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How to overcome a black mark in your career

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You can overcome a bad past
job experience.
Have you had a job that didn't end well that you worry will reflect badly on your career prospects? You CAN overcome a black mark.

But first, recognize that getting fired is not the worst thing. If you were in a poisonous atmosphere, getting fired may have been a blessing because once you get away from the bad situation, you can see more clearly what you want and reclaim your confidence by focusing on what you can bring to the next job.

overcoming a black mark in your career, cleaning up your career image, repairing career damage,
You CAN overcome something bad that happened in your career.

How to overcome a job termination:
1) Find out from your former employer what they plan to say about your termination. According to Alison Doyle on About.com, “There are no federal laws restricting what information an employer can disclose about former employees. If you were fired or terminated from employment, the company can say so. They can also give a reason.” However, she says, “Concern about lawsuits is why most employers only confirm dates of employment, your position, and salary.”

2) If the company intends to say more than your employment dates, position, and salary, ask them to reconsider. Work with them to arrive at a statement that will not unnecessarily hurt your chances at future employment.

3) Whatever their plan, ask that they put it in writing so that you can discuss it with your attorney (even if you don’t have one.)

4) Have someone pose as a potential employer and call the company to see how they respond to their questions about you. If they respond inappropriately per their signed statement, contact them and let them know your concerns, or have your attorney contact them. 

For a fee, the company, Allison & Taylor, will conduct a reference check with your former companies on your behalf and provide your with the results in writing. For an additional fee, you can also have Allison & Taylor send a cease and desist letter to someone -- which is usually all it takes to get the person to stop.  

5) Once you have confidence about what your former employer will say, focus on how to handle the question of why you were let go rather than fixating on the hurtful details of the firing itself. At the same time, be as graceful as possible in extricating yourself from the company so you will be remembered as a class act.

6) Review what happened in your job situation that led to its unfortunate ending. Learn what lessons you can from the experience, put together an action plan, fix your weaknesses, and then move forward.

7) Write a brief, positive, yet truthful statement about why you were let go that will jive with what your former employer will say. If possible (and truthful), let people know you were part of a multi-person layoff or that you were let go for reasons that had nothing to do with you (such as a downturn in business). Use this statement to fill in application forms that request this information.

If your truthful perspective of why you were let go is markedly different than what the company will say, state both sides. For example, you could say, “I was terminated because I did not catch on to my duties as quickly as was optimum; however, I was hired to be a communicator, for which I was amply skilled, but my position was reclassified as social work, for which I had no experience.”

Sample phrases
  • "I was part of a 25 percent staff reduction (or a multiple employee layoff) due to a downturn in business."
  • "The entire department was eliminated after our company was acquired by another firm."
  • "The company outsourced my position as a cost saving measure."
  • "I was hired to be a salesperson, but the company and I both came to realize that was not my strength."
  • "I survived three rounds of layoffs; however the fourth one included my position."
  • "I was new to food preparation and just was not able to get my speed up to the required level. I have since taken courses to up my speed beyond the required level."
  • "My supervisor wanted to select her own person for the position."
For more ideas, check out Joyce Lain Kennedy's excellent sample answers on About.com.

8) If you did something illegal or unethical that caused your dismissal, tell the truth, express your regret, briefly explain how you have moved forward since then, and then segue to how you can use your abilities and experience to help the company.

9) Practice saying your statement out loud until you can say it comfortably and succinctly (and without anger, defensiveness, or sadness). Be sure you are not bad mouthing or blaming the company or boss in your statement. Take ownership of your mistakes, but don’t belabor the details. Wrap up your statement by emphasizing what you learned from the situation, how you have improved since then, and how eager you are to use your enhanced skills to help the potential employer succeed.

10) Have someone ask you why you were let go and have them critique how you respond. Encourage them to point out where you are rambling or where your comments could be perceived as negative against the former company. You can also record your statement and critique yourself.

11) Resolve to portray yourself in person, on social media, and in your resume, as the picture of a confident, exceptionally qualified person, not as a victim of your former company or as a person who deserved to be fired. By personifying yourself in such a positive way, people will naturally believe it was the company’s loss you are no longer there, not the other way around.

12) Try out your statement in an actual interview. Follow up immediately with power statements about your work ethic and abilities. If the interviewer continues with the same line of questioning or tries to dredge up gossipy details about your former work situation, continue to reiterate your practiced statement. After the interview, reflect on how you did. If it did not come off naturally or didn’t ring true, revise and practice your statement for future interviews.
A good idea if the company won’t play fair
If you worked for a company where they will not speak in a balanced manner about you, seek out a former supervisor or coworker who will speak honestly on your behalf. Some companies have a policy against current employees recommending or referring other employees, so if that’s the case, ask another person who has left their employment to vouch for you. Provide the hiring company with his/her contact information, or have the former employee contact the interviewer on your behalf either through a phone call or letter. Since my advocate at a particular company was my former supervisor, I included his contact information on application forms concerning that company instead of the HR department.

If an online application form asks for your former supervisor's name and contact information and you do not wish to provide it (because you fear what he or she will say), write in the box, "Contact HR - Company Policy" and include the phone number for the Human Resources department. Most companies forbid their companies from speaking about former employees so this is most likely the truth in your situation.

Choose to move forward
Being fired hurts, but don’t let a bad work experience keep you from your next great opportunity. There are a million ways to lose a job and your reason is likely no worse than anyone else’s who has gone through it. Learn from what happened, put your best foot forward and move on to your next job.

What tips can you share with others who have been fired? Or, what questions do you have? Share your comments!


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