How do I rebound from being fired?
December 26, 2011 7:43 PM   Subscribe

I was just fired from my job because I didn't meet performance expectations. It's a terrible feeling. How can I best learn from this experience and attack the future?

Until last week, I had a job at a fast-paced media company. On the day of reckoning, I was told that I'm a good writer with powerful ideas, but I don't work fast enough.

A few details:

--I'm a late-20s female living in NYC. I have a solid resume with other "brand name" companies on it.
--It's true, I wasn't fast enough! Oh dear. I held my own for months, but I got behind in the four weeks leading up to my firing and it snowballed something fierce.
--I've learned a lot from this experience. Especially not to let communication break down with a boss. My boss was difficult to work with -- for instance, she talked negatively about other employees behind their back, which created an uncomfortable work environment. BUT it was still my responsibility to try to sort things out with her, regardless of how intimidated I felt.

So. What now? I feel like crap, obviously. Many people get laid off -- few get fired! (It's kind of like, "Who DOES that?") But dwelling on this feeling isn't constructive.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? How did you keep your head up? If you were me, how would you go about getting a new job? What would your plan of attack be? Thanks in advance for any advice, encouragement or tough love. It's *very* much appreciated. Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
The most important thing is to not take it personally. Companies and workplaces are complex, complex places, with unique cultures and expectations and bizarre mixes of personalities. Some people are just naturally not going to fit, through no fault of their own, and it sounded like that might be what happened here. At my job, I worked with a brilliant, brilliant woman who was fast-tracked out of the company for reasons of fit; she's since landed on her feet with a competitor firm that's more prestigious than we are.

Don't approach job hunting differently than you would if you were simply unsatisfied with this job; that is, don't make a big deal of the fact that you were fired. List the workplace on your resume; if you're asked why the short duration, just say it was a bad fit, and you left. As long as you're not using anyone as a reference from that company, they (likely) can't tell prospective employers that you were fired (and if they're at all professional, they won't).

Also, I'm sure you have heard it before, but be flexible. NYC is the media capital of the world, but media is done elsewhere, and "media people" can do other things, too.

Good luck!
posted by downing street memo at 8:20 PM on December 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't take the failure personally, it's just a job, and a lot of people have been fired before. It doesn't make you a bad person. It may have been the wrong job for you.

And maybe you did the job badly, sometimes people get in over their heads, the job isn't what was expected, perhaps it required more/better/different skills than you possessed. So, evaluate what went wrong and what the lesson from this is. You mention that you got behind. Why did that happen and what can you do next time to be faster? Do you procrastinate, do too much research before starting, struggle with the topic too long before asking for help when you need clarification, or just too slow with the actual writing? Consider what skills you gained or need to improve to be better next time.

Lots of people have shitty managers. As longs as there are jobs, there will be shitty managers (you may be one yourself one day). You need to learn to ignore what doesn't matter to your job.

In terms of managing this, I wouldn't tell everyone that I was fired. I would say laid off. Friends, peers and colleagues might be hesitant to help you with your next gig in terms of networking or references. It's fine to take responsibility for what went wrong, i.e. I wish I'd been faster or better at office politics, but leave it at that. Don't make it difficult for people to support you or give them reason to doubt you. Say that you've learned from this job and always focus on and remind people of your strengths and skills.

Look for a job full-time and act as though you haven't been fired.
posted by shoesietart at 8:22 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're wrong - lots and lots and lots of people get fired. Especially in demanding industries, and double especially in hair-trigger environments with difficult bosses. I had a boss who had fired 11 people before he hired me (all as his lone assistant.) I wasn't technically fired, but until my last day I was actively praying to be fired because my parents would have killed me if I had quit (at least, that's what I thought at the time.) Most of my friends have had a similar experience: they called it a "failed probationary period" or "we decided it wouldn't work out" but the fact is they were let go and not because there were too many bodies and not enough shifts to fill.

You should focus on the future: things you can do something about. For example, tonight you can go to bed early, not drink alcohol, and set your alarm for 7am even though you don't have a job to get to. Tomorrow morning you can make breakfast and send an email to everyone on your personal contact list (parents, friends, friends of your parents) asking them to let you know if they hear of any opportunities, because you're looking. Etc.

