Fired 6 times. I need help

Fired 6 times. I need help


My question is about my recent inability to keep a job. I have over 20 years’ experience in corporate management. I was with a great company for 9 years but lost my job when the company was sold. To this day, I have glowing references from the owners and other managers. Since I was laid off a few years ago, I have been fired from 6 different jobs and I can’t understand why. They never give me reasons and when I ask, they make excuses.

firedI was also diagnosed with PTSD and have been in treatment for that, but I know my job inside and out and perform well. The one thing I have noticed is that I feel fearful when I’m being confronted in an unfriendly or angry manner. I seem to have the fight, flight, or freeze response and my brain shuts down — I freeze. I don’t always have the words I need, so I often request a follow-up meeting so I have time to gather my thoughts.

I really need some help with this situation, as well as how to craft my resume. I can’t put 6 different jobs for the past 5 years. I am a dedicated, loyal employee. I always make sure deadlines are met and, with all my experience, I run my department like a well-oiled machine and deliver results in a timely way. I hope this is something you can help me with. Thank you kindly for any help you may be able to provide.

Nick’s Reply

Am I going out on a limb if I guess that you didn’t always have these problems during your long, otherwise successful  career? Perhaps you just never needed to learn how to defend yourself effectively. But business has changed – and not always for the better. Now you need new tools for dealing with complex emotions.

Job search obstacles, or emotional challenges?

Lots of people are running kind of scared – probably including some of the employers who fired you. Many managers resort to aggressiveness and to blaming others. Couple this with a new employment system that features non-stop advertising telling employers they have instant access to thousands of resumes and job applicants – so employers see no need to treat employees with respect. Just fire them and get another one! It’s a bad situation all around.

I specialize in helping people overcome obstacles in the job search. And even though I have an advanced degree in Psychology, it’s not in clinical – it’s in cognition. I don’t pretend I’m qualified to help people who have problems like yours.

Fight, flight or freeze – that’s a set of emotional issues, and many people face them. It seems clear to me you’re good at your work and good at working with others when they behave properly. Dealing with jerks is another story altogether!

Fired and ready for CBT?

Although an honest self-assessment can be healthy, I think your challenge is learning how to cope with difficult people and situations. Behaving professionally is a lost skill because, well, workers are fungible. Bad behavior is now the norm. Just look at our politics.

We all face difficult bosses at some time or other. It seems some of your recent bosses have triggered your stress response.

Have you talked with your PTSD therapist about this? I’m a fan of cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) for dealing with many problems at work. Learning to change and control our behaviors can lead to wonderful changes in how we see the world and ourselves. Please consider and perhaps explore CBT. Interview some good practitioners and see if it’s a good fit for you.

Fired: Time to get personal

The only advice I’d offer you is, don’t rely on job postings and impersonal job applications. Please read some of my recent Q&A columns. I think the best way for you to find your next job is by cultivating and using good personal contacts – people who can explain to a hiring manager your strengths and abilities, and also put the manager’s mind at rest about your recent frequent moves. Opportunities where this doesn’t work are probably not for you. You need a good employer who will let you do your job, not abuse you. Good employers respond well to referrals from trusted personal contacts. It’s up to you to cultivate such contacts and use them to get in the door.

As for how to handle being fired, please check these two articles and the excellent comments posted by readers.

How much should I say about getting fired?

Can they find out I was fired from my last job?

Keep an untroubled spirit and get help

I’d be glad to schedule an hour of Talk to Nick for you – we’d probably come up with some things you could do to make a material difference in your job search. But I think it’s more important for you to get help with how to deal with jerks. A good CBT therapist could help you cope better. I’ll recommend an oldie-but-goody book by Richard Farson: Management of The Absurd. It’s a quick, illuminating read.

I hope something I’ve said is helpful. Please check the comments and suggestions from other readers that will likely appear below this column. I’m betting lots of other readers have faced challenges like yours.

I’ll leave you with a favorite quote from Marcus Aurelius: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.“

It seems you face your problems and know what they are. But as you tackle them, learn to apply the first rule more often. I know the business world makes that difficult. Getting some good help to learn how to deal with the stress is essential. I wish you the best!

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Have you faced emotional crises at work? Have you been abused to the point where you’ve lost your confidence? There’s big abuse, there’s small abuse, but it all makes for a difficult work life. Sometimes we all need help. What kind of help has worked for you? What advice would you offer this reader?

Drop the resume script. Be the wired job candidate

Drop the resume script. Be the wired job candidate


In a comment you posted on last week’s column, you said we should not automatically give an employer our resume, even if that’s what they ask for. You said the resume script is the wrong “cognitive script.” I’m mystified. A resume is how the process of getting hired starts, right? Are we supposed to play coy? Make them beg? Please explain further. I get the feeling you’re somehow right, but resumes are like the ante in a poker game. If you don’t ante up, you’re not in the game!

