You Just Got Fired. Now What? Maybe Send a Letter…

We have all heard the story: Joe, the successful founder of a multi-million dollar company is being given a community service award. He acknowledges Mary, his first boss, who is attending. He says that he owes everything to her because she did the most to advance his career. “She fired me,” he says, to the roar of laughter.

The story is true. It has happened many a time. But that is not what this post is about.

You have just been fired. You are devastated. You believe that your career is over. You are embarrassed and humiliated. How are you going to tell your family? How are you going to tell your friends? Who is going to hire you? How are you going to get another job? That is what this article is about.

First, I have had many career counseling clients tell me they were fired. I always suspected something was up by their body language. When we got to the mock interview portion of my service, and I asked the obvious question, then the truth came out. “I was let go. I don’t know why.” “I was fired. I don’t know why.”

And they told the truth. But they were wrong. When someone tells me that they don’t know why they were fired I immediately ask, “Did you get unemployment?” The answer is always, “Yes.”

As far as I am concerned, if your employer paid unemployment then you were not fired “for cause,” but simply laid off. No one, including some lawyers, have disputed this. So if you got unemployment you were not fired but simply let go. And in an interview all you have to say is the truth. “I was let go. I was not fired. I got unemployment. I honestly don’t know what happened.” And if it happened to others, so much the better. Tell the interviewer. That is almost always the case. My clients have used this approach and have had no problem getting job offers. It works because it is the truth.

But let’s say you were fired “for cause,” meaning that there was a valid reason to kick you out the door because of your behavior. Now there is “cause” and there is “cause.” If you hit someone, or stole something, that goes to character and that is a problem. You should be lucky you are just unemployed and not in jail. You may be working in your neighborhood car wash for a while and, frankly, you deserve it and it might do you some good.

That is rare. Most people do not get fired for committing a criminal act but rather for violating corporate policy related to the conduct of business. That’s usually the people with whom I meet and they all get jobs, some even with my executive recruiting clients.

First, understand that everyone has been fired or knows someone who has been fired. They made a mistake. It’s called being human. It does not need to define them as a person. They are not a criminals. Interviewers understand that. They know from personal experience or from their friends. It is not unique.

So what do you do when you have been fired?

First, do nothing. You are emotional. It’s normal. You don’t want to react emotionally. So, do nothing. Literally, breathe. Oxygen is the best cure for stress. Think about what you did. How it happened. Why it happened. What you learned from the experience. Once you have those answers, write them down. That’s your story and it is no good. It’s too long. Take a day off. Write it down again. It’s still too long. Take another day off. Write it down again. Now you can tell the entire story in a minute flat. Now you are ready to start your job search. You will not sound bitter and you will not sound like you are making excuses. You will sound honest. You will sound contrite. You will sound sincere. You will sound human. You will sound like someone who has become a better person and a better employee because they have learned from a bitter experience.

Second, start networking. Call everyone in your network. Tell them what happened. Your tone of voice is key. You can’t sound bitter or resentful. That’s why you did nothing and then you started writing. Now it’s time to talk. Some people will say, “I’m really sorry to hear this. Send me your resume. If I hear of something I’ll let you know.” Translation: Don’t call me, I’ll call you.

Others will say, “You’re an idiot. Send me your resume.” Others will say, “That was stupid. What were you thinking? Let’s get together for coffee.” Those are the people who will help you.

Third, send a letter to the person who fired you. Apologize. Explain what you did why you did. Don’t apologize if it was a matter of personal ethics. In that case, say you are sorry that things could not be amicably resolved. Take the high road. Be the bigger person. You’ll understand why in a minute.

I have had two candidates, for two different executive recruiting clients (employers), get jobs with my clients not “despite” the fact that they had been fired but “because” they had been fired, or rather, how they handled being fired.

In both cases, they looked me straight in the eyes, told me what had happened, why it happened, and, most importantly, what they learned from the experience. I doubt we discussed it for more than a minute. And I reported exactly what they had told me to my clients. They got interviews and were asked about it. They repeated what they had told me. There was no substantial difference. They kept to the facts and they did not talk a lot.

