How can you overcome being terminated from a job and having been out of your desired field for more than a decade? I really thought that going back to school would make me more desirable to prospective employers, but so far, I have not had any luck.
Challenging questions, indeed, but not necessarily related! Let’s look at them individually
I’ve been fired. How do I start over?
Getting fired is never a pleasant experience. When it happens, you have to be honest with yourself about how and why it happened. What, if anything, could you have done differently to avoid the termination? What did you learn from the experience? How are you a stronger, wiser, more mature person for having gone through that experience?
Are you familiar with the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief? They were written to address dealing with the loss you experience when you lose a loved one, but apply equally well to the loss of a job:
- Denial & Isolation: You really did lose your job and you may need some time alone to process that loss, but disbelief and avoidance must eventually give way to forward progress. It happened. You cannot change that. If you want to move forward, you have to take steps in a forward direction
- Anger: Perhaps you are angry with yourself, with your former boss, with a former co-worker or former client. It is natural to feel angry . . . for a while. Let the anger subside. Forgive yourself and/or forgive others who may have been involved. Regardless of the circumstances, whether your termination was warranted (in your eyes) or not, you have to let go of the anger to move on into the next chapter of your career.
- Bargaining: If only you had handled things differently. If only you hadn’t . . . . If only you had . . . . No amount of bargaining with yourself or with your situation is going to undo your termination. It’s natural to try to bargain; it’s necessary to move beyond the bargaining.
- Depression: Losing your job stinks. There is no getting around it. It is not an occasion for laughter and smiles. Allow yourself to grieve. Learn from you grief and from the experience. Don’t become swallowed up by grief. Yes, this is much easier said than done!
- Acceptance: Move on. Process what you learned from the experience to that you can move forward positively. Answer these questions: What did you learn from the experience? What can I do to avoid similar experiences in the future? How am I a better person/employee for having had the experience? How have I grown and matured? Accept what happened for what it was. Don’t let it define you or your future.
However you choose to process the grief of being terminated, you need to do so in a way that will allow you to move forward and share the story – from your perspective – with prospective employers. You cannot avoid that conversation.
Eventually, every potential employer will find out if you have been terminated from a previous job and if you are eligible for rehire by that company. In my opinion, it is better that they hear that news from you than from your previous employer.
Certainly, do not start any job interview with the disclosure that you were fired from a previous job. By the same token, don’t let potential employer learn this news first when they call your previous employer to verify your employment.
You can control when and how that information is disclosed. Don’t give up that control.
How you tell the story of your termination is very important. You cannot portray yourself as the helpless victim. Resist all urges and opportunities to speak negatively about your previous employer. Don’t take that bait!
Briefly state what occurred to cause your termination, and move immediately on to examples of what you have been doing since your termination to make sure nothing like it ever happens again..
This kind of approach will show maturity, humility, a commitment to self-improvement, honesty and character.
You can’t avoid the questions you hope they won’t ask. They will ask those questions, and how you respond will reveal your true character. Show them your character is strong!
I’ve been out of my desired field for more than a decade. How do I get back in?
Most professions change and evolve over time, so the field you were in 10 years ago is very likely different today. have you skills evolved to stay current with those needed in your desired field?
We live in a “what you you done for me lately, what can you do for me now?” world, so qualifications that date back more than a decade are usually not viewed positively. Regardless of the field, in order to be considered for employment, you need to offer skills, training and/or expertise that employers need. Employers will ask (and ask rightfully, I might add) :”If this is what you really want to be doing, how come you haven’t been doing anything to nurture your skills or experience?” It’s a valid question. You must be ready to answer it.
You also need to be where jobs in your field are located. People who want to work in entertainment usually move to Los Angeles or New York because that is where the jobs are. People who want to work in oil and gas often move to Texas or Alaska because that is where those jobs are. Silicon Valley is a mecca for entrepreneurs and and software developers, rural Nebraska is not. Employment availability is not universal across all fields in all locations. You need to be where the jobs are. Sometimes that means relocating for work or changing the focus of your job search.
Some times you have to be willing to start at the very bottom and work your way back up to where you think you should be. Employer will pay the “going market rate” for the skills and experience they need. They won’t pay based upon what you need to make ends meet or what you believe you should be paid. It’s not personal, it’s business.
I thought more education would make me more desirable to employers. That hasn’t happened. What do I do now?
More education will not necessarily make you more desirable to employers unless that education is in a field of great employer demand. Simply earning a degree – any degree – will not cause employers to seek you out unless you possess the degree, skills and experience they need.
Yes, in general terms, people with college degrees experience more professional success and earn more money than do people without college degrees; but that is a generalization. All Master’s degrees are not created equal. All Bachelor’s degrees are not created equal. Don’t treat them as if they are.
Get some coaching!
I recommend you sit down with a career coach at your university. A career coach can help you articulate your personal, professional and educational goals and identify where they complement each other and where they conflict with each other. They can get to know you and the specifics of your situation and offer targeted advice and assistance.
When people want to get into better physical condition, they will often work with an athletic trainer; someone who knows a lot about physical fitness and exercise. Someone who can teach them how to be successful.
Career coaches can do the same thing for people who want to better “career conditions.”
Just like athletic trainers, career coaches can’t do the work for you, they can only help you do the work yourself, show you a pathway to success, and offer encouragement along the way. You get to do the hard part.