This article is found in the April 13,1999 Wall Street Journal.
GETTING FIRED is a bummer, no matter how much topspin you apply to your explanation.
There's less stigma these days, with people being sacked by fickle corporations at an alarming rate. But tell that to your stomach, which does flip-flops as some somber-faced suit delivers the bad news. And keep repeating it as you grind through the inevitable postmortems: What went wrong? What could I have done differently? What am I going to do now?
"I have people come to my office and cry, they're so angry and devastated," says employment attorney Steven, Sack, author of "Getting Fired."
But there is indeed life after termination, particularly in an economy blessed with low unemployment, hot new technologies and the burgeoning concept of free agency. Look at it this way: Getting fired is nature's way of telling you that you had the wrong job in the first place.
Losing your job to organizational turmoil at least gives you a story that prospective employers can understand. But what if you've been fired for poor performance or a clash with your boss?
Often, Mr. Sack says, firings for cause stem from a change in bosses. "A new person comes in and suddenly the chemistry's lousy, expectations are different, your people skills are lacking and your performance isn't good," he says.
First, tie up the loose ends with your employer. Mr. Sack advises against resigning to save face, because you surrender any leverage you had in negotiating a separation package, he says. However, if you're being fired for cause, you can negotiate yourself into a resignation. "Say, 'I'll sign a resignation letter, but I want a side letter saying you won't contest unemployment and you'll pay me my benefits,' " he says.
WHATEVER you do, keep your cool. Ask for a followup meeting before responding so you can digest what has happened (and rein in your emotions).
Don't threaten. "If you're respectful, they'll talk better about you after you're gone," Mr. Sack says. And don't accept the boss's word that he'll give you a good reference. Type up the letter and present it. "If he signs it," Mr. Sack adds, "you know he's going to keep his word."
Next, take time to recover. When Ron Evans ran afoul of a new boss and was fired from his job as a publisher with a major publishing company in 1994, he went sailing to recharge his batteries and get past the emotions of the event. "Youíll be more relaxed and self-confident when you start looking," he says.
Otherwise, you might just grab the first opportunity. "We tend to be creatures of habit," Mr. Evans says. "We put ourselves back into the same type of situation we just left."
Instead, he says, evaluate your goals, then quiz current and former employees at the prospective company to see if itís a good match.
Also, do a rigorous postmortem, advises Christina Willett, who was forced out by new management of the software company where she worked, just six weeks after being promoted to director of sales. Interview your former bosses about what happened. "What did you learn, and what could you have done differently?" she says.
Ms. Willett also called colleagues who knew her work, asking for their spin on her strengths and weaknesses and ideas about what she should do next. That led to a string of consulting assignments that kept her active and financially secure.
How did she handle that awkward moment when prospective consulting clients or employers asked her why she left her previous job? In general, it's best to briefly acknowledge that there was a difference in strategy or philosophy and then punt the ball forward by moving on to how much you learned from the experience and what you feel you now bring to your next employer. Don't make excuses, and don't trash your previous employer. "Basically, they wanted to know if there was a performance problem," Ms. Willett says. "I reassured them that I left because the company's strategy was changing."
EVENTUALLY, SHE tired of solo consulting. "I really enjoy working around an organization that's growing," says Ms. Willet. In January, she joined a small start-up consulting firm, run by a former boss. Guess who her major client is: her former employer. That leads to her final bit of advice: "Never say anything bad about the company you worked for," she says.
Cultivating long-term business relationships is the best way to ensure a quick recovery from a firing. People who know you and your work are more likely to look past the circumstances of a firing. That's what saved Evan Leepson, who says he was fired in 1997 as director of marketing for the American College of Radiology for violating the professional group's conflict-of-interest policy. (The college declined to comment.)
Mr. Leepson, who never saw himself as an entrepreneur, admits he panicked and took a job for which he was ill-suited, as marketing director for a multimedia company. He lasted four months before getting the boot in a payroll reduction. "I felt relieved," he says.
But a consultant he knew offered him some work, which reassured him that he could make it as a consultant to radiology practices. He called everybody he knew in the business and was earning a six-figure income within six months. "Every job I got was based on a long-term relationship," he says. "I did favors for people. I was always available. You have to develop contacts early and stay in touch."
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