Nick’s Reply

resume scriptIt’s difficult for people to understand why, even when they’re asked for it, it’s usually best to decline to provide a resume.

What we do with resumes — our resume behavior — is guided by a cognitive script. A cognitive script is a well-worn sequence of behaviors that job seekers follow almost automatically. We don’t question it. We just do it because it’s a kind of play we’ve performed every time we want a new job. Everyone knows their role and doesn’t question or deviate from the sequence of actions.

The resume script

The eager job seeker really, really wants to hand over that resume. Doing so is almost a relief! “Just let me send my resume! I’m looking for a job, right? It starts with my resume, right?” But like any script, the next parts of the action are already written, and with a little reflection you’ll see the outcome is not good.

The recipient of your resume does their part of the resume script and automatically “passes it on” to someone else, usually HR. (You expected them to take it to the correct manager and pitch your candidacy? When is that ever a part of this script?) Your document goes into Resume Hell where it’s lost, or thoughtlessly deemed a “reject” by some unsophisticated clerk whose role in this script is to find reasons to reject as many resumes as possible. (Just following the script!)

This is the part of the resume drama you don’t see, while you fret over when to call to find out “Is there any interest?” Your resume is going round and round in the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), and that marks the end of this story. Meanwhile, you keep repeating the final line of the script: “Why is no one returning my calls?”

Drop the resume script and slow down

The problem with the resume script isn’t the use of a resume. It’s using it too soon. Slow down!

What’s hard for eager job seekers to understand is that handing over a resume too soon is the quickest way to a self-fulfilling prophesy: A resume almost never results in an interview or hire.

You know your odds of success are tiny, but you’re falling for one of the gambler’s fallacies: I can’t win if I don’t play, even if the odds suck.

So you toss your ante in the ATS pot  – even though what works best is for you to get directly involved. That is, you must represent yourself personally. Don’t gamble. You have to meet and talk to those that have a role in hiring, not in resume processing.

Don’t play any part in the resume cognitive script. Most job opportunities go south because the job seeker takes no initiative. They let the resume speak for them, and ATSes are not good at listening!

A resume test

So what should you do? Here’s my test for whether it’s time to hand over your resume.

Ask yourself, does the hiring manager already know enough about you (say, from a trusted source that recommended you) that the manager could quickly write a brief outline of your resume?

If the answer is no, then the manager really has no basis for wanting to read your resume — much less to meet you. You haven’t done the proper prep work yet, which is to make sure the manager already knows you or about you. Most job opportunities go south because the your resume cannot defend you while HR (or the hiring manager) is scanning resume after resume for the average of six seconds.

If you haven’t invested the time to talk with people in the hiring manager’s circle (or with the manager directly) so that they will introduce you to the manager, then you’re using the wrong cognitive script. In the resume script, the hiring manager is gathering hundreds or thousands of resumes just to reject virtually all of them.

But if you do this right, the manager drops the resume script and thinks about just one candidate — you. The manager sees you, not the resume. At that point, the hiring manager already has a mental resume about you and needs your resume only in order to “fill in the gaps” — after already learning what’s most important about you from trusted sources.

That’s when it’s time to hand over your resume. That’s when the hiring manager will devote more than six seconds to read it, eager to learn more about you.

Be the wired candidate

No doubt you’ve encountered job applicants who seem to steal every job opportunity from you. They seem to have a special edge. They seem not to follow the normal rules or the resume script. You know them. When you get rejected, here’s what you say about them:

“I didn’t get the job because some other candidate was wired for it!”

And you’re right. The next time you pursue a really good opportunity, it’s entirely up to you to be the wired candidate. Don’t use the resume script that ends with the main character asking, “Why aren’t they returning my calls?”

Reference: Get Hired: 3 steps to become the wired insider for the job

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Does job hunting feel like every time you send out your resume, you’re doing little more than gambling under lousy odds? Have you ever lost a good job opportunity to someone who  was “wired for the job?” Have you ever “wired” yourself to win?

How do I know what jobs I want?

How do I know what jobs I want?


I’m enjoying reading How Can I Change Careers? and I have a question. How do I know what jobs I want? A big part of your book is finding someone who already is doing the job you aspire to. But my knowledge is imperfect and I know I don’t know all the jobs people are already doing. How do I grow my awareness? Wishing you all the best for 2024!

Nick’s Reply

what jobs I wantHappy New Year to you, too! Thanks for purchasing How Can I Change Careers? I’m sure you’ve already read the section titled “The Library Vacation.” That’s a good plan for doing some blue-sky exploration to quickly identify a group of jobs you’re motivated to learn more about. But improving your awareness of jobs will always require talking to people!