The key was that they both told me, and I told the clients, that I would be able to call their former employers, not necessarily for a reference, but more for confirmation of the stories. Not only, to the shock of both, did their former supervisors confirm their stories, but they gave a positive reference saying that they were sorry to have had to fire them.

I’ve been there. I have had to fire people. I can recite, pretty much chapter and verse, what happened with the first person I ever fired. I remember what I said. I remember what they said. Anyone who has ever fired someone will tell you the same thing. While it never gets easier, you never forget your first!

Unless the employer is sadistic, which is surprisingly rare (!), no one likes firing someone. It makes them happy when they can help the person. In a way it eases their conscience even if they know they were right in firing the person. They are happy for the opportunity to help. A letter expressing regret, as mentioned previously, helps them to transition from having to be defensive (fear of being sued, which the letter eliminates) to wanting to be free of any sense of guilt.

When you start answering ads, don’t mention being fired in any cover letter. That’s a topic for the interview, when asked. Keep it honest. Keep it simple. Keep it short. Keep your eyes focused on the person. Keep your tone of voice neutral. Focus on what you learned from the experience. If you talk too much, or if you sound defensive, you won’t get the job offer.

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador. An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

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How to Get a Job in the US AND KEEP IT!

First, let me make this clear.  I am not an attorney and nothing in this post should be interpreted as offering legal advice. 

Second, this post is meant for foreign nationals wanting to move to the US.  Be aware, there is no shortage of charlatans who will try and con you out of your money.  Remember: No one can guarantee you a job.  If someone promises to get you a job if you pay them, even if it is only an “administrative fee,” they are lying. 

The purpose of this post is to help foreign nationals outside the United States to understand what it takes to get and keep a job in this country and to announce the launch of a new service which I am offering to these individuals.

Of course, the simplest way to get a job here is to enter as a student.  Get as many internships as possible.  Do a great job.  Have an employer who hired you for an internship sponsor you.

Alternatively, work for a company in your home country with offices in the US.  Like everything else, you will have a lot of competition.  The key to getting a transfer to the US, once you have proven yourself, is differentiation.  Your employer will want to know that you will be able to “handle” the US.  That’s the service that I now offer:  I will make you different from your competition in the ways that matter: communication and culture.

In addition to being a student or a transferee, foreigners can get work visas either as Temporary (Nonimmigrant) Workers or Permanent Workers, for which there are only 140,000 visas.  To say that this is a complicated labyrinth is to engage in understatement.  That is why it is so important to utilize your local US Consulate and, possibly, to have an immigration attorney.

Regardless of which visa you have, when you arrive you will have to have an employer.  It’s the only way to get the proper visa. Countless people contact employers constantly asking for sponsorships.  They are denied because they don’t know how to ask.  They are not prepared.  My clients will be prepared.

Let me reiterate, my concern is not with the legalities of immigration.  For that there are immigration attorneys and, obviously, the US Consulate.  What I am concerned about is that the immigration be successful.  What could be worse than moving all the way to the US only to be fired because “it is not a good fit?”

Just because you get the visa does not mean you are guaranteed employment for life.  Things don’t always work out.  You may have all the professional skills and credentials, but because of a strange culture and language, things may not work out.  In other words, what is missing are the personal skills.  I want to make certain that does not happen to you.

These are the problems that I want to eliminate for my International Career Counseling clients:

  • Knowledge of conversational English. Professionally, your English may be perfect, but your everyday English may be wanting.  You can describe your latest professional project perfectly, but you can’t order breakfast at a local diner.  You will learn to converse in English.
  • But it is not enough to know the words, pronunciation and articulation are just as important. If no one can understand you, you might as well be speaking your native language.  If necessary, I will introduce you to a speech therapist who will teach you to speak clearly.  (It can be done using a Skype-like system.)
  • You may know the history of the United States better than most Americans, but you may not understand the culture. What is acceptable in your country may not be acceptable here.  This is especially true of workplace behavior.  One mistake, even an innocent mistake, could result in your employer being sued and you losing your job.  You will learn what not to do in the workplace and, for that matter, on the street.
  • Looking for a job in the US, from building your brand to networking to cover letters to resumes to interviewing, will be different for you. You need to understand the process before you start the search for a sponsor (assuming you are not coming to the US as a student or a transferee from a local company).  You will learn the process.
  • Once you get the job, and start work, there is plenty that can still go wrong. You may be uncomfortable speaking with your boss or colleagues about certain topics.  You’ll have me to consult with for the first year that you are in the US.

