A reader writes:
I got fired last week. I'm still in shock - I was on a PIP [Ed: Performance Improvement Plan] but it didn't even end yet and I thought I was doing well. In fact, I don't really think I should have even been on the PIP to begin with. I had 2 projects that launched far later than they were supposed to, but I felt like I let everyone know ahead of time, and we couldn't just not work on them. They didn't give me much more info on the PIP other than I had to plan better and keep things on time. I don't control everyone's schedule though, I can't force them to be on time! I was one of 5 PMs and they did lose a big account recently (not my client) so I wonder if they just wanted to let someone go. All of which I don't care about - I just can't believe I got fired! I don't know how to put this on my resume! I know you were fired so I'm hoping you have some insight and thoughts for me.
Yeah, I have been basically where you are. Twice, as I like to continue torturing myself and point out to everyone. Once, I was really blindsided, and the other time, it was very mutual but I let them go first. Each time, it was devastating. The first time, people were really kind to me, saying "everyone's been fired once before". Which, not exactly, but definitely lots of people have been fired before. Including, now, you.
But the second time... that's when people are like "um, maybe...it's you??" And that is super hard to take. But I survived.
And you're going to survive too. It was just last week, so some of this isn't going to be useful to you in the moment because the first thing you have to do is be upset for a while, if that's how you feel. Be upset, be mad, lay in bed, go outside, whatever you do when, well, when you break up with someone, honestly. Eat ice cream, punch a wall, whatever. It is like being dumped, lots of the same rules apply.
But at some point, which varies from person to person, you're going to have to do a few things.
1 - Stop thinking about the actual firing. I don't know about you, but I can picture every facial movement of the person I was talking to the first time, and exactly what I was looking at and doing the second time (since it was on the phone). I had to make myself stop thinking about it. Zero of what you think about is going to change what happened.
2 - Be totally objective and think through why this might have happened. This isn't the same as dwelling on it, it's thinking through what may have happened and understanding how to make sure it doesn't happen again. Maybe you needed to raise a larger flag when you knew you were going over time constraints. Maybe your timeline wasn't solid. Maybe the process didn't support you well. Maybe your boss was an asshole. Maybe the company was an asshole. Maybe you're an asshole. But please, do yourself a favor, and be OBJECTIVE, even though it's going to be painful. You might have done some things wrong to get yourself into that PIP. It's okay. People make mistakes. Generally you get a chance to rectify them and your manager is helpful, but that didn't happen for you. They fired you, but I'm telling you IT'S OKAY. Just learn from it. You're going to want to be able to say how you grew from the experience at some point, so get that work done honestly now. If you're still baffled as to what happened, try talking it through with a former coworker that you trust.
3 - You don't have to say you were fired on your resume but you do have to update it. The tricky part is going to come later when you are interviewing - how to address it truthfully but not in a way that freaks out your interviewer. Here's a great article on how to address the "why did you leave" question - print it out, do a lot of self-talk, get comfortable with saying everything well before you go on the interview.
4 - TAKE. YOUR. TIME. I was so frantic the first time that I jumped on the very next ship. Bad idea. In fact, a lot of my career was jumping from frying pan to frying pan. Take your time, ask good questions, interview the company - don't let them just interview you. Don't rush. Find ways to save money and do whatever you can so you don't have to pick out of desperation - that never ends well.
JUST REMEMBER: Being fired doesn't mean you're a shitty PM. (Being a shitty PM means you're a shitty PM.) And even if it happens again, it's up to YOU what to take from it. You are the one in control. I'm not going to be one of those people who are like "being fired is really a gift!" because it's totally not a gift, but I will say it's a great way to learn (painfully) about your shortcomings so you can work on them. Even if your shortcoming was trusting a terrible manager who doesn't know how to administer a proper PIP.