Revenge and How to Get Invited Back for a Second Interview

There was a time, a few centuries ago, that an insult, or worse, was handled by “gentlemen,” on the “Field of Honor,” at dawn, with pistols – as in the famous case of Messrs. Hamilton and Burr.

I was thinking about this because of a recent incident.  I had a career counseling client who came to me because he just could not get a second interview.  He had no problem getting initial interviews, just the follow-ups.  That is an immediate sign that the problem is not with the resume but with the interview.

To say that he has an impressive resume would be an understatement.  The format is perfect.  He’s very good at what he does.  The problem is, he was fired.  And he is bitter about it.  And he wants revenge!

In ancient times the person who was insulted would slap the insulter with a pair of gloves and challenge him (it was always a man) to a duel.  The dueling metaphor is in place because, as he was sitting in my office talking about his previous employer, he was holding his gloves in his hands and squeezing the life out of them.  (This year it got cold early in Manhattan!)

Career counseling clients pay me to listen.  So I listened.  And I watched.  This man is bitter.  He is angry.  Big time!

When he was finished I asked him, “Do you want a job or do you want revenge?”  He was honest and replied, “Both.”

My response to him that while he “wanted” revenge, he “needed” a job.  So the first step had to be getting that follow-up interview.  He explained to me, and I have no reason not to believe him, that he was calm, cool and collected until he was asked why he left his previous job.  Then the anger came out.  He knows perfectly well that interviewers like direct answers to direct questions.  I told him that henceforth he was not permitted to speak for more than 10 seconds when answering that question.

He immediately said that it was not enough time.  I told him, “It’s two and a half times life.”  I had served in the military and from the time you pull the pin on a grenade to the time it explodes is exactly four seconds.  In terms of a grenade, four seconds are a life time, 10 seconds are an eternity.

Next, I told him that no one is going to hire an angry person.  No one is going to hire a person who bad mouths his past boss.  So he can’t be angry and can’t say what he wants to say.  So what should he say?  I call it “The Three ‘T’s.”  Tell The Truth.  In his case, “I was fired.  I disagreed with the boss on an ethical matter and refused to follow his instructions.  I’d do it again.”

He gave no details.  He was not insulting.  I did not tell him to say, “The boss was unethical.”  It’s implied but not said.  And by saying, “I’d do it again,” he challenges the potential new employer to talk about his or her ethics.

Additionally, I told him that if they ask for details, and they usually do, all he should say is, “I don’t do that.  We disagreed.  I had worked there for three/four years.  Obviously up to this incident everything was normal.  I would not want him judged on a unique situation.”  In other words, he was taking the high road.

He then surprised me.  “OK.  So I get the job.  How do I get the revenge?”

I reminded him that the Chinese have a saying, which I am probably misquoting, “He who seeks revenge should first dig two graves.”  I actually happen to disagree with that.  I have found that revenge can be positive if it meets three criteria: That the injured person is made whole; that a precedent is set so that others will know not to repeat the same mistake; and that there is a societal good that comes from it.  Otherwise, you just look like an idiot.

A second saying is more accurate.  “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”  So, after explaining to him my three rules for revenge, I told him that the starting date is always six months later.  Why?  First, the person against whom you want to seek revenge has no doubt forgotten about the incident and his defenses are down.  Second, a six month cooling off period, and that’s what it is, gives you time to reflect and put things in perspective.  Is he really worth it?  And third, the odds are, you’ll be so busy that you won’t have time to do anything.

Revenge in the workplace is common.  I’m not talking here about madmen who return to work and kill colleagues.  What I am referring to, and I have seen it all too often, is someone who quits their job because the boss would not give them permission to do something.  They then convince the new employer to OK the project.  When the project is completed, the employee “throws it in the face” of his previous employer.  Problem is, that was why he wanted to do it in the first place.  It was not done to benefit the new employer.  And, once the project was over, he had nothing more to contribute.  This has happened at former employers of mine not just once.  These hires never last.

Before he left I told my client about one of my favorite episodes of M*A*S*H.   BJ tricks Hawkeye into a bet that he, BJ, can “get him.”   BJ enlists the help of everyone.  Klinger fakes a fire bomb going off in a file cabinet.  Potter uses “poisoned” tooth paste.   Everyone helps out.  Hawkeye is so proud of himself.  The next morning, when the bet is over, he thinks he’s won.  BJ “got” everyone but him.  The problem was that Hawkeye only thought that BJ had gotten everyone else.  As stated, they were all in on it.  So the only one who “got gotten” was Hawkeye who slept the night in the middle of the camp, on his cot, surrounded by a barbed wire fence.  The great “get” was the one that never happened.

I told my client that his great revenge could also be the one that never happened.  Instead of doing something to hurt him, in the classic stupidity of revenge, why not do something to help a new employer who would not be a new employer were it not for his having been fired?  “How will your former boss feel when you send him a letter thanking him for having fired you, explaining all the successes that you brought to your new boss, the implication being that if he had listened to you in the first place he could have reaped those benefits?”

Something tells me that in six months, that’s exactly the “revenge” that he’ll take on his former employer.  And yes, he has gotten a second interview.