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Fire Up Your Post-Firing Job Search

Harvey Mackay

Finding another job after you've been fired is a matter of direction and selection, not rejection and dejection. The best way to maintain a positive attitude during such a search is not to blow smoke. Instead, do things that will really improve your odds of finding a job. Here are some tips:

Understand Exactly What Went Wrong in Your Last Job

Have a clear explanation for what happened. Don't blame people. You are trying to find a job, not pin fault on others. Stress the positive things you are doing to make sure the same problem doesn't happen again.

Don't Burn Bridges

Your last company may not have been a sweetheart, but it can be a key gatekeeper to contacts and how you are seen in the marketplace. Don't badmouth people. An employer may have let you go, but most don't want enemies. Make the attitude mutual. After Dr. Bernadine Healy was cut loose as president of the American Red Cross, her viewpoint was A-positive. She told me the people who ousted her were mostly well-meaning folks who didn't have the full picture.

Rehearse How You Present Yourself with a Mentor or Friend

This includes your answers to tough questions a potential employer might ask you. I have friends who even videotape these rehearsal sessions. That can be very instructive, because body language says a lot. I don't recommend rehearsing with your spouse or significant other. Remember, you already lost your job -- you don't want to ruin your relationship, too.

Prepare by Planning Your Own Firing

I'm dead serious. Jesse Ventura rose from the world of professional wrestling and talk radio to become governor of Minnesota. In between, he had served as mayor of a Twin Cities suburb. But after a single term as governor, he hung up his belt undefeated. Why? “I don't believe you should make careers out of elected public office,” he told me.

The key is having a plan in place. Quitting in a flash of rage is as bad as getting fired. The key is to know where you are headed next and to plan your own landing.

Network Every Day

Stay in touch with people in the industry. Keep contacts alive with people who are working. It's too easy to commiserate with others who are out of work, and that's a surefire attitude killer.

Volunteer in the Community

You'd be surprised how much talent is spotted by top execs who observe people taking on challenging community projects.

Visualize Your Own Comeback

It's wise not to burn bridges, but sometimes the bridges are already burnt. Then it's time to think about how you're going to rebuild. Michael Altshuler built a firm that sold copy machines after being fired by one that did the same thing. He built his business in the Atlantic City market, where his former employer had a stake. I'm sure Altshuler savored his success. Lee Iacocca was fired by Ford and then revived Chrysler into a force that Ford couldn't take lightly.

Start Your Own Business

After being fired, many people may get the urge to strike out on their own. Take Tom Stemberg, the founder of Staples. He had superior training and a degree from Harvard Business School. He became CEO of a grocery chain and got fired. Out of work, he was trying to find a ribbon for his computer printer over a July Fourth weekend one year. Either all of the office-supply stores were closed or the ones that were open didn't have the ribbon he needed. He put two and two together -- his supermarket skills and the market's need for a big-box office-supplies retailer -- and voila: Staples was born.

Stay Healthy and Fit

You can't project a positive attitude if you feel and look like you've been through the ringer.

Live Your Daily Life Against a Well-Planned Schedule

Remember that getting a job is a job, so work at your job search diligently.