Project Management Institute

You're fired

now what?

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PMT'S CareerTrack

by Ryan Bartelmay

Asupervisor calls an employee into her office, and before the employee takes a seat, the supervisor shuts the door. She's fidgeting with her watch, won't look the employee in the eye and forces a smile. Then the employee realizes what's really going on: He's being fired, terminated, laid-off, downsized. No matter what you call it, he's out of a job. And that's never an easy thing to deal with.

“Getting fired is a very emotional experience,” says Nick Corcodilos, founder of asktheheadhunter.com, Lebanon, New Jersey, USA. “You must be aware in advance that you will not have your senses about you when it happens, and you must have your course of action worked out.”

Even for project managers who thrive on schedules and processes, having a precise course of action worked out is a tall order, not to mention a bit pessimistic. Still, project managers should be ready to tap into all those skills they've honed over the years and apply them to the job search.

The bottom line is that what saves you when you get fired is your reputation. Tend to it before you need it to stand up for you.

-Nick Corcodilos, asktheheadhunter.com, Lebanon, New Jersey, USA

Take It in Stride

When a project professional—or anyone for that matter—is fired, it's normal to feel angry or even attempt a last-ditch effort to save the job in question. But it's important to relax. “Be gracious, no matter the circumstances,” says Mr. Corcodilos, who often recruits project managers. “Even if a boss is raising his voice, it's important not to spar with him [or her].”

It could come back to haunt you.

“You never know when you're going to meet these people again,” adds Scott Greenberg, a performance consultant and motivational speaker with Jump Start Performance Programs, Los Angeles, California, USA. Reputations take a lifetime to build but only a few seconds to torch, so don't jeopardize a career for a few fleeting moments of satisfaction.

“Your reputation is the cumulative result of every interaction you have with people in your professional community,” says Mr. Corcodilos. “The bottom line is that what saves you when you get fired is your reputation. Tend to it before you need it to stand up for you.”

That's not to say a project professional being eliminated should sit idly by. On the contrary, ask level-headed questions, such as what could have been done differently to avoid being let go, says Tony Haley, managing director of Anton Chase International, a recruiting firm based in London, England. “If someone is getting fired, they probably know why,” he adds, but asking the question shows you want to learn from the situation.

This is also the time for some frank self-assessment. “It's prudent to take a hard look at your abilities, skills and work ethic when you get fired,” Mr. Corcodilos says.

Be honest and admit what went wrong. “Don't ignore your feelings, but get more information and understand the facts about the situation,” says Mr. Greenberg. “It's best to own your mistakes and learn from them.”

Mind the Gap

When a project manager loses his or her job, every effort should be made to get back on the market immediately. “Every day wasted could go against you,” says Mr. Haley.

Unemployment is a slippery slope: One month leads to two months, which leads to three months, and so on. “The bigger the [time] gap since the last job, the more it will look like you can't get a job and are not as employable,” Mr. Haley says.

If you're fired on a Wednesday, Mr. Corcodilos says, and wait until Thursday morning to start hunting for a new job, it's already too late. “A good project manager starts planning for the future years in advance,” he says. “Job hunting is just another project. You don't start it when the deliverable is defined. You must plan. You must anticipate. You must have the resources you need all lined up way before the assignment is made.”

Although holes in a résumé are inevitable, the goal is to minimize them and use the time off advantageously.

Vesna Zaghini-Herceg, a human resources manager with TeliaSonera International Carrier, Frankfurt, Germany, doesn't draw conclusions about the person based on holes, even ones that stretch out over a year. However, she doesn't simply dismiss those breaks without questioning the candidate. “I like to see that a person is taking courses or training seminars, learning a new language or doing anything to show that [the person is] trying to increase their marketability,” she says. “Then, even a year gap is explainable.”

Face Time

If interviews seal the employment deal, then the résumé is the key that gets a job-seeker in the room. But the old model of distributing résumés all over town isn't the most productive plan of attack. “There aren't 400 jobs out there for you, so don't send out 400 résumés or apply to 400 jobs,” Mr. Corcodilos says. Rather, job-seekers should focus on one, two or three advertised positions that match their individualized project management skills.

When TeliaSonera is looking for project managers, it wants someone with a specific skill set, such as deep telecom or technical knowledge, says Ms. Zaghini-Herceg. And it's important that résumés articulate the breadth of the candidate's skills and his or her success using those skills.

“Candidates need to be careful what they send when they apply for a job,” Mr. Haley says. “Having the same version of your résumé for every interview is not the best way to get a job, and putting your life history on the résumé is pointless because it often distracts the reader away from what [he or she] wants to read.”

Rather than organizing a résumé as a chronological history of a career, Mr. Haley suggests laying it out to showcase specific skills and applicable achievements. Not only will this set a résumé apart from the others in the pile, it will also remove the chronological holes and focus the employer's attention on what the job-seeker brings to the table.

Action Plan

If a project manager has been eliminated, the topic is bound to come up in an interview. At that time, it's best to discuss the firing briefly and honestly, and with an action plan that shows that it won't happen again.

“In an interview, I don't like it if a person tries to explain the situation negatively by saying how bad the previous company was, or how bad the layoff process was, or how unfair it was,” Ms. Zaghini-Herceg says.

Admitting mistakes with dignity shows potential employers the job-seeker has learned from his or her mistakes, says Mr. Greenberg, who once hired a retail employee who had spent time in prison for embezzlement. “In the interview, I was really impressed with her. She took full responsibility for her previous mistakes, and in the job, she was great,” he says. Within six months, this employee climbed the retail ladder and was promoted to store manager, proving that honesty is the best policy.

“Getting fired actually can be a badge of honor,” Mr. Corcodilos says. If a project manager fixes the problem that led to his or her termination, then there's no reason that person shouldn't excel in the next position. “If you got fired at some company's whim, see it for what it is and move on,” he adds.

Success all comes down to how you frame the situation, and sometimes it's good to shake things up. “Oftentimes, the next opportunity is much better,” says Mr. Greenberg.  img

Ryan Bartelmay is a Chicago, Illinois, USA-based freelance business writer.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI

<< www.pmi.org << MAY 2008
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