Bouncing Back From a Bad Career Exit

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When most of us fantasize about leaving our current job, the details include outsmarting a terrible boss and being given his position and paycheck, or winning the lottery and never needing to work again. The fantasy usually doesn't include getting fired.

But if you find yourself making a bad career exit from your last job, whether it's your fault or that of your ex-employer's, it's still possible to bounce back and land a job that's a much better fit. Not sure where to start? Check out these career coaches' advice.

Don't make details public

Social media has leveled the playing fields between businesses and consumers, and everybody loves a story where an employee or consumer rightly calls out a bad business. But no matter how satisfying you think it may be to post your story on social sites, this is the time to keep your digital mouth closed and your head level.

"Avoid being emotional, and look at the situation as an opportunity to rebuild," says Stacy Lindenberg, owner and chief change agent of Talent Seed Consulting. "Don't vet your opinions or situation on social media...that is one of the worst things you could do, and will reflect negatively on you both at the time of your exit, and when you seek your next job."

Instead, constructively channel those emotions in a way that will help you find a position better suited for you.

Jacqueline Twillie, author, speaker, blogger and career coach, says, "Create a list of things that you learned from the experience and begin the job search with the lessons learned." Also write down what you didn't like about the last job, and what your list of must-haves is for your next job. This will quickly move your job search forward.

Don't bring baggage to your job search

Whether in your application materials or in an interview, it's essential to keep your attitude and how you present yourself as positive and capable as possible. Your cover letter should be directed at why you're excited about this future opportunity and how your goals and experience are a match.

If, during a screening interview or at a request for references, your last employer comes up, Twillie says, "Explain honestly that your value and the company's values no longer aligned and it was decided that your skillset could be best utilized elsewhere. Don't get into every detail, be honest but be brief."

Roy Cohen, career coach and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide," adds, "If a boss's reputation precedes him or her, and the interviewer is fishing for 'dirt', here's a possible response: 'Yes, [ex-employer] is a tough boss but I learned a lot from her -- about setting and meeting exacting standards, working under pressure and following up. I learned from her that the devil is in the details. Those lessons were invaluable and I'm grateful for them.'"

The key is to show growth and maturity from the experience and avoid playing a blame game.

Be positive in front of future employers

This can't be stressed enough -- a professional attitude is the most effective way to bounce back from a bad career exit. But if the interviewer won't accept a short, vague answer in response to "Why did you leave your job?" then you better have a response ready instead of accidentally starting a rant.

Good thing Cohen has two strategies that can help. He says, "A multi-reason explanation is always best. If one idea doesn't resonate, it is likely another will. As an example: 'We've had a number of lay-offs and I'm concerned about my job; I also have a long commute and it would be great to devote that time on the road to work, it feels wasted now; I'm also eager to take on expanded responsibilities and that's not likely to happen in light of our current situation and the cost and headcount-cutting mood of the company.'"

But if it comes up that you left on bad terms, Cohen says, "You will need a defensible -- not defensive -- strategy to explain the departure. That's where you acknowledge what happened but you also provide some context that appears unbiased. An example: One of my clients lost her job when it was discovered that her boss was stealing holiday money intended for temp employees. Although she was not aware of his activities or involved in any way, management felt that she was guilty by association.

How did she explain the separation? By appearing to be honest, open, and transparent: 'My boss was accused of engaging in activities that I'm not at liberty to discuss and it was felt that I was too closely tied to him not to be separated, too. Despite the fact that I was in no way involved, it just feels bad. I understand why the decision was made and they were probably right to do so. I have a number of colleagues and other senior managers who will on my behalf and of my qualifications and integrity.'"

No matter how you leave your job, there's always a way to bounce back in your career.

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Susan Ricker is a writer for CareerBuilder.
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