Job Talk: How to put best face on getting fired
Dear J.T. & Dale: I loved my last job as a teller at a bank. I was there for four years when they brought in a new manager. Instantly, I could tell I wasn't going to last long. Nothing I did made him happy, and I went home in tears most nights. Finally I made a mistake he could use, and he fired me. How do I explain being terminated? No matter what I come up with, it makes me look bad. — Jessica
DALE: First off, let's put being fired in perspective. Harvey Mackay, best known for his book "Swim With The Sharks," devoted a later book, "Fired Up!," to stories of people bouncing back from being axed. He writes, "If you're under 30, the likelihood you'll be fired in the next 20 years is 90 percent." That sounds a tad high, but the point is that the person interviewing you probably has gone through the experience. Remember that, and you'll relax into the topic.
J.T.: However, why you left your last job remains a crucial question, one that could determine the outcome of the interview. You need to highlight what you loved about the job and then be objective about what ended it. Something like this: "For four years I loved my job as a teller. In the final months, a new manager was brought in. I'm not sure why, but we didn't connect. I did my best to support him, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually, I was let go. In hindsight, I should've realized we weren't meshing and looked for a new job. I held on in the hopes that I could fix it. Now, I want to find a place where I can get back to doing what I love — caring for customers."
DALE: Well said. Resist the temptation, Jessica, to say more. Just be so positive and upbeat that your attitude says: "Hey, it happens. No big deal. Not a problem."
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Dear J.T. & Dale: My issue is that I am oxygen-dependent due to an illness, which only recently became manageable enough to allow me to return to work. When I appear for an interview, I bring a ready-made excuse for an employer to pass on me: an oxygen tank and cannula. I'm a paralegal, and have kept up on my continuing legal education credits, but attorneys are so risk-averse that they won't take a chance on me. — Kate
J.T.: I see four options.
1. "Lily-pad" your way into the job you want, meaning that you may have to take a job below the one you aspire to — say, an administrative position — as a way back into the field. From there, you can soon move up.
2. Reach out to temp agencies and see if they can get you an assignment. This is a chance to demonstrate your capabilities.
3. Do freelance work. Sites like Elance.com offer you ways to bid on projects of all types, and this would allow you to add new contacts and recent experi ence.
4. Consider starting your own consulting business.
DALE: What those solutions have in common is minimizing risk for the employer; in fact, in three out of the four, you wouldn't be an employee of the law firm — eliminating the worry about long-term health issues. Once you are inside, you can demonstrate your skills while your co-workers get comfortable with seeing the medical equipment, all of which will make hiring you an easy decision. That's always the goal: Be the one who's easiest to hire. However, even as you pursue some or all of J.T.'s four options, I wouldn't give up on the idea of straight-out landing a full-time position. Yes, employers will be nervous about committing to you, and who can blame them — the worst outcome when hiring is to take on new-employee problems. This means you'll need someone to take a chance on you, someone to be a hero in your career story. Don't be afraid to ask for a hero, then minimize the risk by agreeing to an extended probation. Give someone a chance to take a chance on you.
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