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

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