people "on the street" that old assumptions aren't valid.

The manager who interviews you may have been downsized himself, and he may view you through the filter of his own experience. He may also recognize that, in a tough hiring market, a competitor may "release" some of its best talent -- you. Employers know that a lot of good people are unemployed, and it isn't necessarily a stigma. In fact, the downsizing climate brings talented workers to the attention of companies that might otherwise never have the chance to interview them.

What this means to you: In the interview, don't blame your last employer for your failure, but don't assume the mantle of blame yourself, either. Emphasize your objective of joining a healthy company that has good prospects, and be ready to show how you are going to contribute to its success. If you want to wow the employer, present a brief business plan for doing the new job. That reveals healthy motivation when the employer may otherwise be worried about your level of desperation.

Getting fired can be a badge of honor.

There are lots of lousy managers out there; managers who can't handle tough projects or talented employees. The business community knows that good people sometimes get fired because their employer can't manage them to good effect. If you really believe you were fired because you were far out on the "abilities curve" and your employer didn't know what to do with you, getting fired is actually a badge of honor.

Yes, that sounds like the sour grapes argument, but it's important to be honest with yourself. Don't simply assume it was your fault. (If it was your fault, take responsibility and go get the training or experience you need before tackling another job you can't do.)

What this means to you: You need to make a judgment about why you were fired before you talk to another company. It can make all the difference in your attitude and presentation. I'm not suggesting you hide behind an arrogant posture, but that you realistically assess what happened and act accordingly. (For example, talk with several managers in your company who know you. Ask their impressions.) You can explain a poor career choice, but you need not apologize for working for the wrong company.

Getting fired is a state of mind. Being in the wrong state of mind in a job interview can be fatal to your career. Understand why you got fired, and move on to the state of getting hired. If you don't, prospective employers won't, either.

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