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How to Avoid Getting Fired
By Kent Lewis

I enjoy sharing knowledge with my dear readers. Over the years, I've written about how to get a great job and even how to get rich. Unfortunately, I've found that my personal experience also stretches into the darker side of employment: termination. While it’s not always advisable to openly discuss what many consider to be a black mark on your career, I feel it’s important to share what I’ve learned with you in the hopes it may help you avoid future career difficulties.

I’ve been a marketing agency guy for nearly my entire professional career. While agencies typically sell their “work,” what they are ultimately selling are their people. As such, the people-centric agency business is fraught with challenges, not unlike the average Apprentice episode: cliques, vendettas, catfights and, ultimately, firings.

With that background framework in mind, I’d like to share a few thoughts about what it takes to minimize the chances of getting fired from your current job. I’ve identified seven key criteria, that, if followed correctly, should keep you not only employed, but on the fast track.

1. Stay Close to the Money

At my graduation party, my uncle pulled me aside and gave me a piece of advice I’ve held dear for over a decade:, “Always follow the money. Get as close to it as possible and stay there.” Traditionally, money-oriented positions included sales, finance and product development, but rarely marketing. I’ve been able to build a career in search engine marketing that is very return on investment (ROI)-centric, which keeps our agency business close to our client’s’ revenue stream. The best way to ensure your own job security is to own your own business, although I’ve given myself a tough review from time to time.

2. Work Smart

I know plenty of talented and hard-working professionals that have been laid off or fired. Typically, they work long hours and generate tons of output. Unfortunately, their efforts may be unfocused, marginalized or simply too distant from “the money.” I’ve always encouraged my teammates to work smarter, not harder. Know which aspects of your job are most valuable to the company, and focus on those. Talk up your accomplishments without stealing the limelight from others. Managing perceptions is also critical. Early in my career, my old school managers chewed me out as they took my empty desk as a sign that I wasn’t afraid of not working hard, when, in actuality, I was quite busy. I also learned early in my career that work hours are important to understand and use to your favor. You don’t have to work 12- hour days to be recognized or appreciated, so long as you arrive five minutes before your manager and leave five minutes after he/she leaves.

3. Put Up or Shut Up

I’m the type to fix a problem when I see it, but I’ve seen people get fired because they constantly complained, or shared too much personal information at the office. Those same people typically blame others for their mistakes and are in a constant state of denial. Driven by insecurities or ineptitude, These employees are often downplayed or ignored until it is too late. If you’re not happy at work, then address the issues to with management, or find another job. The same applies with your personal life: Oh, and don’t bring your personal life to the office. It will only complicate things.

4. Understanding Management

Perhaps my biggest shortfall in previous jobs has been my lack of interest in understanding management. Those that take the time to inform themselves about their managers’ strengths, weaknesses, personality quirks, hot buttons, motivations and personal life are much less likely to make a misstep. Early in my career, I didn’t realize two coworkers were married, and almost misspoke about their significant other. Those that think a manager’s personal life is off limits and irrelevant to secure employment probably have never been fired. I was fired from one job at which a senior partner was having an affair with my ex-girlfriend, who was also a coworker. I did nothing to dispel the fact that they should feel threatened by me, and paid a price for it. At the very least, understand what your manager’s compensation is based on, so you can help them her/him achieve hose goals, thus increasing your value.

5. Manage Relationships

It may sound impersonal to associate a verb like “management” with relationships, but that is exactly the challenge. If you treat relationships at work the way you do those outside of work, you may find yourself out on the streets. Everyone has a different definition of inappropriate behavior (HR rules notwithstanding) and not understanding where your coworkers’ level of comfort is, can land you in court. As much as we all agree inter-office romance is dangerous, we’re still human. What hurts is when management finds out about the relationship through gossip instead of from the offending party directly. In fact, forming any strong personal alliances can be as hurtful as helpful, if you don’t know whom you’re dealing with.

6. Watch Your Back

To gossip is human nature. Unfortunately, gossip is a commodity in many companies, and the wrong gossip shared with the wrong person at the right time can be disastrous. Instead of trying to guess who to trust (you only need to be wrong once), just default to keeping your mouth shut. You can try to steer clear of inter-office battles, but don’t think that you can escape the firefight by burying your head in the sand and keep your mouth shut. Doing the “right” thing and speaking out against a coworker can get you in trouble with management, and keeping your mouth shut can ruin personal relationships with coworkers.

7. Be Prepared

The sad truth is that every employee, just, like every soldier, is expendable. The sooner you understand and accept that fact, the better off you’ll be. As the old Boy Scout adage goes: Always be prepared. Keep your resume up–-to–-date and in a safe place. In addition, maintain your network and keep up on the local job market. Too many times in my career, I’ve had had 10 minutes to leave the building after quitting or being let go (nothing personal, just business of course). Thankfully, I had my current resume on and Rolodex full of contacts in my PDA. Lastly, know your rights. If you’ve signed an NDA, non-compete or non-solicitation with your current employer, I don’t recommending leaving with clients, people or assets.

While I’ve managed to make lemonade out of lemons from my previous employment experiences, I hope that you can learn from my mistakes and have a successful, fire-free career.



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