I got fired after a month. What should I do?
February 17, 2021 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I got fired after a month in a start up company because they decided that they wanted someone with more experience. The role was very new and I was considered the guinea pig before they would hire more people in the same title.

Throughout the majority of the day I barely had any work to do which was very strange. My manager did say I wasn't proactive enough and I think that this might have something to do with why I was let go as well. I wasn't asking enough questions. I did not really get training on my role as well because it was so new.

I've been through setbacks in life and I'm trying to not let this get to me. I have never been fired before. I do realize that I am a bit passive in life in general and I am trying to improve. I have awful anxiety and sometimes I had trouble asking for help even though honestly, I wasn't really sure how I could be asking for help when I was really receiving much work in the first place. I have had really bad work experiences in the past and I coped by hiding. This I realize has to change and I need to put myself out there more.

In the future, how can I be more proactive? How can I make the best of this bad situation?
posted by sheepishchiffon to Human Relations (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
In the future, how can I be more proactive? How can I make the best of this bad situation?

You know...a bad fit goes both ways. In this job, they basically learned that they needed someone who had done it before enough to not just receive work, but create it.

This isn't actually your fault, it's seriously exactly just a mismatch. Over time sure, that tendency to turtle and hide is something to address, but there are tons and tons of really good staff who need someone handing them projects and deliverables and deadlines.

In your next set of job interviews, you can ask about workflow - how would you receive work, what the turnaround time is, that kind of thing (all in a very positive way, like "I like to keep busy and get a lot of satisfaction from getting things done. Could you let me know how projects are assigned in this role?")
posted by warriorqueen at 1:28 PM on February 17, 2021 [14 favorites]

I am assuming you are in the USA, which is a statistically likely assumption I'm comfortable making.

A company that fires employees after a month - especially the first one hired! - is either incompetent (more likely) or determined your skillset was absolutely unnecessary (less likely). You should not take any conclusion out of this. In either case, this isn't anything you can do something about. Yes, you might benefit from being more proactive or asking more questions. However, the fact that they didn't coach you and just fired you makes me think that they are using that to justify a firing - not that it's an actual issue.

Apply for unemployment immediately. Being fired does not disqualify you for unemployment. Even if you get a new job quickly, you might as well get the unemployment payment for the time you are eligible.
posted by saeculorum at 1:31 PM on February 17, 2021 [10 favorites]

I think this reflects way more on the startup than on you -- it sounds like they really didn't have their act together when they hired you. It's not normal to hire someone and then not have work to give them. Especially if the role is one they're planning to fill with multiple people?

Startups can be a very mixed bag in terms of professionalism and, frankly, competence, especially if yours was at an early stage. Some founders are better at fundraising than at running a company.
posted by ook at 1:44 PM on February 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

What advice did you take from the last time you asked on how to be more proactive?
posted by saturdaymornings at 1:45 PM on February 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

It's hard to comment without more details on what the role involved, but sometimes on-the-job learning is a skill set in itself - being observant, willing to ask questions, helping out with lower-level or more menial tasks to learn something about the workflow, anticipating and brainstorming what might be needed without being explicitly asked. Maybe reflect on what makes it challenging for you to ask questions or feel motivated? Have there been settings (work or otherwise) where you HAVE been very motivated, proactive? What factors helped you there? What did you feel you got out of that?
It also says something about the workplace if they didn't give you support, guidance, training, or identify people that you could go to with your questions.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 1:53 PM on February 17, 2021

Response by poster: @Saturdaymornings. Ask my manager and coworkers if there was anything that they needed help on.
posted by sheepishchiffon at 1:53 PM on February 17, 2021

early stage startups are not like other jobs. It's all about risk taking.

The rewards can be great and so can the downsides. This sort of thing -- abrupt changes of direction; bad or nonexistent HR and training practices; lack of experience in hiring -- are among the common downsides.

Nobody here can know whether this would have turned out differently if you had gone more often to your manager or internal clients and let them know you were available for more assignments, or suggested projects for yourself. Something to think about; but nobody here should be speculating.

I wouldn't take this too much to heart, honestly, and if you mention it at all in your interviewing you can describe it as just them realizing after a month that the hire turned out to be premature and the work didn't exist yet to justify the hire.

By all means apply for unemployment while you figure our your next steps.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:56 PM on February 17, 2021

The only time I've been fired was in a similar job - I was the first person hired for the given role, and I received very little training. I made mistakes, but I had no way of knowing in advance what was "wrong" since nobody had told me anything. I'm sure you'll get some good advice here, but I'd like to encourage you to forgive yourself. This is likely partially on them.

One takeaway is that you know you do better with clear management/direction. This is something you should communicate to future employers.
posted by coffeecat at 1:57 PM on February 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

I agree with others that this is at least as much on them as on you. And as someone who has done a ton of hiring, I don't see a short stay like this as a negative (you can either leave it off your resume, or pretty easily explain it as clearly not the right fit).

Based on what you said, I would probably advise that you avoid startups in the future, though. Every company is different, but no startup I worked at had "training" in any meaningful sense. At most you might get a few hours of someone showing you where stuff is/what the systems are, and then offering to answer questions. In startups people are expected to be able to work with little structure and figure out what needs to be done. Especially if you're the first in a role, there is by definition no one else doing it to tell you what to do. In some ways the whole definition of a startup is "figuring it out as we go."

To be completely clear, I do not think this is your fault. But I do think you can learn from it to help you pick jobs that are a better fit for your personality and skills going forward.
posted by primethyme at 2:06 PM on February 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Also I forgot to add, this job was completely remote. Which made the asking questions and working with little structure even more difficult.
posted by sheepishchiffon at 2:11 PM on February 17, 2021

What should you do? Get a new job and forget this one.

