People who are new to the workforce often think an employee termination is a rare and frightening occurrence. However, those of us who have been around the block a few times know that firings are pretty commonplace -- and many of us have been fired before and lived to tell the tale. A recent study suggests the average worker in the U.S. will hold nearly 12 jobs during their lifetime, and there's a good chance not all of those transitions will be voluntary.
Once the ax falls, the question is, "What now?" Different people will react to a termination in different ways, but getting fired can prove to be an eye-opening experience that makes you, as it did me, even more valuable to your next employer. Here are five things I learned after being handed a pink slip.
1. It may have started with the first interview
Asking the right questions during a job interview can make all the difference. For example, I was hired to change the sales culture at a longtime regional brokerage firm from its old-school, boiler-room mentality to a more modern financial-advisory model.
The plan was to develop a number of training programs, which I did. Next up was running several training sessions with some other executive management in attendance. Once I'd completed the training curriculum and run several sessions, I got the boot. Bad news, right? It sure was for me, because I liked the new direction the firm was taking and thought I was going to be a part of it.
Then it hit me during my last elevator ride down from my office: They never intended to keep me on once the training programs were completed. What I should have asked during the initial interview was, "What will the role entail after the curriculum is completed?" The answer to that simple question would have helped me realize this wasn't the long-term position I was looking for.
2. Sometimes, it isn't about you at all
Unfortunately, it just doesn't matter how well you're doing when a new owner or management team takes the reins. And don't be surprised if the "reason" you're terminated is borderline ridiculous. Sometimes new leadership thinks it's a bit harsh to simply say, "We're cutting overhead," so they'll instead come up with inane excuses.
Another example: Near the end of a different job, I was only three weeks away from a promotion to executive vice president, and my team and I were coming off a record month that handily beat all our targets. And then I got the dreaded call to my boss's office. Why? Apparently, I just wasn't making the grade.
Analyzing the situation over the next few days helped me realize it was never about me at all. Rather than simply saying the new corporate owners wanted to consolidate operations to shave overhead, my superiors contrived a reason to fire me. Once I came to that realization, it was much easier for me to move on. And that brings us to the next lesson.
3. You should still reflect on how you might have done better
If you're fired from your job, you owe it to yourself and your future employers to take a long look in the mirror and think about whether your former boss had some legitimate reasons to let you go. It's not a fun exercise, but it's necessary. Admitting that you perhaps fell short in some ways will help you grow emotionally and professionally, and it will make you more ready than ever to nail your next role.
4. Be prepared for your next interview
One of the most important things to do after you've been terminated is to think about your next job interview and plan out your answer to an inevitable question: "Why did you leave your last position?"
How you respond to that question could very well mean the difference between landing your next position and hitting the pavement again. When an interviewer asked me why I was let go from my position developing a training curriculum, I chose to put the onus on myself. I responded with something like, "I neglected to ask Mr. X what happens to the role after the training programs are completed in the initial interview." I Then added, "It was a tough lesson to learn, but it's a mistake I won't make again."
You don't have to confess every blunder you've ever made, but your prospective employer will appreciate a bit of candor.
5. Keep your head up
Don't fall into the spiral of negativity that being let go can put you in. It's not good for anyone, and it makes it harder for you to recognize the lessons you can learn from the experience. Remember: Getting fired doesn't change who you are -- just your job. Every worker has something to offer, and although you may have made some mistakes in your previous job, you can learn to avoid those mistakes and be an even better employee for your next boss.
Maintaining a glass-half-full mindset after you've been fired is easier said than done. But if you can make the best of the situation by learning from the experience and bringing your best self to each job interview, you'll be moving on to bigger and better things in no time.