One good thing about making a mistake or error and going about fixing it, learning from it, and not repeating it, is that it’s easier when you are young and seemingly have your whole life in front of you. But what happens if you make an error, use poor judgement, or some other mistake that costs you your job and as an older person, you no longer have the luxury of time to demonstrate you’ve learned the lesson? Can you recover from this and salvage your need for income, keep working and get another employer to give you a chance?
Understand here that I’m not referring to people who lose employment due to layoffs and downsizing. I’m talking about people who are fired with cause, dismissed, sacked – call it what you will. They’ve made a mistake in judgement, broken a strictly enforced policy, stole from the company or something else that is critical enough that they’ve been released. And now, they find themselves out of work with very little time left to work before they had planned on retiring.
Two major issues stand between them and another job; time and their references. “Why are you no longer employed?” is the question they dread in an interview. After all, as an older worker the stereotype is that you are mature, wise, sensible and stable. Doing something – anything – to get yourself fired suggests you aren’t the above and it is hard to prove you’re now worth hiring.
I know a man who had a steady job. He was looking at another 3 years before retirement. Had he gone about his work and continued to focus on his own responsibilities he would have been fine. He needs those years of income in order to retire, and he needs to be employed because of the sense of purpose it gives him. He wants to retire on his terms, not live with a sour memory of how his last job ended.
So what did he do to lose his job? Suffice to say something where the employer was completely correct to fire him and he agrees. That’s not at issue. What does matter, is that he finds himself out of work, with very little time to get another job, and he’s focusing on coming up with a good response to the question posed earlier about why he is no longer employed. He won’t be getting a stellar recommendation from his former employer, but he’s working on trying to get them to either confine their reference to verifying his period of employment, or at the very least, trying to get whatever positive material he can together such as past performance evaluations etc. Like I said, he’s trying to best frame his answer when dropping the, “I got fired” bomb to a potential interviewer.
The best thing you might get out of this piece is to avoid putting yourself in this situation in the first place. But perhaps it’s too late for that. So if you find yourself reading this and feel I’m talking about you personally let’s move along to what you might do about things.
First and foremost, it’s critical you take responsibility and refrain from blaming others. You need to believe this and communicate this if you are going to get another employer to give you a chance. What you’re really looking for now is an understanding employer; someone who will size up your mistake against decades of solid performance. Although you take full responsibility, was there something that precipitated your actions? While stealing is stealing, were you just looking to pad your pay cheque or cover the cost of expensive medical treatment needed for a family member?
And understand that you may have removed yourself from the possibility of work at the level in an organization that you are most accustomed to. Senior Management may no longer be an option where you have responsibility and access to the governance of funds. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” No, you might find yourself in a mid or junior role or an entirely new line of work. And if you got lucky enough to be fired without having a criminal conviction included, count your blessings. Being older, unemployed and having a fresh criminal record is a situation where you’ve got three strikes against you. The only way a person gets on base with three strikes is the catcher drops the ball and fails to throw or tag you out. You really need a break for this to happen.
After admitting your error, and being fully contrite in the process of sharing that, move on to your value. What is it that makes you the right fit for a company and what will you add? If you are hoping for a charity case, my best wishes. More likely, you’ll still need to PROVE to an interviewer that you will add to the company. While you might need a break and get your three more years of employment, that’s not the perspective the interviewer on the other side of the table has first and foremost in their mind. So while it’s all about you as far as you’re concerned, it isn’t. It is about the company and how you’ll help them reach their goals. Always has been about the company by the way and best you remind yourself of that.