How to Make Getting Fired Work for You

Robyn Tellefsen | June 9, 2011

It sounds like an absurd proposition, doesn’t it? After all, conventional wisdom suggests that getting fired is one of the worst things that can happen in your career. But Jim Camp, negotiation coach and author of “No: The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work and Home,” says the opposite is true – getting fired can actually work to your advantage.

The secret is, well… don’t keep it a secret. Employers don’t want to hire someone who’s got something to hide. That’s not to say you should use the interview as an opportunity to air your dirty laundry, but you can maintain control of your own information and the process by which you reveal it.

Instead of trying to avoid the issue, says Camp, make sure you’re the one who puts it out there. Be assertive, and show that you’re not afraid of a challenge and that you can navigate your way through a potentially uncomfortable situation. “Be honest, direct, and authentic,” he advises.

To do this, you first have to deal with your own negative emotions. If you walk into an interview feeling incompetent, uncomfortable, or in any way “less than,” your interviewers will catch the vibe quick. All the confident buzzwords in the world will fall flat if your nonverbal communication reveals that you don’t believe them yourself. You’ve got to “be comfortable in your own skin,” says Camp.

There’s a scene in the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” that I think illustrates the point perfectly. On the morning of his interview for a competitive internship at Dean Witter, Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith) is in jail for unpaid parking tickets. He makes it to the interview in time, but he’s still dressed in the undershirt and paint-splattered jeans he was wearing when he got arrested the night before. He has no chance to get cleaned up, but he manages to take control of the situation in his interview:

I’ve been sitting out there for the last half hour trying to come up with a story that would explain my being here dressed like this. And I wanted to come up with a story that would demonstrate qualities that I’m sure you all admire here, like earnestness or diligence or team-playing, something. And I couldn’t think of anything. So the truth is I was arrested for failure to pay parking tickets… and I ran all the way here from the police station.

With his can-do attitude and direct approach, Gardner helps the interviewers get past his ridiculous appearance, and he gets the job. What could have been a deal breaker became an opportunity to shine in spite of obstacles.

In your next job interview, the way you handle a prior termination (or any obstacle) will speak volumes about your ability to communicate effectively and to turn a negative into a positive – skills that every organization needs.

-Robyn Tellefsen

More Jobs, More Pay Possible For 2011 Grads

Lori Johnston | April 14, 2011

Donning that cap and gown soon? Here’s another reason to smile: Your chance of getting hired is greater than those who earned their degrees last year.

The good news comes from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, whose recent survey found that employers plan to hire 21 percent more recent college graduates this year than they did in spring 2010. That’s up from a 13.5 percent increase in college hiring that employers said back in August they expected.

Maybe you’re seeing more recruiters on campus, a sign of hiring activity. And if you get an offer, it might be more than your friends were being offered last year. Pay is rising, with the average salary for all 2011 graduates at $50,462, up 5.9 percent from last year, according to NACE’s Spring 2011 Salary Survey.

Engineering majors are going to have a better chance of finding a high-paying job upon graduation. The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Spring 2011 Salary Survey reported that the 10 top-paid majors for the class of 2011 were:

Chemical engineering
Average salary offer: $66,886

Computer science
Average salary offer: $63,017

Mechanical engineering
Average salary offer: $60,739

Electrical/electronics & communications engineering
Average salary offer: $60,646

Computer engineering
Average salary offer: $60,112

Industrial/manufacturing engineering
Average salary offer: $58,549

Systems engineering
Average salary offer: $57,497

Engineering technology
Average salary offer: $57,176

Information sciences & systems
Average salary offer: $56,868

Business systems networking/telecommunications
Average salary offer: $56,808

Now that you’ve gotten the encouraging news, do something about it! Pursue jobs and network with potential employees knowing that many are on the lookout for well-educated workers to help their companies grow.

-Lori Johnston

Three Job Search Letters You Need to Write

Lori Johnston | January 25, 2011

A student I know who is applying for summer internships recently mentioned that she is writing a variety of cover letters to send to potential employers. I was so proud that she recognized a cover letter is essential when introducing yourself to prospective employers and that she needed to send more than a quick e-mail to the companies.

The cover letter is one of the three important letters you need to know how to write for career success. The others are the thank you note and the rejection follow-up letter. Here are some key things to know…

Cover letter

Use a brief but interesting cover letter to sell yourself as a valuable asset to the company.

