Fired HR Director Rebounds with Two $200K Job Offers

by William S. Frank, President/CEO of CareerLab®

Sooner or later most of us run into a career speedbump. It’s difficult to get through a lifetime of employment without being fired, demoted, humiliated, or sadly disappointed. When it happens to you, it feels like a brick wall—not a speedbump. But these crises are usually speedbumps when viewed in retrospect. They slow us down, rattle our teeth, and cause us to refocus—but they don’t destroy us.
When Mark’s Colorado company was bought by a $1.5 billion multinational corporation, he was promoted to Director of Employee Relations and relocated to New York City. The job looked like a move up. Mark was hired to be a change agent, and his responsibilities were to include worldwide employee relations, labor relations, staffing, and safety and security. However, the reality was much different. When Mark reported for work, the company was hiring 1000 employees; and he got pushed into building a staffing team, which was essentially a lateral move. The broad duties and responsibilities he had been promised never materialized.
In addition, there was friction with his old-style autocratic boss, who didn’t understand Mark’s forward-looking orientation toward teamwork, management development, and making things happen. They had several Friday afternoon meetings in which the boss asked, “What are you really accomplishing? Wasn’t staffing really on it’s way before you got here?” Mark realized he’d made a mistake relocating to New York, and he began a job search—but before he found a job, the boss fired him.
That was a disastrous blow because Mark had always been a winner. All his life he’d succeeded at everything he tried. This was his first big career failure, and it hit him in the gut.
The company offered to let him work three months, then promised three months severance. In addition, they offered outplacement and agreed to pay for his relocation. In exchange, they required him to sign an onerous legal release waiving all his rights, and telling him he could never be re-hired by any of the company’s subsidiaries. The thought of never working for any related company was disappointing and frightening, because his was a very small industry. Where else could he be employed?
I told Mark his termination was a speedbump, not a brick wall—and he appreciated my point of view, but it didn’t help much. He was panicked and disappointed, and he began working at a fever pitch to get re-employed.
His first step was to decide where he wanted to live. He knew he liked Colorado and wanted to return. His family thought of it as home, and his personal network was here. In addition, the job market in Colorado was healthy.
Mark developed a marketing plan to get his name and qualifications out. We mailed to Colorado recruiters specializing in Human Resources. (Look at his letter to executive recruiters). CareerLab posted his resume on more than 150 Internet talent banks and recruiting sites, and he answered online job postings. The real payoff, though, was networking. Throughout his career, Mark had always made it a point to stay in touch with a close circle of friends—not hundreds of people, but about twenty key contacts: high-level businesspeople, peers in human resources, and recruiters. Disliking letters, he began calling them personally.
Every call he made yielded valuable information. Somebody had heard about something. After 30 contacts, he learned about two current openings, which led to one interview in Colorado, and one headhunter interview.
Twenty more contacts yielded two more possibilities, two interviews, and two firm job offers—each worth more than $200,000. He agonized over the choice, and wisely consulted the same friends he’d been networking with all along. The decision came down to being “number two” in a larger company, or being “number one” in a smaller organization. Mark opted to be Vice President of Human Resources in the smaller organization, a $200 million company with 850 employees.
In accepting this offer, he received a 10% salary increase, stock options, a signing bonus, and relocation costs—and he relocated to a lower cost of living area. He achieved all this within three months of his termination, when most $200,000 job searches take six months to a year. How was he able to pull it off?
Mark was re-hired quickly because of his extraordinary personal network. I asked him to describe his philosophy of relationships, and he said,
            “I don’t build relationships expecting to get something back. I build                            relationships because I genuinely like the people I deal with. It’s                              reciprocal. When you need to call, everybody is eager to help. Even                          people I hadn’t talked to in some time were very interested in trying                        to help. We could all be in the same situation (out of work)—                                      everybody recognizes that. That’s why they’re eager to help.”
You can apply this story to your own career by taking note: sooner or later, nearly everyone hits a career speedbump that feels like a brick wall. The way to be ready for such a possibility is to develop friendships and relationships before you need them. It takes time and it takes effort—but the time and effort are always generously rewarded.