How to explore jobs you want

Stated simply, my advice about how to learn about jobs you may be interested in is to go hang out with people who do the work you might want to do. Since you’re exploring, draw a circle big enough to encompass whatever range of work you’re considering. These questions should get you started.

  1. What industry are we talking about?
  2. Product type (or service type) you’d like to be involved with?
  3. Or is it some kind of technology you’re most interested in?
  4. A geographical preference?
  5. A bunch of specific companies that excite you? (Don’t worry whether they’re advertising open jobs. There are other ways for Getting in The Door.)
  6. A particular discipline? (Manufacturing, software development, finance, operations…)

Go where those workers hang out

Your answers to any of those questions can point you to places where people congregate to talk shop – that is, about their work, This may include bricks-and-mortar conferences, online gatherings, education programs, professional journals that include virtual or actual discussion forums, or even local hangouts (bars, restaurants, sports clubs) where such people get together. Start with one. Go there. Hang out. Participate. Figure out who the movers and shakers and opinion makers are – ask them well-thought-out questions about their work.

Talk shop

Here are some suggested questions, but take time to formulate some good ones of your own.

  • What led you to work at your company?
  • What are the biggest challenges you/your company/your industry face?
  • What are you reading lately that influences your work?
  • Can you recommend someone I should I talk to, to learn more?
  • What advice or insight could you share with someone like me who’s interested in this industry/company/line of work?

Why am I suggesting this approach? Because I use similar questions to start conversations with people I need to get to know. And because people love to talk about their work and they love to talk about themselves. Make it easy for them — ask good (but not presumptuous or prying!) questions about their work. Then keep silent and listen.

Make new friends and more friends

The point is not to get an interview or to give them your resume. (That comes later.) It’s to make friends and to learn about their experience and views on their field of work, their specific jobs, their employer and their professional community.

The actual objective is to get referred to others in the field who can tell you more. As your web of new contacts grows, you will find your discussions start to narrow down to specific jobs and opportunities. This takes time, but there’s no magic dust to make it all happen quickly. The upside is, you can make a lot of new friends!

Friends refer friends for jobs

This article might give you some more ideas:

You can’t CLICK to change careers

And here’s a brief lesson you can listen to about changing careers:

How can I change careers? (audio)

In a nutshell, to meet people who do the jobs you aspire to, learn where they hang out with their peers to discuss their work. Then go there. At first, listen, then participate. Never, ever, ever lead with “I’m looking for a job!”  Just start by making some new friends and talking shop. (Please refer to “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends” in your copy of How Can I Change Careers?)

How do you find people who can educate you about jobs you’re interested in?

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Job-search success stories – How I got my new job!

Job-search success stories – How I got my new job!


I see you’ve been doing this — headhunting and advising people — a long time. Your methods about how to land a good job seem to make sense, but can you share details of any job-search success stories from job seekers who use what you teach? It would make me more comfortable about trying some of this!

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for asking! I’ve been saving your question for this first edition of 2024.

job-search success storiesI used to publish job-search success stories from people who have used Ask The Headhunter methods from the website, the free newsletter, my books, and my Talk to Nick service. Perhaps I should start sharing them again.

Readers’ job-search success stories

I hope someone’s tips or story inspires you to try the job search methods we discuss on Ask The Headhunter!

“I used Ask the Headhunter to guide me to a carefully targeted company nine years ago where they created a position to solve problems I helped them identify. Thank you. I am a big fan and have given the book to my own kids. One of my regrets is that I did not read it earlier in my career.

“What really helped me the most was the idea that getting hired is not about me but it is completely about the work. I turned the interview into a work session where I asked permission to use a whiteboard and mapped out solutions their problems. I remember that you recommended to pretend you were already on payroll.” – Carlos A. Santayana, Global Head of Training & Director of International HR

“Hello Nick, I got fired in 2014 after new management took over the company. I had been there for 28 years, half my life. I felt terrible and embarrassed about it until I read your article. Now I don’t feel bad about it at all. Thank you for this article and helping me get out of the dumps.” – Jackie Larkins

Nick’s advice helped me get my last two projects even though I have grey hair. I’m now at a great company that values experience. Thanks Nick!” – William R. Husa

“I’ve been following your blog and advice for years. (Who says 58-year-olds can’t get a job?) When I was laid off from a big pharma company, I panicked naturally from the pressure of needing to meet my financial responsibilities. However, I took a breath, adjusted my thinking and went to work on my next opportunity. Using your advice and methods, I did land my next and current position that I have been in for 2 years. During the search process, each company that I identified and researched and presented to offered me a position. The first one I accepted was my right now job. Then I found the “it” job that I have now. For those non-believers, your methods work. I even used your How to Work with Headhunters for one position. Keep up the good work. My next job will be joining you on the beach!