So remember, just because you have that prized piece of paper – the visa – in your hands, guarantees you nothing more than the opportunity to be successful in the United States.  Your success will be dependent on your ability to communicate in English and to understand American culture.  That’s where I come in.

Ironically, after proofreading this post, I stepped away from my desk.  Someone called and left me a message.  I could barely understand him.  It sounded like he said he was from Kenya and that I had gotten a job for one of his friends.  He asked me to call him back.  First problem, I did not understand his name.  Second problem, he did not leave a number.  Third problem, when I phoned the number that appeared on my telephone I.D., I received a message that voice mail had yet to be set up.  This is exactly what I mean by “personal skills.”  This man may be very accomplished in his field, but because he does not understand how things are done in the US, and probably no one has told him about his communication problems, he may not find employment.  Learn from his mistakes; don’t repeat them!

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.  Visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about the latest questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies.

How to turn one or two books into a $100 Macy’s gift card

I’m pleased to announce the impending publication of my new book Success! As Employee or Entrepreneur.  Purchase a copy before February 1 and be entered to win a $100 gift card.  I’m offering a 30% pre-publication discount on Success! and my previous book, A Hooker’s Guide to Getting a Job.  Buy both and get a 40% discount.  Click here for details!   And check out the Library page on my relaunched website.  You’ll find hundreds of free articles, video and audio files on all aspects of a job search.  Good luck!

Why We Should Support Outsourcing

The following is based on my new book, Success! As Employee or Entrepreneur.

How can anyone support the sending of US jobs overseas?  It’s a perfectly logical question to ask.  The answer is, however, rather simple:  The more jobs we send overseas the more jobs are created here by foreign-owned companies and by the very companies that chose to outsource some of their jobs.

Yes, it is a catastrophe for the individuals who lose their jobs to a call center in Mumbai. But it is also an opportunity for those who were laid off to be trained for those Twenty-First Century jobs that will provide them with security and prosperity.

Of course, some jobs cannot be sent overseas: Obviously, government jobs aren’t going anywhere.  Healthcare comes to mind.  Medical billing may go overseas and we may utilize foreign physicians to augment staffing so, for example, x-rays can be analyzed around the clock, but physicians actually treating patients cannot be outsourced.  Additionally, there are non-profit jobs, as well as those in construction, assembly and installation that are not going anywhere.  Indians cannot provide social services, install television satellite dishes or solar panels on the roofs of our houses.  Your mechanic and dry cleaner are staying put!  The same goes for work in the recreation, hospitality and food services industries.  More importantly, the high-paying administrative and leadership jobs are here to stay.

The entire question about outsourcing is nothing new.  The debate dates back centuries to David Ricardo whose “law of comparative advantage tells us it is far better for the Argentineans to grow beef, the Japanese to make cars, and the Italians to turn out high-fashion shoes than for each nation to attempt to become self-sufficient in all three areas.”[1]

I first became interested in outsourcing when I read in Inc.[2] magazine that in 2003 134,000 jobs were outsourced from the US to foreign countries.  What first caught my eye was that the number was so small.  Based on all the media reports, I had thought outsourcing was having a far greater impact.  But what really shocked me was the number of jobs outsourced from foreign countries to the United States – what is referred to as “insourcing.”  According to the same article, 5.3 million people were employed by US subsidiaries of foreign companies.  So there is no misunderstanding, foreigners can’t just conduct business in the US, they have to set up businesses here.  They have done so and the result is over 5 million jobs for Americans.  Put differently, in 2003, for every one job outsourced to a foreign country, 39.5 jobs were insourced to the US!

