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November 5, 2018

Getting fired can be good for you—if you follow these 3 tips

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Feb. 20, 2019.

    Getting fired doesn't always ruin leaders' career prospects, and for some executives, it can make them stronger candidates, according to a recent study. In Harvard Business Review, Elena Lytkina Botelho and colleagues share three ways candidates can use the "worst-case scenario" to boost their careers. 

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    Lytkina Botelho, co-leader of the CEO Genome Project, and her colleagues BJ Wright and Kim Rosenkoetter Powell analyzed data on more than 2,600 C-suite executives across different industries to determine how they achieved success.

    It turns out, nearly half of the executives in the sample said they'd experienced a serious "career blow-up," such as making a career-threatening mistake or getting fired. Digging deeper in an of  analysis of 360 executives, Lytkina Botelho and colleagues found 18% had been fired or laid—and for many that setback occurred "at a relatively senior point in their career."

    But there's "good news," Lytkina Botelho and colleagues write. Sixty-eight percent of fired or laid off executives  found a new job in less than six months, and 91% landed a position at the same level of seniority—or higher. In fact, almost 80% of the executives that suffered the "worst-case scenario" setback went on to become CEOs. The takeaway, Lytkina Botelho and colleagues write, is that being let go from a job "doesn't necessarily have catastrophic effects on leaders' prospects."

    But success isn't guaranteed. Based on the data, Lytkina Botelho and colleagues identified three actions that the most successful CEOs took to ensure that their "major setback [didn't] become a career-killer."

    1. Take responsibility for your mistakes

    The executives who deflected blame for the mistakes that led to their firing did not fare as well in following months, the researchers found. In fact, the executives who blamed external factors for their failures reduced their chance of receiving a hiring recommendation by one-third.

    "Strong performers own their mistakes, and describe what they learned and how they adjusted their behavior and decision making to minimize the chances of making the same mistakes in the future," Lytkina Botelho and her colleagues write.

    According to the researchers, the executives who took ownership of their mistakes came across as more likable and confident during interviews—two qualities that can increase a candidate's chances of being hired, Lytkina Botelho and her colleagues write. It's also important to view those mistakes s as opportunities for growth—not failures. The executives who felt guilty about their mistakes were 50% less successful than those who viewed their career blow ups as learning opportunities, Lytkina Botelho and her colleagues write.

    "Having several different types of career blow ups does not derail you," Lytkina Botelho and her colleagues write. "Repeating the same blowup over and over does."

    2. Use your professional network to land the next job.

    Some companies might be reluctant to follow-up with a candidate who was let go from their last position. But, the research shows that the executives who used their professional network, instead of recruiters or friends, for referrals and hiring recommendations were twice as likely to land a new job.

    "While friends may be eager to help and lend their sympathetic ear, ultimately the most powerful support comes from those who have seen the results you can deliver based on their direct working experience with you," Lytkina Botelho and her colleagues write.

    Candidates should leverage their professional connections, such as colleagues, customers, or former bosses, for job leads before tapping into their personal network, according to Lytkina Botelho and colleagues.

    3. Rely on your experience.

    "The most important advice both for those looking to" make a comeback from being let go is to "pick jobs in the 'bull's eye' of your skills and motivations," the Lytkina Botelho and colleagues write.  

    Almost 95% of the candidates who got a new job within 6 months of being fired had prior experience in the industry of the new position. But it's important to set yourself up for success earlier in your career, , Lytkina Botelho and colleagues write, noting that candidates should use their early years to gain experience across numerous industries.


    The results show that getting fired or failing at an important project is not the worst thing that can happen to an executive's career, Lytkina Botelho and colleagues write. "While mistakes and career setbacks are painful, a much bigger mistake, according to our data is not taking risks," the researchers write. "When we analyzed careers of executives who got to the top faster than average, what set them apart was ... taking on big leaps that felt way over their head"(Lytkina Botelho et al., Harvard Business Review, 10/31).

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