Yesterday I was on the phone with Rachel Mendleson, from Canadian Business. She is writing an article about how to quit a job without burning bridges. She wants me to give people advice about not burning bridges.
I tell her I think the topic is stupid. I tell her everyone knows that advice already.
She says, “What about the blog post you wrote 9 Tips for Quitting a Job Gracefully?” Do you think that information is no longer right?”
“Oh. I forgot about that,” I say. “But it's old. It's a boring topic now.”
“What about your number-seven tip: about how you shouldn’t do an exit interview?”
“Yeah. People shouldn't do that. I'm sorry to be difficult. Why don't you just copy and paste what I wrote about exit interviews into your story? I used to do that when I was a columnist at the Boston Globe —just lift stuff and quote people. It's so much faster than real interviews.”
“I don't do that.”
“Oh. Okay. Sorry. Sorry. Okay. I'm going to try to be more helpful. Here's a quote for you: Quitting a job is a networking event. It's about making sure you bring your old co-workers into the fold of your network before you leave.”
“What are tips for doing that?”
“How did you come up with this story anyway? Is it your boss's idea? Tell him it's an outdated idea. You should just write an article about how to network. It's a more interesting topic. Everyone knows not to burn bridges but they don't know what else to do. Tell your boss that the story should have a more positive bent anyway. ”
“You're not going to tell your boss that, are you?”
“Okay. I'm sorry to be so difficult.”
[Note: It's true, that I am sorry. But also, did you see this post from Fred Wilson at Union Square Ventures about how being difficult is good? He says venture capitalist love investing in brilliant entrepreneurs who are difficult to get along with. No fewer than ten people forwarded that blog post to me, probably because I'm difficult to get along with, but hopefully also because I'm brilliant. While I was feeling unable to be accommodating during this interview I kept telling myself it's okay because people fund my companies.]
Rachel says, “One thing I was thinking about is if the same rules apply to people who have been laid off.”
“Oh. That's a great topic! I should write about that topic.”
“So what do you think about it?”
“People who are laid off and people who get fired should follow the same rules as people who quit. You should just act like you quit. The world does not need to hear what the terms of departure are. People just want to know what you are doing with your life and how you fit in with them.”
I can hear, over the phone, that Rachel starts taking notes. I can't remember what I said after that. After the call, I kept thinking that she thought of a great topic. So I'm writing it myself. How to quit a job you’ve already been fired or laid off from. (And, by the way, there is not a difference between getting fired or laid off because in both cases you are not going to talk about how you got dumped. You will reframe the story.)
1. Make a quick and essential mental shift. Tell yourself that you weren't forced out, you left. You must believe this in order to create a cogent, believable story about your life. And, it's true. Because it doesn't matter who decided first that you're a bad fit. Just because you decide second that it's time to move on doesn't mean you didn't decide it. So, you have control of your life. You have vision for your life. And you decided that it's time to move on. The stories you tell yourself about your life are essential to your self-image.
2. Frame the departure as you taking a risk. People respect risk-taking in the name of figuring out how to create a stable life. (Which, actually, is why most people take risks — it has to do with their perception of what their own stability will eventually look like. People don't generally take risks in order to mess up their lives.) So figure out what you want to do next, and then explain to people that your departure is a risk you took to help you get what you want.
3. Leave it off your resume if you can. Any job that sucks, whether you were fired or you quit, is not going to help you on your resume. So if it was for a short amount of time, that won't create a gap that raises eyebrows, just leave it off your resume. When people ask what you were doing during that time period, talk about something you do in life that is rewarding and engaging that you do outside of work. It's perfectly fine to talk about that instead of a job you got fired from. After all, your resume is not your life story. Your resume is a list of your achievements. Keep it that way.
4. Decide to choose gratitude over bitterness. One of the greatest things I ever did was write a thank-you note to a boss who fired me. I managed a quality assurance department comprised of 17 guys and one woman. So I really looked out for the woman. I got fired for favoring her. I probably got fired for other stuff, but the documentation was about favoritism. At first, I was incredulous that this could really happen. But my boss had given me opportunities to learn and grow, so I wrote him a thank you note upon my departure. Being kind to people makes us be kinder to ourselves. So be kind to people when you get fired. It will shock them, in a good way. (Not that I do this every time. When I got fired from Yahoo, instead of a thank-you note, I wrote a blog post.)
5. Ask yourself: What would Oprah do? If you are not sure about how to handle yourself when you get fired or laid off, look at how someone like Oprah who famously quit her job. Make a mental shift to thinking that you quit, and focus on tips for quitting, and then everything starts to become clear — yes, you send an email giving people your new contact info, you talk about how you're really excited to about doing something new. Everyone gets laid off or fired at some point. It's how well you bounce back that defines who you are.