And this is not some fluke.  Everyone outsources and everyone benefits:

Does your father make shoes?  Do you milk your own cows?  No?  Then you’re outsourcing,” says Martyn Hart, chairman of the U.K.’s National Outsourcing Association… “People think it means job loss, but it actually creates jobs because companies become more efficient, which generates more wealth.”  He’s not kidding.  According to McKinsey Global Institute, for every dollar of corporate spending Americans outsource to India alone, the US economy gains $1.14…[3]

Still not convinced?

            In 2003, Matthew Slaughter, an economist at Dartmouth College, took a look at companies that engaged in offshoring in the 1990s, and found that for every job the US multinationals created abroad (2.8 million by his count), two jobs were created for the parent company (5.5 million jobs) back home in the US.[4]

Finally, according to a study by the International Monetary Fund, offshoring “does not appear to be leading to net job losses,” but it does make the caveat that the jobs lost in one sector are only “offset by jobs created in other growing industries.”[5]

So why is outsourcing good for business and, by extension for employees and the country?  According to Vivek Wadhwa from Stanford Law School, who is an economist and recognized authority on outsourcing, “It lets companies do their grunt work abroad, and focus resources domestically on research, development and product.  We know more innovation grows the economy and as a result creates more jobs.  Such allocation also helps businesses stay competitive to stay open, which of course is the No. 1 issue for keeping jobs.”[6]

He is not alone in his appreciation of the value produced in the US as a result of outsourcing.   Inc. interviewed Columbia University Professor Amar Bhidé about his new book, The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World.  In discussing outsourcing, Bhidé explained that outsourcing is not a zero-sum game.  A lost job to India is not a net gain for India and a net loss for the US.  As he put it,

            It’s helpful to think of a specific example.  The World Wide Web was invented by a British scientist living in Switzerland.  Think of how much this invention in Switzerland has revolutionized lives in the US and has improved US prosperity, probably to a greater degree than it has in Switzerland and certainly to a greater degree than it has in most other parts of the world.  Why?  Because the US is really good at taking things like the Web and weaving them into our commercial fabric.  Or, to give you another popular example: Many of the high-level technologies associated with the iPod were developed outside the US  Compression software comes from Germany; the design of the chip comes from the U.K.  The whole idea of an MP3 player comes out of Singapore.  But most of the value has been captured in the US, because the US happens to represent the majority of the use of MP3 players in the world.[7]

One last thing to consider in a discussion about the evils and benefits of outsourcing is an intangible: goodwill.  When US popularity around the world was, to say the least, struggling, there was at least one exception: “India, one of the chief beneficiaries of US outsourcing, is also one of the few countries in which popular attitudes toward America have remained strongly positive.”[8]

Don’t underestimate the contribute that outsourcing makes to our national economy in, of all things, job creation.  By all means, feel for those who lose their jobs to outsourcing, but be happy for those who gain jobs through insourcing.


[1] William J. Bernstein, A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008), p.18.

[2] “Insourcing 101,” Inc. (April 2006), p. 50.

[3] “The Sourcing Summit,” FastCompany.com, November 16, 2010.

[4] Dan Fastenberg, “Is Outsourcing Good For The Economy — And Workers” Jobs.AOL.com (September 14, 2012).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Amar Bhidé on why the techno-nationalists have it all wrong,” Inc. (November 2008), p. 100.

[8] Amy Chua, Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance – and Why they Fall (New York: Doubleday, 2007), p. 340.

Can You Fire Someone for Having Voted for President Obama?

That was the question a caller, who had read a quote of mine published in an article ( he could not remember which one), recently asked me.

He explained that he owns a business that has over 50 full-time employees.  In order to avoid Obamacare, he has to let some go so he is under the 50 employee threshold.  His question was, Is it legal to fire employees who voted for Obama?   The logic behind the question was, Why should people who voted for Governor Romney lose their jobs when they are in no way responsible for Obamacare?  Supporters of the President should be held responsible for the ramifications of their efforts.

My answer began with the warning that I am not an attorney.  But then I helped him think it through.  First, in New York State it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of “creed.”  Since he is in New York, assuming that “creed” includes political beliefs, it would be illegal to fire supporters of the President.  Additionally, since the foundation of our democracy is the secret ballot, it is probably illegal (again, I’m not an attorney) to force someone to tell you how they voted.

So my response was, it’s not fair, but you can’t do it.