I was in a similar situation last year right when lockdown started. The person who was supposed to be training me literally refused to get on Zoom calls with me, and when I asked anyone else for help, they’d be “too busy” (true -they often worked 12 hour days) and refer me back to my trainer. I was pretty lucky in that I saw this coming and had another job offer in hand around the same time they decided to let me go - if they didn’t, I would have given my notice. It’s too late for you to do that, obviously, but you’ll find something soon, and when you do, just do that job. It’ll only be a couple months before your memory of this bad job fades.

I agree with the people saying to avoid startups. I went about as far as you can go in the other direction (I now work at an insurance company), and boy does it make a difference. The training was comprehensive, the culture is relaxed, and expectations are clear. Established companies in boring industries like insurance aren’t as “cool” as startups, but let me tell you, they’re much easier to work at.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:12 PM on February 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm with saeculorum. Startups are chaotic things to begin with, I've been in one myself.

My point of view is that there are two types of startups: one with a solid idea and they desparately need help to get the thing working, or one that has an "idea" and manages to capture some investment but can't figure out how to get the goats herded properly and get the "idea" into reality - so instead they load the room with staff and muddle about. You also see foosball tables in this type of company.

You got burned by the second. If you were in the first type, they would have a laundry list of things for you to do the moment you walked in the door. You wouldn't have needed to walk around and ask for something to do. Were you supposed to understand the startup's business model from day one and start implementing it? That's a ludicrous thing to ask, especially if you have no equity in the company. I wouldn't feel bad about this at all.

To avoid this in the future, ask lots of questions about your job's role and responsbilities.

Example #1: "What will I be working on my first day/week/month here?"
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:22 PM on February 17, 2021 [10 favorites]

one that has an "idea" and manages to capture some investment but can't figure out how to get the goats herded properly and get the "idea" into reality - so instead they load the room with staff and muddle about. You also see foosball tables in this type of company.

I'm doing the laughing-crying emoji here because this was precisely my experience, right down to the foosball tables. I got fired from one of these places after five months of floundering through a very similar situation in an optimistically-created yet poorly-scoped position. In hindsight, getting let go after a month would have been an incredible blessing. Hell, I knew within a month that I'd made a mistake in joining them. I did learn a tremendous amount from working there even if most of it was of the "what not to do" variety, which is how I choose to view that period.
posted by anderjen at 3:59 PM on February 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

You have been treated as a commodity and that's pretty horrible. It's not you. You got laid off because they didn't hire well, didn't train, didn't set expectations, and didn't supervise. What you can learn is is to always be enhancing your skill set.

Paid time, nothing to do? Learn photoshop (many clones exist) and write good -looking documentation; create cool desktop wallpapers. Develop strong computer skills, get great at moderating Zoom meetings, learn some useful web skills. Study for certifications and take exams. Employers will use you to make profits; use employers to improve your employability.
posted by theora55 at 5:14 PM on February 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Ask my manager and coworkers if there was anything that they needed help on.
And what was the result of this? Silence? Or just "nah I'm good?"

You mention that you didn't have much work. What kind of feedback did you get on the work you did? Anywhere you could improve?

I encourage you to think of this as a learning experience and not a setback, especially with far too short of a tenure to have had much impact (good or bad). I've had this experience twice in non startups meaning big, established companies in big, established industries and basically it has come down to lack of defining a new role; as pointed out above, an idea rather than a plan. A solution that doesn't necessarily have a problem to solve. The way through this -- both times -- was to basically invent a job I didn't actually want. I don't really recommend this.

Sometimes this isn't as evident during the interviewing process as one would like, but I agree that this is probably the best place to assess the intentions of the role.

I'm sorry, I know it sucks.
posted by sm1tten at 5:50 PM on February 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: When I asked if someone needed help sometimes they replied that they had something other times they didn't have anything for me to do.

When I asked for feedback on why I was being let go they said I was too complacent.

I asked to shadow someone in another role and that never happened
posted by sheepishchiffon at 6:22 PM on February 17, 2021

As a similarly quiet person, I find in situations like this it can be useful to tell people, "I'd like to help, anything I can do?" until I feel like I'm a pest. But agree with others that this is more on them than on you.
posted by ldthomps at 7:19 PM on February 17, 2021

First of all, I agree with what others have said above which is that it sounds like this could well be very much a them problem rather than a you problem, however they've phrased it to you. Being told you were "too complacent" is kind of a weird thing to say to someone in their first month, and I'd be giving them the side eye hard - feels like it's pretty likely that they didn't really know who they wanted, are looking for someone magical, will keep cycling through people but when they drop them, make them feel like it's their fault so that they can kid themselves that they're doing a cool and fine thing.


There is the side note that you've posted about this before, so I wanted to drop a tip for you. You say that you've started asking people more for advice, for work they could use help with, and for assistance like opportunities to shadow. Which is GREAT and you should be proud of that progress for you.

Next job, here's something else you can do. In your first week, have the conversation with your manager about your role, and absolutely do not drop it until you can picture what you'll be doing every hour of the day for the next month.

So for example:

"What will my main responsibilities be day to day?"

"What would you like me to prioritise highest?"

"If I feel like I've completed everything I can do on those tasks, what are some things I can get on with quietly until there is more to do?"

"Who is/are the people whose workloads are the highest, who I might help if I have quiet time?"

"Is there anything I could easily train/shadow for that would be useful for me to know how to do?"

"Are there any manuals/guidance notes/technical notes which you would like me to read in my quiet time to help understand our work?"

"Are there any initiatives that you would like me to get involved with?"

These are just a few questions that you could ask - not necessarily at the same time, but if you feel like you're not getting enough work to fill your day, try asking a bunch of them and going from there.

Good luck! I feel for you! Keep going!
posted by greenish at 7:45 AM on February 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

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