How To Get Fired
What do you do when your job sucks? I’ll tell you what you don’t do. You don’t quit. That’s a rookie mistake. Instead, you get yourself fired.
Now, I’m not advocating for anything malevolent or even borderline unethical. And unfortunately, if you’re already knee deep in misery, it might be too late. So what I’m calling for is a little preparation before things go south — so that your exit is on your terms.
Having been in the startup business for over 20 years, I’m always shocked when I hear stories of founders getting pushed out and left holding next to nothing. It happened to me. And while it sucked, it could have sucked a lot more, had I not made a few changes in the beginning and along the way that turned out to be gold at the end.
I learned that it’s no coincidence that folks in high-pressure, high-visibility jobs, like college coaches and media executives, have golden parachutes in their contracts for termination, including some who have packages for when they get terminated FOR CAUSE.
That’s not crazy. It’s not evil. It’s not about incompetence or malfeasance. Although sometimes it is. But for every high-profile jerk who does something stupid or awful and gets paid on the way out, there are 100 others who do what’s right without worrying about getting steamrolled by the organization they work for, because they have leverage.
It’s not about trying to get fired, it’s about making it very hard to get fired. That all comes down to negotiation, and that negotiation starts before you take the job. Few people take the time to do this, because everyone wants to go into a new job with only positive vibes.
It’s also no coincidence that all these executives and athletes and actors have lawyers who negotiate their contracts. They get to be the good guy while their representation makes all the demands.
What? You don’t have an attorney?
Get an Attorney
When the stakes are high, you don’t walk the minefield alone. For some, it may be millions of dollars on the table. For you, it may be $50K. The number doesn’t matter. It’s your livelihood.
Spend a couple hundred bucks having a skilled employment attorney review your contract and employment agreement before you accept the job, and build a relationship with that attorney while you’re doing this. You don’t need a lot of red ink on the documents, but at a minimum, you need to know exactly what you’re getting into, and exactly how you’ll get out of it, if and when the time comes.
Once you accept the job, additions and changes to your employment agreement will land on your desk throughout your tenure. Now that you have a relationship in place, have your attorney spend a half hour on each new document before you sign it.
Celebrate After You Sign the Contract, Not Before
A job offer is not a reason to celebrate. Again, for emphasis. A job offer is not a reason to celebrate. Tap your inner hardass and go through that offer and the the attached employment agreement with a fine-tooth comb.
You’ve heard all the stories about actors and musicians and writers becoming wildly successful and going broke in the process. That’s because the more desirable the job, the more leverage the company has at the beginning. But there’s a huge gulf between getting exactly what you want and getting screwed. You’re just trying to land in the middle.
Once you sign the contract, and you know exactly the terms you’ve agreed to, you can be that awesome employee they hired in the first place.
Negotiate Your Severance and Non-Compete
When the vast majority of job candidates negotiate, they limit those negotiations to salary and maybe bonus and maybe vacation days. Just the numbers. They leave almost all of the language of the contract intact, and the devil is in the details.
It’s difficult to negotiate any contract when you’re just starting out in the workforce or coming off a period of unemployment, but if you’ve got competing offers or if you’re being lured away from your current position, do not stop negotiating at salary.
Negotiate your severance. It’s not that difficult to double what the company offers as a standard, and if you can get it up to six months or more, that makes it really hard to get fired over a strategic disagreement or political upheaval.
Negotiate your non-compete as well. The power of non-competes is seated in the threat of litigation, so the more specific your non-compete, i.e. the more specific it gets about what you can’t do, the better off you’ll be.
Ask For More Severance at Milestones
Every time you get a raise, or a bonus, or a promotion, ask them to tack on another month or more to your severance. It comes down to trust, plain and simple, and if they love you enough to throw extra money at you or add “Senior” to your title, they shouldn’t have an issue making sure you’re around for a good long time.
Stand Your Ground
The worst feeling in the world isn’t getting fired. It’s getting fired after sucking up and doing everything they ask you to do, especially if you disagree with the strategy and especially if you disagree with the ethics.
I learned this early, when a colleague in my industry was asked to lay off more than half of her team to bring in younger, cheaper people to do the same job. She did, and it kept her awake at night for months until one day she walked in and got the axe herself.
She didn’t come back from that, mentally, for years.
Your contract becomes your bargaining chip, so to speak. When directions are being taken that you don’t agree with, you can stand your ground quite a bit longer if it’s going to be painful to let you go. You can do what you believe in. You can do what’s right.
And when I say do what’s right, I mean do what’s right. You can find yourself in a game of cat and mouse where they’re looking to provoke you to do anything that can warrant them slapping “for cause” on your termination notice. Be ethical, be respectful, be calm. When the game starts, you’ll know, and it can be an awful game. But it’s a game.
“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”
I didn’t say that. Mr. Rogers did. Give me someone more ethical, respectful, and calm. You can’t.
Don’t Ever Quit
So when it hits the fan and you’ve determined there’s too great an impasse to fix the situation — and let me clarify that this is not a decision to be taken lightly — it’s time to leave.
Don’t be the first to blink.
Standing your ground means fighting for what’s right but it also means putting up with a lot of extra garbage, and that garbage is going to make doing your job that much more difficult.
Do your job.
If you can’t be terminated for cause, then there might be a period in which the company decides to make it next to impossible for you to perform to expectations. This is where it gets ugly, and I won’t speculate on specifics, but they’re going to want you to quit, especially if you’ve put enough buffer in place.
How much CYA you have to do is up to you. But you can’t do too much.
Ask To Be Fired
This may actually be the hardest part of the plan, because it just feels wrong, but when you start to get to the point of diminishing returns, schedule a meeting and ask to be let go without cause. Get downsized, spend more time with the family, however they want to put it. Don’t let your ego get in the way of this. Take the deal.
Now, even with a bunch of preparation, you may not get to the end game. The most important part of this post is to make sure you don’t lose your mind over a job. Because it’s just a job. If it wasn’t just a job, you wouldn’t have to be fighting this hard to do it.
If you have to quit, quit. Quit before you suffer serious mental and emotional damage. Sometimes, no amount of money or prestige or history is worth the price.