You don’t want to regurgitate your resume; the cover letter should serve as an introduction to your resume.

Let the employer know what type of job you are interested in, and why you think you would be their best hire. You’ll also want your cover letter also to reflect your personality and work ethic.

Check out Virginia Tech’s Career Services’ division for sample cover letters and other tips. There’s also a paragraph-by-paragraph synopsis of what you need to include in a cover letter on the state of Michigan’s website.

But remember – you have to be accurate. You must spell the company’s name right and the contact’s name correctly. Any spelling errors or poor grammar will reflect poorly on you and impact your ability to land the job.

Thank you letter

Getting a job is all about relationships, and the thank you letter helps show your continued interest in the job and move forward your relationship with a potential employer.

A survey by Northwestern University notes that less than 15 percent of job seekers follow up with thank you letters. So taking the time to write these notes could really help you stand out! Northwestern’s tips include:

• Send the letter within 24 hours

• Mention something discussed during the interview (it helps remind the person who you are, especially in the case of open positions with multiple candidates)

• Briefly reiterate qualifications and skills that could be vital to the position

• Use e-mail to send the letter, but pop a hardcopy in the mail, too

Rejection follow-up letter

If you get rejected for a job, the last thing you want to do is to keep in touch with that company. But if you put aside your pride and write a follow-up letter – not to vent, but to thank them for considering you for the job – it could make a lasting impression that could lead to a job in the future.

One example of a rejection follow-up letter does a perfect job of not seeming bitter about losing out on the job, but keeping the door open to apply for other openings. says that “following up can send a powerful message about your resiliency as a professional and your heartfelt interest in the company.”

These three letters are essential to launching a successful job search now and in the future. So start writing!

-Lori Johnston

Hiring Forecast Is Partly Sunny

Robyn Tellefsen | January 18, 2011

If you spent any part of 2010 pounding the Internet pavement, you know that jobs are hard to come by. But things are looking up. According to CareerBuilder’s annual job forecast, 13 percent of employers expect to hire part-time employees this year, and 24 percent plan to hire full-time, permanent employees. And the largest growth is projected for temps and contractors – 34 percent of employers reported that they will hire contract or temporary workers in 2011.

It’s really not surprising that temp jobs are on the rise, given the uncertain economy and a desire on the part of employers to save money on payroll taxes, workers’ compensation, insurance, and benefits. But being a temp or contractor confers benefits for you, too – even if they’re not medical.

Become a Temp
If you want to become a temp, you’ll need to head down to a local staffing agency and pass tests that evaluate your software skills and typing speed. Once that’s done, you can usually get a job in a matter of days. If your computer skills are up to snuff and you’re not picky about assignments, you could even have a job in a matter of hours.

Temp jobs typically range from one-day assignments to those lasting four months or longer if you get in good with the company. If you like meeting new people and traveling to different offices regularly, temping could be a perfect fit.

The Beauty of Temping
Temping is a great way to make cash quick while you’re looking for another job, but don’t burn bridges in the meantime. Do a good job, and the company will ask for you again. Do a bad job, and once your temp agency gets wind of it, it may not send any more work your way.

Plus, as a temp, you can get an inside perspective on the organization and see for yourself if it’s a place you want to work full time. The powers-that-be are watching, and they could decide to keep you on as a full-fledged employee. And even if the company isn’t one where you see yourself long-term, keep your networking hat on. You can still use the experience to garner good references or even leads for a job at another company.

Temp vs. Contractor
Neither temps nor contractors are employees of the company, but there is a difference between the two. Independent contractors (like freelance writers, for example) are hired by a company to do a specific job or project. Contractors are 1099 workers, which means they’re responsible to get their own insurance and pay their own taxes. (But don’t think contractors can skip out on paying Uncle Sam – the company that hired them reports the amount paid to the IRS, so there’s no getting one over on the man.)

Temporary workers, on the other hand, are W2 employees of a staffing agency. The temp agency acts as the contractor, covering temps’ liability insurance and workers’ comp, and withholding taxes.

When you become a temp, you can get your foot in the door of a decent organization, make some fast cash, and buy yourself time while you figure out what you want to do long-term. What have you got to lose?

-Robyn Tellefsen