“PS: I’m celebrating the 31st anniversary of my 25th birthday! – Josie

“I am a 63-year-old woman, nothing special, with an MA in Liberal Arts and 20 years of progressive experience in business. I was suddenly downsized from a job I loved and intended to retire from. After nine months of researching companies, training myself in The 4 Questions, learning The Basics, and working hard to do the job to win the job, I have — again, at age 63 — been hired into a Fortune 500 company.

“I say I am ‘nothing special’ because your readers should know anyone can do it. Often when I hear some phenomenal success story I look for the silver spoon or the uncle who was in on the ground floor, but I did this myself, with a little encouragement and a lot of help from your advice. Glad I discovered you. I will continue to read your e-mail newsletter and pass along your tips to my job-searching friends. There are plenty of them out there. Thanks.” – Stephanie Hunter

“I am an American who has been living in Belgium for the last 27 years. I normally never write to any of the websites I trawl for nuggets of wisdom.  But your thoughts in the article Everything You Know About Job Hunting Is Wrong was the most important, eye-opening, and mind-expanding piece I have ever read on the subject of job hunting. Please keep up the excellent work. You are a natural resource of extreme value to job hunters everywhere. Thanks again.” – Arthur Rubinstein

“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40-50% more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: (1) Never divulge my current salary, and (2) Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done. They oughta make you a Cornell professor! I can already see that the one hour you spent with us will have as much impact on my MBA ROI as any class that I have taken in the program, if not more so.” – Rich Mok, Cornell Executive MBA Program

“I was in a toxic company, but I left when I couldn’t stand it anymore. Your website has been an absolute godsend (yes, I even bought a copy of your book) and I’m happy to report that I’ve already drawn up a list of companies I want to work for (bless you for The Library Vacation™). I did an information interview (and an e-mail interview as well — I live in Canada, the interviewee lived in Florida) with a person who had the job I wanted to do. Now I’m researching the problems each company faces and finding the “wow” factor (and having fun doing this as well).

“Thanks again for a wonderful website and for inspiring everyone to seek out their perfect job. I’ve already told everyone about your website and book. I hope you enjoy the royalties! (Your article about the Liberal Arts was an eye opener. I never knew we could do so much in the business world!)” – Nick Tang

“I went to five interviews after poring over The Basics for a week. I got four offers. I think you are some sort of modern prophet. Thank you very much for your insights.” – Travis Clark

“I would like to say thank you for your book regarding keeping your salary private. I recently won a job that paid 58% more than my current salary without having to reveal it. I followed your instructions to the letter saying that, ‘I want my salary based on my merits, abilities and skills. My current salary is something that is personal and confidential…’

“It worked perfectly. Best advice I’ve read in years.” – Tom Stevens

“I started what I thought would be 30 minutes of reading on, and four hours and 17 pages of notes later I just finished. It is very insightful reading.

“I am 60 and basically think I am unemployable at this point. While I am working on fixing that mindset, I have found that I have many skills that are of value. I retired from executive management too early and have regretted too much time on my hands. There are some things I can do with the insight I have learned from you — namely get out and use my skill in ways that most others won’t. Thanks for the articles. I am buying up the book after dinner tonight. Thanks for your help.” – Jim Pike

“I didn’t buy the book. I used what I read on your web site and I got a great job… I tried your $30,000 strategy approach in an interview on Monday. The person I was speaking with told me that ‘the company expects to lose money in the first year of this project.” I replied, “I refuse to lose money on any project. We either make a profit or we cut the costs.’

“I didn’t tell them what I did last year. I told them what I could do for them today. I asked for the top of the salary range and I got the job. I went in with a winning attitude and I got the job! You the MAN! YOU THE MAN!!!! I OWE you!” – J. Gardner

“If you recall I am an MD who was in touch with you during my job search efforts in finding a position as an Investment Banker. Irv Pfeiffer at Kellogg had put me on to your book.

“My interview preparation was focused on “Doing the Job During the Interview” as per the advice in your book. This was probably the best advice anyone gave me. My focus was on practically demonstrating the value I would bring to my new employer from Day 1. For me to do this required a different and more rigorous time of preparation for weeks ahead of time. I shudder to think what the results would have been in this very competitive environment had I not gotten or followed your advice.

“After a very active six month process, I was successful in landing a position as Vice President in Healthcare Investment Banking with a major regional bank. This was particularly rewarding considering this is my first job in this particular industry because I was able to leverage my expertise as a physician and healthcare executive. I have now been in this position for nearly a year and am loving it. Thanks for your kindness and help.” – Artaj Singh

Many thanks to all for their kind permission to publish their job-search success stories and tips above. Needless to say, I’m tickled by every one. I hope you enjoyed them!

Do you have job-search success stories of your own to share?

Maybe your success was based on something you learned on Ask The Headhunter, but it doesn’t have to be — it may be something you learned somewhere else or something you invented yourself! The point here is to share what worked and helped you land a job!

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