Dear E. Jean: What’s the best course of action after being fired? With six great years at a company, I was canned because I played a practical joke. (I hid my supervisor’s glue stick. Yes. It’s utterly ridiculous.) The supervisor, who I thought was my friend and someone I could joke with, decided to make a big deal out of it and took it to the department manager.
The manager, unfortunately, was dealing with a death in her family, had never liked me, and had, in the past, admitted she was “jealous” of me. (She suffers from major body issues.)
Now I’m stuck! In interviews, when I tell prospective employers that I was fired for hiding a glue stick, legit as it is, it sounds like I’m lying. I don’t want to trash-talk the manager, but I have to defend myself and let people know I did not deserve to be fired over this. I have references from the job, but most employers want to speak with the department manager. Ugh! She’s not a moral person and would have no problem lying to them. What do I do next? —Fired Hard
Miss Hard, My Heliotrope: Honey, there’s not a hiring director at Google, J.Crew, Uber, Zappos, etc., who wouldn’t be tickled to death with a woman who walked in with stone-cold f–k-you confidence, sat down, smiled, and said: “Yes! I screwed up.”
Recruiting managers are actually looking for people who take risks, make mistakes, flub up, and correct themselves—people with passion, brilliance, and optimism—not cream puffs who “defend” themselves. So. What should you say in upcoming interviews?
“I’m glad you asked, Miss Crankshaft. Yes! I do love a joke and making people laugh. Humor connects us! You know this far better than I do, but research shows that humor in the office increases employees’ creativity and decreases stress. Laughter lightens workers’ hearts and lowers their blood pressure. Some companies are even hiring comedians to come and entertain employees at lunch. But my glue-stick joke? It went too far, and I learned a big lesson. Practical jokes in the office can create camaraderie and get people’s juices flowing, but also can be annoying, distracting, and unprofessional, and bruise egos. My joke was ill timed. I’m now a wiser, kinder, more perceptive team player. And, no! I don’t hold a grudge. I love my old company, but being fired was a gift.”
Speaking of which (and just for good measure), send your old manager a bottle of wine. Apologize in the note for the trouble you caused when she was mourning. Sign it, “With admiration and respect.”
Only women with the guts to make fools of themselves ever achieve greatness. The reason? Fate is a woman. And She likes a good joke.
This letter is from the Ask E. Jean Archive, 1993-2017. Send questions to E. Jean at E.Jean@AskEJean.com.