You can also, if you've got savings or a library card, read this book. You'll feel better.
posted by SMPA at 8:23 PM on December 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

The fact that you are so quickly taking this as a way to learn and regroup is a strong sign. This may be humbling, but if you can look at it from a clear perspective you'll definitely get stronger out of it.

It sounds like you agree that you were not meeting expectations. This may have been because you aren't as good as others who could fill that roll, or may be because the expectations were unreasonable. This is where a lot of folks get hung up. The bottom line is that it doesn't matter. You are you, and you can only do what you can do. Certainly you can expand your capacity with practice over time, but that won't happen overnight.

So, something happened in the last four weeks that changed the situation. From your post you were presumably meeting expectations adequately prior to that. Think about this a bit. Is it really that something changed, or did your boss just bring down the hammer over a few weeks on a disconnect between expectations and performance that had been there for a long time. It isn't at all uncommon for a somewhat dissatisfied supervisor to react by becoming more demanding until the expectations become super-human for what was previously a reasonable job.

You also mentioned communication with your boss, which I agree is key. In the future you should be checking in with yourself daily on imminent deadlines and at least weekly on long term goals. Be honest with yourself about whether you are meeting them and will meet them. If not, you need to let your boss know and ask for help, point out what goal you could meet, or propose an alternative piece of work you can do that will satisfy their needs. Putting off this tough conversation is the number one reason for dissatisfaction. This isn't about getting out of work or asking your boss to make your job easier, it is about being clear on what you can and cannot accomplish.

If you do this, and still can't make things work then it is simply a matter of job skills. I'm not qualified to speak to specifically how to become faster at your proficient work. I'd recommend reaching out to industry and educational resources and connections for advice. While you are between jobs it is an opportunity for you to begin practicing whatever methods or techniques you may need to master if this is indeed a hole in your skill set.
posted by meinvt at 8:28 PM on December 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I agree that plenty of people get fired, and you shouldn't see it as a completely strange thing or a reflection on you. People get fired for all KINDS of things, warranted or no.

I work in media in NYC, so some specific notes on job seeking: Update your Linked In ASAP, and "follow" all companies you might want to work for. Join professional groups for your area. Post updates on media trends and topics that you find interesting. In my experience, recruiters will find you.

Also, talk up your brand name client experience. I find that mentioning big name clients is big in this business. In interviews, say things like, " In my experience working on a major project for XX brand, I found that..." You don't want to excessively "name drop," but you do want to make clear that you can handle high profile brands and project work.
posted by sweetkid at 8:42 PM on December 26, 2011

I'm sure you may not believe me right now, but layoffs are very, very common in this industry, including people with many years of experience or phenomenal reputations. So if you say you were let go/laid off, I don't think most companies would blink an eye. In addition, at this time of year, the work load is insane.

What do you want to do next or in the next few years?

If you want to get hired soon in the same industry, I would (whatever order you decide): 1) contact your company and ask what type of recommendation they will give (believe it or not, even if you quit, are promoted, etc, with some com companies in NYC the policy is to only verify dates of employment (?!), but just ask them what they will say or what their policy is; 2) line up colleagues as references (you may decide not to use your supervisor - again, no one would blink); 3) contact a few recruiters/headhunters; 4) throw up your CV/looking for a job on LinkedIn (the recruiters are also crazy in there right now); 5) contact everyone you know...former colleagues, etc, and tell them that you are looking for a job. I really think that this would be sufficient to find a job because the industry is very fast-paced, but if not...send out emails to every single company in your industry in this city (the NYC business library has a book...a detailed list with emails of presidents and VPs of communication companies).

Also, we have all been there, crazy boss, ridiculous pace of work. You may want to do a little more research next time so that you don't end up in another frying pan by asking questions of your potential new work colleagues.

