Why Were You Fired?

Some of the most successful people in business were fired from a previous job. Vivian Giang does a nice rundown of the rich and once fired. Mark Cuban, Madonna, Michael Bloomberg, JK Rowling, and Walt Disney are just a sampling. So, if you’ve been “let go” for unsatisfactory performance: you’re in very good company.

Unfortunately, when a recruiter or hiring manager asks you this question – it’s not to congratulate you on joining the ranks of these business stars. It’s to uncover an issue that might affect your performance in this new position.

That’s the key issue: what did you do that might predict your future performance?

If it’s something like stealing, lying, or perpetrating a verbal or physical attack on a colleague: Ricky Ricardo would say, “you’ve got a lot of ‘splaining to do, Lucy.” But, it’s not impossible to get a job, even after such antisocial behavior, especially if you’ve paid the price.

Perhaps you served time in jail, did community service or otherwise made restitution. Penitence alone won’t be enough to clear the slate. You’ll need to prove that you’ve learned a great lesson, made major changes in your thinking and behavior, and remain accountable to someone who may be monitoring, mentoring or otherwise helping you stay on the straight and narrow.

Daniel is a client of mine who threatened his boss with a gun, after an argument about an investor. In fact, Daniel didn’t have the gun at work, but he did have a gun at home. The threat was vague: “You know, I have a gun at home,” Daniel said. That was enough – more than enough. Daniel was fired. While he didn’t go to jail, Daniel had to deal with a lawsuit. And, his reputation was severely damaged.

It was a terrible time in his life, but it gave way to a much-needed personal reckoning. Daniel went into extensive therapy, both one-on-one with a therapist and additionally in group therapy that lasted several years. Among the best outcomes was Daniel changing careers, to one with much less interpersonal stress. He removed himself from managing people. He went to work in horticulture. Being in nature, nurturing plants and slowing the pace of his life are the keys to his successful self-reinvention. He remains in a weekly support group, and he mentors people struggling with the issues he overcame.

Showing that level of self-knowledge, taking responsibility for his actions and sustaining his commitment to change got him his next job, a great one where he has responsibility for managing property.

He actually looked forward to the “why were you fired,” question from the recruiter when he interviewed for the position. He didn’t just admit what happened: he was eager to share the turning point in his life. Note: I’ve changed the client’s name and a few details to protect his privacy.

If you’ve been fired for any reason, recruiters are seeking to understand what happened, and the reasons for your action. They are equally interested in how the termination changed you: what did you do to remedy your thinking and behavior? How do you manage yourself today, that’s remarkably different than the way you were at the time you were fired?

As a career and business coach, I’ve heard just about every difficult situation human beings can find themselves in. And, I have been part of helping clients make simple changes and achieving near miraculous redemption, as these good people got themselves back on the road to success at work and life.

If you have been fired, you may need some help getting back on track, or simply with an accurate and uplifting way to tell your story. You can email me: Nance@NanceRosen.com. Subject line: Help.

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