I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why people get fired. I’m not talking laid off due to budgetary reasons or divisions shutting down, I mean singling someone out for termination because they no longer are a good fit for a company.

From my years working in human resources and recruiting, I can attest that terminations—when not for egregious causes such as theft or harassment—are usually the case of a poor corporate-culture fit or an employee who doesn’t know it’s time to leave. I’ve seen preventable terminations that generally fall under the following categories:


  • Cause: Letting a personal crisis interfere with productivity.
  • Preventive Measures: If you have a health or family emergency, confide in your manager and ask for accommodations or, if need be, a temporary leave from your job. Utilize your company’s Employee Assistance Program if one is offered.


  • Cause: Poor fit with a manager.
  • Preventive Measures: Take your concern to HR, seek a transfer, or immediately start looking for a new job. Be sure to control your story—don’t let the company limit your future.


  • Cause: Cannot adequately perform the job duties.
  • Preventive Measure: This falls under the same category as a poor fit with your manager. Seek out a job change, and if one is not available, expedite your job search to find a better position for your skills.


If these measures don’t work and you find yourself facing a forced termination, consider forgoing unemployment payouts for the option to resign. Resigning allows you to control your story and ensures that you never have to check that box on an application that asks: “Were you ever terminated?”

The biggest coaching need I see with people who’ve been terminated—now that they’re looking for a new job—is how to discuss the situation with a potential employer. Specifically, they want to know how to answer the question: “Why did you leave your last job?”

The post-termination job-search landscape is fraught with judgment and slammed doors. It’s hard to explain away: “But I really was working for the boss from hell,” or “My boss was jealous and had it in for me from the get-go.” Moving past these awkward moments is the trick to thriving. Time heals this wound as it does all others.

If you, a friend, or a family member are in the thick of such a situation, here are some suggestions on navigating these messy waters and landing on your feet.


  • Get a job as fast as you can: Consider taking a contract role to get yourself back into the job market as quickly as possible. Contracts sometimes lead to full-time opportunities because they get you through the back door of a company’s screening process. Minimizing your time out of the workforce can assuage the questions surrounding your gap, and being around colleagues can boost your morale. (See my post about how community is critical.)


  • Get by with a little help from your friends: Now is EXACTLY the time to lean on your friends. Network the heck out of your connections to get introductions into new roles. Your friends understand the circumstances of why you did not succeed at your last job. They are in the unique position to explain away questions to skeptical future employers.


  • Seek outside support: Seek out a non-emotional friend or family member or hire a coach. Find someone who can tell you what you may not always want to hear. You’ll need someone in your corner who believes in you, helps you practice your story, and who can tell you how much you matter.


Not all employment situations are wonderful. The key is to raise your awareness so that when things aren’t working, you take control. If a termination does occur, don’t let your embarrassment and anger get the best of you. Instead, dust yourself off, lean on a friend, and re-create your story.

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