Don’t worry. Getting fired is often a great career move

It might sound counter-intuitive to suggest that getting fired is a positive thing to happen for your career, but I’ve seen it happen many times.

I’ve been corresponding with a woman who was fired from her job after a failed project. She wrote to the CareerBeacon team asking how to handle the situation in future job interviews. (I wrote about that last week.)

She appreciated the advice but said that she is still anxious about her career prospects. That’s understandable. Getting fired can be traumatic. It shakes your self-confidence. I’ve been fired before. It was the best thing that could have happened for my career.

I was working full-time at a bookstore while I wrote my MA thesis. However, the academic work was slow-going, and I worked in that retail environment for nearly two years before I was terminated. That was a blow at the time because I counted on the salary to pay my rent. The trouble is that because the job was comfortable and easy, and I enjoyed working with friends, I would probably have lingered there for a great deal longer if I had not been fired.

Staying longer would have been continuously hitting the snooze button on starting my real life.

Finding myself suddenly unemployed forced me to go out and get hired for my first professional writing job as an advertising copywriter. Getting fired from the bookstore ended up more than tripling my income and kick-starting my career.

The real worst decision we can make is in choosing not to decide at all. Wrong choices are usually just opportunities to learn how to make better choices moving forward. Making no decisions leads to stagnation.

The woman who wrote to CareerBeacon had been steering a sinking ship. That can’t have been a happy situation. When the project failed, her company let her go. That’s a setback. But most successful people suffer setbacks, even firings, over the course of their careers. That opens the door for something better.

Harvard Business Review conducted a 10-year CEO Genome study of over 2,600 leaders. They found that nearly half (45%) experienced at least one major career blow-up — such as being fired, blowing an important deal, or messing up an acquisition. Despite that, 78% of these executives eventually made it to the CEO role.

The good news? Being fired or laid off wasn’t a career killer. Most – 68 per cent – of the executives who had been let go had landed in a new job within six months. A further 24 per cent found a new job by the end of one year. Even better? 91 per cent of the executives who had been fired landed a new job of similar or even greater levels of seniority.

People are seldom fired out of the blue in working situations that they are perfectly happy with. There are usually management changes, personality conflicts, or failed projects involved. (See: Five signs you’re about to be fired) All of those – and the uncertainty that comes with them – can take their toll on your well-being and productivity.

When the axe finally falls, it is your chance to start fresh. Whatever the negative situation was – you don’t have to go there anymore. Not your problem. It also frees you up to look for new opportunities full-time, rather than surreptitiously. Tap your network, let them know you are available for opportunities. Line up your references, so that you have professionals who can tell the story of your skills and work ethic (to counter-balance the recent setback.)

Your career journey is going to be made up of many jobs, and most likely in completely different fields as well. When things go bad, think of it as an opportunity for a new adventure. This is your chance to look for a more interesting job, a job that’s closer to home, or one that’s a better fit for your character or ambitions.

Here’s how to talk about being fired in future job interviews.

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