You weren’t handed a pink slip; you were shown the door. Ouch! Let’s face it: Being fired is not a stellar asset to have on your resume. And the anticipation of having to explain the whys and hows each time you interview has you hiding at home with your blinds drawn.
Importantly, you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and confidently get back on the job hunt.
But first, carefully plot out your answer to the most uncomfortable questions about your termination in advance and rehearse them well. Focus on lessons learned. Try to sound upbeat, not bitter, as you tell your story. Own your mistakes and give a context for why you and the employer weren’t a good fit. Show how the experience was really a blessing in disguise. Importantly, though, when you interview, your charge will be to move the conversation from “Why were you fired?” to “Why you should be hired.”
Once you’ve honed your answers, focus on landing your next job. Today’s world of electronic applications and selling yourself on social media require a lot of prep work. Follow these tips for getting your message out and putting your best self forward:
1. Update your resume and create a cover letter template. Know that you will load your cover letter and resume electronically on job sites, so both can be adaptable documents that you tweak to fit each position before uploading as a pdf. You need to decide whether to list the position you were fired from on your resume. If you worked there less than six months, you could consider it an interim period where you and the company “tried each other out,” and not an official part of your work history. But, if you stayed there any longer than that, you will need to include it — meaning you will likely need to deal with the pernicious “Why were you fired?” question. Either way, do not address having been fired in your cover letter.
2. Polish your LinkedIn profile. Many of today’s hiring managers use social media to cull applicants. If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, create one. Review colleagues’ and associates’ profiles to find a good model. Instead of simply restating your resume, showcase your unique qualifications, passions, and value proposition. Flesh out your experience section in the first person, describing your accomplishments and their impact, using numbers or results that prove success. Finally, upload a photo that is professional, warm, and not too retouched. After all, someday the hiring manager will meet you in person.
3. Reach out to former bosses and colleagues for referrals. Endorsements from a colleague or former boss can help to offset any unfavorable references, particularly when you’re strategic about whom you ask. Prepare him or her before writing a testimonial on your behalf. You want all of your advocates to present a consistent story about who you are and what you can offer. Approach managers who’ve given you positive performance reviews and coworkers whom you’ve helped on projects. Give them some background about the position and why you want the job, even coaching them on which projects or achievements they could talk about. The more forthcoming they are, the better the testimonial on your behalf. If a hiring manager asks to call your former employer who fired you, be honest and say that your former boss might give you a less than stellar reference — and here’s why. Suggest other people in the organization who will provide a more objective opinion.
4. Connect with a recruiter specializing in your area of expertise. Executive recruiters work for employers, not job hunters, and aren’t always easy to find. You can look online at recruiter directories (RileyGuide.com is one free source), or tap your network of professionals or trade associations to see whom they use. One way to get a recruiter’s attention is to suggest excellent prospects for jobs the recruiter is trying to fill, but for which you don’t qualify. Recruiters will also notice you if you speak at industry conferences, write articles, and network with associates. You may also consider using a headhunter to get a jump on the competition, as a good one can lead you to positions not advertised to the masses.
5. Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for a job. Losing a job delivers an ego blow, but don’t allow that to hold you back. No matter what the reason was for your termination, you owe it to yourself to get back out there. Call everyone whom you have ever met who might be able to introduce you to someone who’s hiring. Write emails. Treat the task of looking for a job as a job and you will land your new position sooner.
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Vicky Oliver is a leading career development expert and the multi-best-selling author of five books, including 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks, 2005) and her new book, Live Like a Millionaire (Without Having to Be One) (Skyhorse, 2015). She is a sought-after speaker and seminar presenter and a popular media source, having made over 700 appearances in broadcast, print, and online outlets. For more information, visitvickyoliver.com.