Also, what industry are you in within media? If it is/was a medical communication company (or you have any interest in this), feel free to memail me.I know companies that will hire pple starting out and companies that can't handle their workload right now (as in they will be or are hiring). I also know a few recruiters who were great in finding opportunities/etc.

posted by Wolfster at 8:43 PM on December 26, 2011

Bah, when you get "fired" often it has nothing to do with performance, and everything to do with politics or personality. It just wasn't a good fit, that's all.

Try to figure out what was successful in your job, and what was unsuccessful. Try to identify workplaces that fit your personality, and identify workplaces that feature the unsuccessful parts of your last job, so you can avoid them.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:46 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got fired from my media job in my late 20s, even though I was smart and had good ideas. Was some of it politics or that my boss was a dummy who didn't appreciate my skills? Maybe, yeah, sure.

But a lot of it was that I didn't translate my ideas and ambition into clear plans, didn't execute reliably on those plans or communicate clearly when I wasn't able to execute on those plans. I had a lot to learn about all the *other* parts of doing a good job that have nothing to do with the work per se. Keeping others up to date, making coworkers feel they could trust me, demonstrating that a company was making a good investment by spending money on my career -- those were the things I had to develop.

At the stage you're at in your career, it's normal not to have the hang of all of that yet. It just means you've got some stuf to learn, and fortunately you seem incline to do just that. I hope you find what I did when I was in your exact situation just nine years ago -- the job you just got fired from was only getting in the way of the amazing, fulfilling career you're about to begin.
posted by anildash at 8:58 PM on December 26, 2011

Getting fired is fairly standard in media. Next time, figure out what the boss especially values.
And being intimidated by a boss is something to get over. Practice various situations with a sympathetic friend if you have to. Your job wasn't just producing prose--it was also keeping the boss informed.
But I don't agree it wasn't "a good fit"--the gig might have been a great fit, had you performed as you were supposed to. That's not to beat you up, but you need to really sit down (after the initial shock and trauma have passed a little) and see where you went wrong and how you could have handled it differently. And next time you're stuck with killer deadlines, you've got an arsenal of choices as to how to make it work.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:11 PM on December 26, 2011

I was in the same boat as you about a month ago. I looked at it as if it were a really bad breakup, and did the things that made me feel better (In this instance, it was to program computer games) so, start something or do something indulgent and/or productive.

Also, like any bad breakup, you'll feel terrible no matter what you do, I'm sorry to say. One tries to rationalize if they did X more or were better at Y or talked to the boss about Z, but in the end it almost always comes down as a bad fit.

You'll probably e-mail everyone you know about jobs. Some won't get back to you, others will take a week because they're slow, but others will be quick about it. There will be leads and prospects, some of which will fizzle out or turn out to be dead ends. During the slower times when you have an empty inbox it's good to have a project to work on, you're a writer so maybe you'd start a book. It's important to have something you can fall back on while waiting for things to pan out, something you can focus on.

Everyone who I've shared my experience with tells me they think I'll land on my feet, which I've always greeted with some pessimism. You'll might get the same thing, people will say that "you're young" and that you should be thankful not to have things like a mortgage or a family to look after. I'm not sure of your situation, but counting my blessings didn't help.

What I ended up doing was moving across country (I hated the city I was living in, and the apartment, and my roommates) back with my parents, so I could move to another city where I wanted to live. I changed everything I hated about my life so I could heal and start recovering.

I hope some of this helps. I had a whole bunch of people telling me not to feel like crap even though that's how I felt. Do what you feel.
posted by hellojed at 9:13 PM on December 26, 2011

Lots of people DO get fired, myself included. I was working as a school counselor, got a stellar performance review mid-year, and then two months after that I was told my contract wasn't being renewed. It sucked big time. I had also let things snowball, but uthe principal was also extremely unorganized, impulsive, and an all around asshat. I'm so glad that I'm no longer working there, but it took me a long time to rid myself of the feeling that I was a loser for being fired. Keep busy and don't allow yourself too much time to ruminate about what you did "wrong". Cut yourself a break.
posted by Sal and Richard at 9:32 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Look at this as an opportunity to find a job that better suits you. It's an opportunity.
posted by mleigh at 11:54 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

My boss was difficult to work with -- for instance, she talked negatively about other employees behind their back, which created an uncomfortable work environment.

