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There is often no dishonour in being fired.

“People get fired for a whole variety of reasons and, in the majority of the cases it has little, if anything, to do with how good they actually are," writes Penny Herscher, board director and former tech company CEO, on her blog.

The word “fired” can seem ugly, and sting, but it has a variety of possible etymologies. One Ms. Herscher cites is that when a medieval craftsman was very bad at his job and kicked off the crew, his tools would be thrown into the fire so he could not continue. However, the craftsman who lost his job because times were slow was given the “sack.” He’d put the tools into his sack, and leave.

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These days, sacked may be the more fitting word.

“A person may lose their job because they were in the wrong job in the first place: The job was simply not a good fit for their skills and it’s a shame they, and the hiring manager, did not figure that out up front,” Ms. Herscher notes.

If that happens, take the opportunity to get feedback and coaching about where the fit would be better. Figure out a slightly different career that better matches your skills.

She has seen many salespeople fail because they switched industries and floundered without a deep knowledge of the product they were selling. They were still great salespeople but needed to find something more comfortable to sell.

Being independently minded can lead to your firing. Sometimes individuals challenge their boss, who then feels threatened. She considers this reaction a risk with a weak manager, so in that case, it’s best to find a strong person to work for.

Ms. Herscher points to executives who go over their boss’s heads, to the CEO or even to the board.

“If you find yourself in this situation, don’t be naive," she writes. “Know that if you lose faith in your boss [or know they are doing something really wrong and won’t listen to you] and go over his or her head there is a 90 per cent probability you’ll lose your job. Even bona fide whistle blowers lose their jobs in most cases.”

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Sometimes senior executives lose their job because somebody other than the CEO has to be sacrificed due to challenges by investors or a regulatory agency.

So there are many reasons for being fired. If it happens to you, unless you have done something really wrong such as steal from the company or sexually harass a co-worker or let a customer down through your own negligence, keep in mind that it is not a reflection of your worth as a human being. You were the wrong person in the wrong job at the wrong time. “You are still great. Don’t let being fired cause you to doubt it,” she concludes.

Take the high road if you get fired

If you get fired, recruiter Gerald Walsh suggests taking the high road.

Emotions will likely boil over. You have lost the predictability and stability of a job, and may feel unmoored. The temptation will be high to say something you may later regret.

“If you bad-mouth the company and your boss, it will only reinforce their belief that they made the right choice to fire you. You should remain professional and classy and in doing so ensure your boss remains supportive even after you leave the company,” he writes on his blog.

His other advice:

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  • Without getting defensive, try to get an explanation of why you were fired. Some employers refuse to tell you but if they open up that can help you come to terms with the dismissal and indicate if it was justified. It will also give you advice on what to do in future jobs
  • Obtain specific details on the severance package, which will include notice period, lump-sum compensation, and how your benefits and pension are affected. Get this in writing and have it reviewed by a lawyer.
  • Find out who you can list as a reference when applying for new jobs. Most prospective employers will want to check you out with your last employer, which obviously can be troublesome. But if your firing had more to do with the situation than your abilities, maybe that’s not so bad. “Just because they fired you, it doesn’t automatically mean they will not provide a fair reference. Once things settle down, have this conversation with them so you know what to expect,” he advises.
  • Ask how the news will be communicated to other employees. You want to leave with your reputation and friendships intact. Ideally, your departure will be communicated professionally – promptly and accurately.

Finally, move on mentally, difficult as that will be. “If you were fired for performance reasons (especially if you disagree with their rationale) there is a tendency to look back and stay angry. While anger is a valid emotion during this time, the employer is not going to change their mind. It serves no purpose to focus on the past,” he writes.

It’s time to move on.

Seven questions before speaking

The only reason to open your mouth is to make things better, says executive coach Dan Rockwell. Here are seven questions he suggests on his blog that you ask yourself before speaking:

  • Is it useful?
  • Is it truthful?
  • Is it on topic?
  • Is it forward-facing?
  • Is it solution oriented?
  • Is it sincere or manipulative and leading?
  • Have others contributed to the conversation or are you hogging the floor?

As well, be more excited to listen than to speak. Don’t express all your feelings; exercise emotional control. And test your assumptions with questions.

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