Life is filled with unkind cuts, but among the most painful are the ones that accompany getting axed from a job.
High-profile cannings have dominated recent headlines. Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels just got the boot.
The midterm elections that saw incumbents ousted across the country amounted to firings too, courtesy of the politicians’ constituents.
There are all manner of ways to react to a firing. Ranting and raving is one. Uttering “Thanks for the opportunity” is another. And there is always the stiff upper lip and silence.
Job counselors say there are good and bad ways to handle getting fired: things to say and not say, do and not do. It’s all about exiting with grace and class.
For working stiffs without golden parachutes, that information can make a difference in making new doors open even as old ones hit us in the keister.
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“The thing people need to keep uppermost in mind if they’re fired is to not burn their bridges,” says Marie McIntyre, founder of Your Office Coach, a career-counseling service based in Atlanta. “The thing to remember is that while very often you’re mad at the people who fired you, they’re not mad at you.”
McIntyre, author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics,” adds that people who have been axed should realize they often have latitude to negotiate some things about the firing.
“Managers often feel guilty about having to fire someone,” she says. “Obviously that’s not the case if you’ve embezzled half a million dollars, but some employers will be willing to give you a recommendation letter, or the opportunity to resign.
”Some companies will even let you stay on the employee roster in the capacity of unpaid leave, which is useful if you want to be able to tell prospective employers that you still have a job.“
Experts — a group that includes career counselors and folks who have been kicked to the curb alike — agree that the two most common reactions to getting fired are angry outbursts and deer-in-the-headlights shock.
The former is understandable but shortsighted, while the latter can prevent action in the ”golden hour“ when the newly jobless need to direct smart questions to company administrators and human-resources personnel.
Rene Ramirez, who retired eight years ago from Colorado state government, remembers a time when keeping his cool landed him a job from the boss who abolished his old one. When a new administration dissolved the division he once headed within the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, he could have called in favors from legislators he knew, or he could have sued. Instead, he went into team-player mode and worked with his boss to fashion a new position.
”In a closely knit environment, whether it be government, politics, certain professions and sports, one has to make a conscientious decision as to how to react to employment terminations,“ Ramirez says. ”I valued my government skills and desire to serve the public as more important than a temporary setback that could be made permanent. I carried out my new responsibilities with pride and continued to give my best efforts to serve the state.
“Ultimately, I achieved my goal of being a division director again, and retired with a higher sense of accomplishment.”
McIntyre says that employees who have any inkling that they’ll be fired should prepare a cogent argument for staying on, but also a list of questions for their human-resources department.
“A big question for your boss or the HR people is how the firing will be worded, and what it will say in your personnel file,” she says. “If the firing is purely a matter of a new management team coming in and taking the company in a different direction, that should be reflected. And most companies will do that.”
Ray Martin, who lost his job at a Denver auto dealership because he was not making his sales quota, recalls the urge he had to blow up at his boss when he was fired.
“I’d been a top guy who had five bad months at a time when the dealership was really going through some hard times when the economy tanked in 2008,” Martin says. “I thought it was a pretty raw deal, and said so. But I kept my cool, and I think my boss agreed with me. Anyway, he gave me a good recommendation and that wouldn’t have happened if I’d started throwing things.”
One more thing: When interviewing for a new job, don’t slag an old boss or company.
“The most important thing an interviewer looks for in the initial interview is whether this person is going to be a problem,” McIntyre says. “So stay on the positive.”
Saying goodbye gracefully
There are dos and don’ts when you are fired from a job. Here are a few offered by Marie McIntyre, founder of the career-counseling firm Your Office Coach and author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” They are from her website, yourofficecoach.com.
— Don’t curse, yell or insult people. While it’s tempting to vent, this will have negative long-term consequences.
— Don’t damage company property. That includes computer files.
— Don’t automatically accept what you’ve been told by the person firing you. There is often room to negotiate the terms of a firing.
— Don’t bad-mouth your boss or company in later job interviews.
— Remain respectful and professional. Even if you hate the jerks, don’t burn bridges.
— Ask for a second chance to turn things around — say, a 30-day period. Agree to go quietly at the end of that period if they still want you to. All they can do is say “no.”
— If you have a difficult challenge with health insurance, discuss it with your HR manager. They might be able to help.
— You MUST negotiate the way your departure will be described to future employers. See if your manager will agree on language that does not make you appear to be a risk.
— If possible, get a reference letter stating the agreed-upon reason.
— Ask how your personnel record will read and exactly what information people will be given when they verify your employment.
— After biting your tongue at work, find a friend or family member who will let you blow off steam.