Sacked? Redundant? How to leave a job with dignity

Diary of a CIO headhunter: Why being ushered to the exit can be liberating...

Arguably, everyone should be sacked or lose their job once in their professional career. It then becomes a question of how well you handle the situation, says Vicky Maxwell Davies.

It's the dawning realisation that things aren't working out. The politics are against you. Your sponsor has left or been fired - or perhaps your face simply doesn't fit.

One day you realise that things have gone too far and you're on the way out. How could this happen to you? You've always been successful and ambitious and it's been one promotion after another...

It's a horrible shock and you feel angry, humiliated and panicked. But it's important to keep your cool and deal with the situation in the most dignified way you can. If you've found the company or role a struggle, you may find that being ushered to the exit is a very liberating moment as well as a great relief.

You may feel angry and humiliated when you lose your job but you can gain from handling the situation astutely

You may feel angry and humiliated when you lose your job but you can gain a lot from handling the situation astutely
Photo: Shutterstock

And of course, there is the argument that it's a great learning experience. There's no shame in it - even the greatest and best have been given their marching orders at one point or another.

Assuming you haven't had your fingers in the till or been caught watching porn on your company laptop, these tips will help:

  1. Don't panic or become emotional. Keep your toys in the pram and act calmly and cannily. Take immediate possession of the high ground and let everyone see you are being reasonable and sensible. At all times, keep any thoughts you might have on your situation to yourself.
  2. Don't kid yourself that you can hang on to your job. What's done is done and it's time to accept the inevitable.
  3. Get the story straight in your head. You need to be clear about what went wrong and why. Whether you know or you don't, discuss it with your boss. Rationalise the situation and practise explaining it, without emotion.
  4. Consult a lawyer and make sure you know what your rights are. Your bosses will be only too aware of what they will need to pay you to get you to go, and will probably have been talking about it for a while.
  5. Take control: seize the initiative and approach your boss with your proposal. They may well be so delighted and relieved that they will agree to everything you want. But choose your moment carefully - you don't want to leave without maximising your payout. Be positive in outlook, reasonable in tone and co-operative in approach.
  6. There is no point in dwelling on the past. Think forwards not backwards - keep your eye on where the ball is going to go, not where it has come from. Don't be bitter, don't be negative. Think instead of all the great things you have achieved in your organisation and be ready to articulate them. Be confident of who you are and what you have to offer. Hold that head high.
  7. Get your story straight. Ensure you paint yourself in the best positive light but make sure you are reflecting the facts, or people will be suspicious. If, for example, the commute has been difficult, you may wish to highlight that fact. Or perhaps downsizing, or the successful completion of a large project, means someone of your stature is no longer needed.
  8. Work on your CV so it looks great and sells you well. Then talk to the headhunters, making sure you are very clear what your proposition is. Don't be negative, bitter or twisted - it just makes you look like a loser.
  9. Work out who your friends are in the organisation and make sure you get them on side. Sorting out your references is critical. Don't be afraid to ask what your bosses will say about you - it's better to know than not to know. Try and make sure your perspectives are aligned - remember, you can't change the past, but you can influence your boss' perspective as to what happened, and therefore your future.
  10. Continue to work hard and manage your handover well. Treat your troops professionally - don't diss your bosses, the strategy or the company. Keep your counsel. It would be nice if your team was mystified about why you've gone. Act positively and even joyfully, as if this was a great adventure and you can't wait to move on to the next stage of your life.

Indeed it may very well be, if you've learned from what went wrong. Arguably, everyone should be sacked once during their professional career. It allows us time to take stock, recognise our limitations, work on our weaker areas and get a better, more appropriate job next time. And as managers and leaders, it helps us appreciate the reality of what we're doing, when we have to sack someone ourselves.

Finally - pick yourself up, dust yourself down and get back in the saddle.

Vicky Maxwell Davies is partner and co-head of the CIO Practice at executive search firm Boyden UK. Founded in 1946, Boyden World Corporation has more than 70 offices in over 40 countries, specialising in high-level executive search, interim management and human capital consulting.