When The Ax Falls; Coping With Being Fired (For Non-Clinical Staff)

By Ian Morrison

I almost never believe a hard luck story. That's not to say that there aren't people who deserve sympathy. It's just that some people seem to be so full of bad luck, and have so many excuses for things that happen to them, I can't help but feel suspicious.

In interviews, I often hear a variation of the same story and it usually involves a conspiracy. Perhaps a supervisor or colleague had a vendetta against the unfortunate victim and went out of her way to get the person fired. Or maybe it was the Men in Black. I've no doubt that there are occasions when people are genuinely victimized, but there can't possibly be as many victims as I've met.

My Previous Job – R.I.P.

It's true that losing a job is a difficult experience. Like losing a loved one, it almost always comes as a shock, even if it was somewhat expected. Most people gain their sense of self-worth from the work that they do, and there's a stigma attached to losing one's job. However, the fact is, in virtually no circumstance will playing the victim help your cause.

There are countless reasons why someone might be let go. Companies often change their direction. There may be unforeseen downturns, mergers, or funding decreases, which necessitate restructuring or closures. Sometimes, certain people just don't fit in certain work environments or positions. And there are times when supervisors and subordinates simply do not get along.

Be Proactive

So what do you do when the ax falls, and your head is on the chopping block? What do you do when you've been let go?

The first step is to analyze why it happened. Find out whether others were let go, or if there was a systematic process in determining who was let go and who was retained. If you were the only one let go, think about the reasons. It'll prepare you for future job interviews.

Secondly, take steps to avoid similar situations in the future. For instance, if you were laid off due to budget cutbacks, there may have been a reason why you were deemed expendable. Some further training might be in order to help you gain new competencies. If you believe that your personality didn't match with the corporate culture of the employer, you might focus your next job search on employers that provide a better fit.

How do you handle future job interviews?

Even if you're convinced that your previous dismissal was unfair, do not attempt to place blame. Remember that the person sitting across from you probably has had to fire someone. S/he is probably just as likely to identify with your former employer as s/he is to identify with you. Moreover, I would far rather hear candidates say that they made a mistake than hear a lengthy story about the evildoing of a previous employer or colleague.

During job interviews, demonstrate that you've learned from your previous experiences and that you have, in fact, taken steps to improve. Be sure to mention any further training you have received or plan to receive. Make it clear that you've done your homework and believe that this employer is an appropriate place for you to work. Be honest.

After all, interviewers are experienced at reading people and will sense if your responses are not authentic. So, rather than trying to hide or rationalize your past, show that you are capable of self-analysis, able to recognize your shortcomings, and willing to work to improve yourself. (See: Dear Cindy – Explaining That You Were Fired and Dear Cindy – Bad References.)

My Future Job

Finally, it's important to recognize that being fired is often not as bad as you think. Many people end up in better positions after they've been fired. If you get fired from a bad working environment, you may even feel a sense of relief. Being fired can thus be seen as an opportunity to explore new opportunities, further your education, or even find a new career.

The point is that you need to get over being fired as soon as possible. Carrying resentment and hostility towards your former employer will only weigh you down and hinder you in the future. You can't change what happened in the past, so learn from it and move on.

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