How To Bounce Back If You're Bounced Out

Scared of being fired? If so, don't think of it as the end of your career. Coming back from a setback isn't impossible. Just ask John Morgridge, the multimillionaire chairman of San Francisco-based Cisco Systems. He was fired 20 years ago from a branch manager job at Honey-well. Morgridge wanted the autonomy to run his department as he saw fit, and his boss disagreed. "I was young and aggressive. I couldn't handle the guy meddling in my job," recalls the 63-year-old, who went on to build computer-network maker Cisco into a $1 billion company.

At some point in most people's careers, they encounter some reversal of fortune, whether a dismissal, layoff, or warning notice for poor skills. Morgridge now calls his firing "a great educational experience." What's more, he doesn't hesitate to hire others who have been dismissed. But he looks for evidence that the person isn't mired in anger. Rather, he wants an applicant who understands why they were fired and takes action.

But how do you bounce back? A good start, say career counselors, is to assess your on-the-job accomplishments. "Most people are surprised by how much they've done. This also helps for interviews, when you've got to tell the world how great you are," says John Challenger, executive vice-president at outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas in Chicago. Then, try to ascertain why you were let go. If you find you lack some skills or have troubling personality traits, you may choose to take some classes or seek career counseling. Morgridge realized that conflicting management styles between him and his boss were the reason. His assertiveness and independence didn't mesh with his supervisor's need for control.

The toughest part is moving on. Start by focusing on your strengths and how best to put them to work for you. Knowing he could not change his character, Morgridge realized he wanted a boss who would appreciate his need for autonomy. By networking within Honeywell, he got rehired in another unit with a more compatible superior.

GET ON THE HORN. Industry consolidations and corporate cutbacks may force you to reassess your career. Paul Kreuch, a former executive vice-president at NatWest Bank N.A. in Jersey City, couldn't get a job by calling company friends when he was laid off last spring. Fleet Bank bought his bank and most of his colleagues were let go, too. Also, the industry was shrinking fast. "The chances I'd get hired at the same level were slim to none. Most bank executives were in their 40s," says Kreuch, 58, a 34-year banking veteran.

While he might no longer be a viable candidate, Kreuch had a Rolodex full of people who were. After months of research, he took his banking skills into a top job at an executive-search firm.

Networking demands that you learn to use new technology. When Joseph Greil, 53, lost his managerial job at a Long Island cosmetics company last February, he relied on the Internet. He used it to send E-mail thank you and follow-up notes and to contact other job seekers for advice. Greil found that many large companies no longer accept paper resumes via snail mail, which made having access to a fax machine or a computer a must. Many companies post job openings on their Web pages, too. Greil found Exec-U-Net ( a valuable resource. Job seekers in all industries are eligible for membership; those who join pay up to $290 to receive a biweekly list of unadvertised job openings with yearly salaries of $75,000 and up. Members convene in face-to-face meetings nationwide. "I spoke to recruiters, who were interested in me," says Greil.

HONESTY. Greil also enlisted the aid of others in his industry's professional organization. Luckily, he had served in leadership positions over the years and knew managers across the country.

Once you start interviewing, the best way to broach the subject of your earlier dismissal is to deal with it directly. "Say: `We agreed to disagree, I decided it was best to move on,"' advises Windle Priem, president, North America, at search firm Korn/Ferry International. In your references, provide a prospective employer with allies who will give a balanced critique of what happened.

Of course, making a comeback from getting fired is never easy, but it also doesn't have to be a hand-wringing experience. Taking corrective action can put you back in control.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.