OK, so you already knew she's an unprofessional goose. Well, now you've also found out that she's one of those idiots who think that quality writing can and should be treated like it was washing machines coming off an assembly line, and that she doesn't have the gumption to maintain a small queue of finished work to match the naturally variable rate of creative output to the regular consumption patterns required by publication.

Go work for somebody with a clue.
posted by flabdablet at 3:33 AM on December 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have been in a situation like this, inasmuch as I was made redundant (purely for political reasons - HATE this gov't) at the end of September after 20+ successful years in my "career" - I don't particularly enjoy what I do for a living but even so it was a huge kick in the teeth and I felt awful (and still do), so as you obviously like what you do expect to feel a lot of strong emotions. I know that's stating the obvious but as I said it took me by surprise how depressed and demotivated I felt.

The answer for me was the hoary old standby of networking - get in touch / keep in touch with friends and colleagues in your business, yes to ask about openings but also just to help you keep up with what's going on day to day and to get you moving and thinking forward. Actually getting out to meet people will make you feel more focussed and less inclined to mope around at home mithering about what's happened; *raises hand hesitantly, looks shyly round room*.

In terms of the actual reason they let you go, do you have a friendly contact at that company who you trust and who you could talk to about what happened? If you are acknowledging that you had some problems with the pace of the work, do they have any observations on how you appeared to be performing that might be of use to you in helping you pin down what went wrong? Did you adopt a different process to others in how you paced yourself, or when you submitted you work, or how you interacted with key colleagues (not just boss) - talking through with someone else who knows the set-up might help you identify and thus avoid the pitfalls in the future.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:04 AM on December 27, 2011

Look at it as an opportunity to improve your efficiency and/or workflow. Now that you don't have the daily or hourly pressures of deadlines, sit down and really think about what it was that made you slow. Consider your most recent project, and think about your workdays leading up to the day of reckoning. Bogged down in extraneous details? Interruptions from people? Working late which meant you couldn't get your housework done which meant you had to "steal" time at work to drop off cleaning/pay bills/etc.? (In my experience, those are the biggest reasons people lose productivity.)

Anyway, even if your work wasn't objectively any slower than anyone else's, you feel like you can improve your work skills, so absolutely work on that.

Then, when you are searching for your next job, cast a wide net and choose a job that is a better fit for your pace. Consider things that aren't exactly in your chosen field, but where your work experience will help you.
posted by gjc at 6:16 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, FWIW, there may have been ways you could have managed your workload and your boss better, but if she was unprofessional enough to bitch about other employees behind their backs, it was probably more her fault than yours.

But even if it had been your fault, it doesn't sound like any occasion for intense shame. You win some, you lose some.

Just get stuck into looking for another job.
posted by tel3path at 6:28 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sounds like more of a blessing than a curse to me from what you've said about the pace AND your boss, although I'm sure it doesn't feel that way right now.

I've been let go for performance reasons that proved over time to be beyond my control; it led me to seek education and employment in another field and ultimately was a Good Thing. There are some things we can't change about ourselves.

Maybe you're not the fastest writer in the West. So what. You might want to target markets/areas that would have a pace that is more sustainable for you. And maybe there are some things you can do about your pace of work.

The word "fired" always smacks to me of someone who's been raiding the till or just being a general goof-off; it sounds to me like you were trying your best to do your job. Good luck and I hope you find a better fit (and a more professional environment).
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:56 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Similar thing happened to me. It sucked for at least a month. Then a couple months after that it was steadily less sucky. Sometime around the 90 day mark it occurred to me "damn am I glad I don't work there any more."
posted by bukvich at 7:47 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

i want to highlight what flabdablet wrote. it's not just your old bosses fault–you definitely share a large part of the responsibility for that situation–but managers are suppose to ... manage. a good manager should be contacting you to get work updates if you aren't giving them, and she should have back up plans.

the good thing to take away is that better communication about deadlines and work progress is something that can be fixed, as opposed to not being able to actually do the work.
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:09 AM on December 27, 2011

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