Now, unfortunately for you, this isn’t an episode of The Apprentice and no, we’re not casually deciphering Alan Sugar’s latest victim on a comfortable couch over a glass of wine (or whatever your choice of beverage may be). This is your life.
Yup, your (now ex) boss just uttered the two most feared words in the entire workplace in your direction and, well - what the hell do you do now?
Let’s face it, getting fired sucks, and it’s easy to react kind of like this:
But I’m going to stop you right there.
First of all, let me reiterate that it’s going to be okay, so take a few deep, cleansing breaths and rest easy in the knowledge that almost every employee worth their salt has been right where you are, right now - especially in the creative industries. Seriously, George Lois made a career out of it!
Losing your job doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bad at what you do. In fact, it’s almost a ‘it’s not you, it’s me…’ type of situation. And fortunately for you, we’ve got you covered on the most important bases to get you back on your A game in 0-100.
1) Do. Not. Panic.
So your boss broke up with you. Not great, but not the end of the world. I know, I know ‘easy for you to say!...’ *eyeroll*, and that’s an understandable reaction - but I can say it because I’ve lived through it. Don’t skim over the operative word here - lived. You’ll survive this too, so don’t run around like a headless chicken frantically sending CV’s into cyberspace faster than Usain Bolt crosses a finish line because frankly, it won’t do you any favours. If you’re lucky enough to get a follow-up, you more than likely won’t remember a single thing about the company, or even the position you applied for - and how embarrassing would that be? Not to mention unprofessional. You’re better than that.
Sure, beggars can’t be choosers, but you’re not a beggar… yet. So, as much of a sucker punch as it feels right now, take a moment to really absorb what’s happened, understand why, and know that it’s absolutely not going to last forever.
Perspective makes a world of difference. Allow yourself some time to let it out, regroup and come back focused - even if it’s just a couple of days (having said that - keep it to a couple of days… you don’t want to wallow, either). You’ll be glad you did. Promise.
2). Don’t Make This a PSA
Public Service Announcement: People talk - and in the age of the internet, things spread fast and last forever no matter how many times you press the delete button. So with that in mind, make a conscious effort to limit your venting, to a small amount of very trustworthy family or friends (and that means OFF of social media).
Although it’s tempting to share your story with anyone who will listen whilst you’re still reeling from dismissal, it’s also tempting for those people to mention it in casual conversation to the wrong person, and that can have a big knock-on effect on your employability in the future - because everyone know’s a guy who knows a girl who knows your future boss. So be smart with your choice of agony aunt and save your thoughts for your inner circle.
3). Do Your Homework
Once you’ve taken some time to yourself and feel less overwhelmed by the prospect of your future, it’s time to get your game face on. At this stage, it’s really going to help if you have a clear vision of the kind of job you want, and the qualities you want from the companies you’ll be approaching. This needs to be a tactical, strategic job search - not a slap-dash, knee-jerk, fly poster exercise.
Your previous job - what was it?
How ideal was that position for you?
Is that something you’d like to get back into?
If the answer to that last question was a resounding no, then ask yourself what your dream job would be - and if, realistically that’s something you can’t attain - what job is going to get you closer to that goal? Sidenote: this is the part where you get your pen and paper out. I’ll wait for you to do that...
Make a list/brainstorm/whatever works for you, lay it all out and arm yourself with it whenever you’re considering an application. Outline the most important attributes a company should have and consider the following:
What kind of work environment is best for you? (BIG team, small team, structured or flat, quiet and contemplative, NOISY and energetic?)
What do you value the most? (earnings, social bonding, creative freedom, recognition, awards, career growth?)
There are no right answers, just the right answers for you.
Once you’ve figured that out, you’ve got a checklist to measure each role by. You’re unlikely to be able to tick all the boxes on the list but now you know what matters most you'll know where to focus your attention most.
4). Be Honest
I know I said to limit your ‘I got fired’ story to close family and friends, but one person you do need to include in your honesty circle, is your next employer. Now, I’m not saying walk right into your next interview and announce ‘I was terminated!’ before your interviewer has a chance to get a word in edgeways, not at all. But - tempting as it may be - don’t go spinning any yarns.
Here’s the thing, pretty much every interviewer will ask why you left your last job - so it’s gonna pay to be prepared with a truthful answer. It’s how you spin that answer that’s going to leave a lasting impression. Even if you didn’t exactly leave your last position under the best of circumstances, you can still portray yourself in a positive light.
Maybe your boss could put a movie villain to shame, maybe you piped up when you should have piped down - maybe both. It was just a bad situation all round. Now I’m going to show you the difference between ‘spinning’ your answer to help you put your best foot forward.
Negative: ‘My last boss was a tool. He had no idea what he was doing and everyone hated him. He was obviously threatened by me - that’s why he got rid of me.”
Funny as this might read, versions of this ‘explanation’ are more commonplace than you’d think. It might well be the ‘truth’ but it’s not the sort of truth that’s going to get a prospective employer to push the button on hiring you.
Let’s try putting a positive spin on it.
Positive: ‘There were some differences of opinion between my boss and I and in the end, we decided it would be best to part ways. I take responsibility for my part in the way things turned out. But, despite it not being ideal, I learned a lot from the experience and I wish them well.’
Not so bad, right?! You’ve made it clear things didn’t work out as planned but have also demonstrated your ability to rise above it and move on with without holding any grudges.
People accept that we make mistakes… that’s what humans do - it’s what we learn from them that separates us. One bad move on a CV is forgivable. Your troubles will start if you start racking up three or four consecutively. Follow this guide and with any luck, it won’t come to that!
And on that note, go forth and get hired. You’ve got this!