How to Be Fired

Six Simple Tips for Surviving a Layoff

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Martin Bihl
Martin Bihl
They teach you how to design. They teach you how to write. They teach you how to take a client to lunch, and they even teach you how to get a job. But no one ever teaches you how to be fired. So in these perilous times, if you are one of the folks recently employment-free, let me be among the first to welcome you to your new life -- or at least, to your new life for a while.

And while I'm not going to pretend that anything I say will make it enjoyable, I can offer some advice on how to survive it with a minimal amount of therapy. So here are six simple tips on how to be fired. Take them for what they're worth. And tell me if they make sense to you. (Hey, it ain't like you've got anything else to do.)

Step One: Get Fired
You'd be surprised how many people walk around for a couple of weeks acting like they've been fired before they are actually let go. Freaking out that they're going to be laid off, moping around the office, and then it doesn't happen, and they've wasted all that time when they could've been, I don't know, working maybe. Or looking for a new job. Or drinking. Or anything. So don't sweat being fired until it happens. It won't do you any good.

Step Two: Freak Out
OK, you've been fired. Congratulations. The ax has fallen and it's got your neck all over it. Well, at least that's over. And while eventually it may all work out for the best, right now, it sucks. So freak out. Grieve. Scream. Yell. Throw things. Cry. Drink. Whatever. But get it out of your system. You absolutely, positively have to deal with it now, otherwise you'll carry it around with you for the next 30 years. Which is okay if you don't mind it rearing its ugly head when you least want it to. And it will.

Step Three: Decide on Your Story
"He who controls the story controls his destiny." I think C.J. Cregg of "The West Wing" said that. But it's true, and you have to assume that once you get an interview, the first thing they're going to ask you (or maybe the second, after "Would you please stop shaking my hand?") is "Why did you leave your last job?" How you answer this will reveal worlds about you. Do you say, "I got fired and I have no idea why"?
Martin Bihl is founder and creative director of 7419, which provides creative and strategy for agencies and clients around the world. You can reach him there to continue this conversation at [email protected].
That seems frighteningly uncurious and rather disingenuous -- neither of which are qualities anyone wants to hire. Do you say, "I got fired and I hate those bastards and I will spend all my free time hunting them down like the dogs they are"? Hey, at least it shows passion. Either of these are better, however, than just standing there stammering. So come up with something. And then stick to it.

Step Four: Be the Brand
We are in the business of selling brands. Or at the very least, bringing them to life. We -- of all people -- should know how hard it is to be convincing about something that is ill-defined. So why would you go into the job market without a clear brand for yourself? I don't know. And yet, everyone does it.

So after you've figured out what you're going to say about why you're suddenly so darn available, figure out why they should hire you. What's unique about you? Or said another way, figure out why they should hire you and not the ten thousand other yahoos who've recently been sacked because the economy is in the toilet.

Want to be really smart? Take it a step further. Customize your brand to the people you're talking to. You know, like you always told your clients they should do, for exactly the same reasons.

Step Five: Eliminate What You Hate
There will be a part of being fired that you really hate. (I don't mean the being broke part. Everyone hates that -- everyone with any brains at least.) So figure out what it is and figure out a way to get over it. Maybe you hate not having people to hang out with. Then go to Starbucks. I'm serious. Or maybe you hate not having a routine. Make one -- get up, walk the dogs, read your mail, write something, whatever. Or maybe it's explaining to your nosy neighbors why suddenly you're wandering around the neighborhood in your pajamas at 11 a.m. I don't know. But figure it out and get around it. Otherwise you're going to add another level of stress to the stress of being out of work. And who needs that?

Step Six: Embrace Repetition
Face this fact: You're going to be saying the same things over and over again. You're going to have your elevator pitch. Or you're going to have the thing you tell your neighbor. Or the spiel you make in an interview. Work it, polish it, refine it -- but whatever you do, don't get bored with it.

Usually when we're presenting to a client, we only have to do it once or twice -- maybe three times. We're just not used to bringing the same enthusiasm the 10th or 15th time that we brought the first two times. And that's exactly what you're going to be faced with when you're interviewing.

Our natural instinct, of course, is to adjust what we're presenting. Not necessarily make it better, just make it fresher so we can keep the passion in it, because otherwise we'll feel bored by it. But look -- even though this may be the 10th time you've said this exact same stuff, it's probably the first time this particular person has heard it. It's new to them. Make it sound like it's new to you, too.

Because the sooner you learn how, the less you may have to.
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