Because everyone should dig their job

Fired or laid off; How to recover after job loss

By Joan Lloyd

Q: I was laid off by one employer and fired by another. Both were a complete shock. I think it's my personality. I'm educated, friendly and try to be accommodating to everyone. I am a single mom and I need some job security. And with the way things have gone for me, I don't think I could handle another job loss. How can I find a job that wants to keep me?

A: You're right to be asking, "Is it me?" Getting fired is traumatic. The typical reaction is to feel wronged and defensive and blame the boss, the job or the company. But when it happens twice—or more—you have to look inward.

Unfortunately, many people who are fired more than once never get it. They rant and wail that "It's the system," "It's politics," "It's management!" When they should be saying, "It's me!"

You say that you've been laid off, which is often not performance related. Before you attribute your lay off to your personality, ask yourself some questions:

  • Was I the only one who was "laid off?" If so, there may have been some performance issues your manager never told you about. Some managers take the cowardly way out and tell a person they are "laid off," rather than tell him or her, the truth about their performance. If others were also laid off, there is less of a chance that you were singled out for poor performance.
  • Was there a reasonable business reason for the lay off? In other words, was the company trying to cut costs? Did the company decide your job could be divided among other people, rather than warrant paying a full-time person to do it? Was the company putting a new emphasis on another area or product, which warranted reorganization? Were your duties duplicated in another department?
  • Did the company replace you with someone else? If so, it probably was performance related. If your job changed after you left it (see above business reasons), there is a stronger chance that it wasn't something you did wrong.

Getting laid off isn't something to be ashamed of. In fact, it's happening so often these days, there is no real stigma about it. However, let's combine that with some questions about your second termination:

  • Were you fired within the first 60 days? If so, being fired during a probationary period can be related to the job being a poor fit, not necessarily poor performance.
  • Were you given any warning whatsoever? Did your boss ever talk with you about your performance or try to coach you on something he or she wanted you to do differently? Perhaps your manager was telling you something important that you didn't think was a big deal. In my experience, many managers try to coach and correct slipping performance but sometimes don't do it in clear, honest language, which results in surprised employees when they are finally disciplined or fired.
  • Did you miss other clues such as your manager or coworkers getting distant, or impatient?
  • Did your employer tell you why you were fired? At the very least, most employers tell someone why they are being let go. If not, one option is to call your manager back and ask for some feedback. If you do this, it must be done without anger or accusations. For instance, "I need to move on with my life and find a new job but I don't want to make the same mistakes twice. I'd really appreciate it if you would give me more specifics about why I was fired, so I can learn from it."

You may or may not get an honest answer. In any case, be gracious and thank the person for their time. There's no sense making a bad situation worse. And you never know, by asking for feedback, it shows a willingness to change and his or her perception of you may be improved.

You may have a close friend or family member who can coach you about personal traits that might be hurting you at work. Beware though; asking for honesty from someone close to you isn't for the weak of heart. You have to be willing to listen and ask for advice, without attacking the messenger.

If you can afford it, I'd recommend seeking out a credible career coach. If that isn't an option, consider registering with staffing companies. Not only will they try to match you with an appropriate job (that may turn into a full-time opportunity), they may also be able to provide you with some feedback and advice about your personality at work.

Finally, in your next job, make it a point to ask for feedback at regular intervals. At least quarterly, go to your boss and ask, "What could I do more of?" "What could I do less of?" Those questions are more likely to get an honest answer than "Am I doing okay?"

There is no real "job security" these days but learning from past mistakes and taking steps to correct them will help you find a job you can keep.