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An Entrepreneur and CEO on How She Handled Getting Fired

An Entrepreneur and CEO on How She Handled Getting Fired

An Entrepreneur and CEO on
How She Handled Getting Fired

Several years ago, Georgene Huang, a lawyer and financial analyst, was fired. Huang, who holds degrees from Cornell and Stanford, had held executive-level positions at global companies and had overseen strategy for start-ups. At the time that she lost her job, she was also two months pregnant. “Up to that point, I’d thought things were pretty meritocratic at work,” Huang says. “Being a pregnant job seeker was a wake-up call.”

There are two ways to look at Huang’s story. It’s easy to gasp in indignation at what happened to her (though at the time, Huang had not yet told people she was pregnant). On the other hand, as she points out, it can also be a reality check. Job loss, even though extremely difficult and hurtful, can be an opportunity. It’s what led Huang to eventually cofound Fairygodboss, a website and social hub for women to get career information, advice, and support from one another. (It’s also a place for women to share anonymous information about their workplaces—e.g., culture, pay, leadership.) Taking the emphasis off victimhood and putting the focus on what job loss can lead to is now Huang’s goal.

A Q&A with Georgene Huang

Q
What did the moment you were fired teach you?
A

I remember thinking: What in the world am I going to do? I just lost my job, I’m two months pregnant and no one knows, and now I have to go out and find another job. I learned that it is important to just breathe and ask your (now former) boss about severance pay and how you will be compensated for any leftover/unused vacation days. And most important, ask about the reason(s) why you are being let go if that is at all unclear.


Q
How do you recommend handling the immediate aftermath?
A

Think before you act. You’ll hear horror stories of people cursing out bosses or storming out of the office when they’re fired. I would not advise that anyone do that. I think it’s important to take some time to feel and process your emotions. If you’re action-oriented, as I am, start collecting everything you’re going to need to start your new job search. Start updating your résumé and LinkedIn profile and reach out to those who will be supportive. But don’t feel pressured to start applying for jobs an hour after you’re fired. You’ll need to be prepared before you go into that first interview, so taking time to care for yourself is really important.


Q
And tying up any loose ends?
A

You should have an exit interview and a conversation with HR when you’re let go to sort out any outstanding matters such as severance pay, benefits implications, and unused vacation time. Bring any necessary paperwork with you and make sure the company has your current address and an email address you can be reached at in case any questions arise.


Q
What is your advice for informing colleagues, peers, and other work-related contacts?
A

A really elegant way of sharing this information is to tell them that your work email is no longer valid and people can reach you at an alternate contact address. That will make it clear that you have moved on and allow you to tailor your explanation differently depending on the quality of your relationship.


Q
What's your advice for dealing with shame, guilt, or confusion after being let go?
A

You should find out in your exit interview why you were fired. Perhaps the company was restructuring or downsizing and had to make some drastic cuts and you happened to be one of the newer employees. Once you know why you were fired, it will be much easier to deal with your emotions. It’s also important to remember that you were hired for the job in the first place. Maybe it wasn’t the right fit or the right time, but you got the job for a reason. Reminding yourself of those reasons will help to shore up your confidence.


Q
Was there a silver lining to your firing?
A

After being fired from a job that I’d worked very hard at and coming out on the other side, I realized that I could do anything. Losing a job isn’t the end of the world. The sun still rises the next morning, and you still have a life to live. This gives you an opportunity to start fresh and possibly try something new, maybe even something you never thought you’d have the opportunity to try. I’m also so grateful that it catalyzed me to create something that has grown to have so much meaning and fulfillment because it helps other women.


Q
What are your tips for finding the next—and right—job?
A

Leverage your community and do your research. Find out what it’s really like to work at a company by reading company reviews on websites like Fairygodboss. Find out why people like or dislike working for a company and do some research into what a company offers in terms of benefits and compensation. I also strongly suggest an informational interview at companies that you’re interested in to learn more about their open roles and company culture. If you have a contact at a company, reach out, but don’t be afraid of cold outreach—especially to recruiters.


Q
Is there a smart way to mention a job loss in an interview?
A

Tell the truth. And be sure to explain what you learned from being fired. If you were fired because of your own mistakes, calling them out and demonstrating how you’ve corrected yourself or will correct yourself to ensure it doesn’t happen again will show your interviewer how you’ve grown from the experience.


Q
You’ve previously said: “Think about your job search as dating for a longer-term relationship.” What do you mean by that?
A

I often hear from Fairygodboss members that when they’re in a position of looking for a job, it’s hard to keep the bigger picture in mind. They are so—understandably—focused on the short-term job search itself and landing an offer. But taking a job is agreeing to enter into a longish-term relationship. So it’s very important to be intentional about what that relationship will look like—and to be honest with yourself about whether you will enjoy it. Most people spend at least forty hours a week at work, so when looking for a job, you’re also looking for a place to spend most of your waking hours with people who will potentially become as close to you as your family and friends.


Q
What is your advice for how to handle volatility in the working world?
A

That’s a good question. I think that there are industries and job types and companies that are more safe and less safe. So I do think it begins with an understanding of who you are and what your risk tolerance is, where your parameters for safety are. For instance, if you’re a software engineer, you could work for the government, or you could work for an early-stage start-up or a late-stage start-up. Or you could work for a Fortune 500 company. Or elsewhere. You have to be really aware of what safety level you need, and safety is different for everyone. Some people are born into families of wealth and have a really big financial safety net, and other people—in fact, many people—not so much. And so the risk tolerance of any individual depends on their financials, their history, their socioeconomic status, and what else they have going on in terms of responsibilities and stage of life. If you don’t feel safe, you have to be proactive about it. Have an understanding of the market, have an understanding of your position and your options—as opposed to just waiting for the shoe to drop. There are so many resources out there now to help you stay informed.


Q
Tell us about Fairygodboss. What do you hope women gain from visiting the site?
A

We’re improving the workplace for women by increasing transparency and enabling women to better support one another. Women can visit Fairygodboss to read company reviews by other women, learn more about specific benefits offered by companies, research whether they’re being paid fairly on our salary database, look for jobs at companies trying to improve gender equality, and connect with recruiters and other career-minded women.

By giving women the tools and knowledge they need to make informed career decisions, we can even the playing field and, hopefully, create true gender equality in the workplace.


Georgene Huang is the CEO and a cofounder of Fairygodboss, an online platform for women to anonymously share information about their workplaces, including culture, leadership, and maternity leave. Fairygodboss also provides informational career content. Prior to creating Fairygodboss, Huang worked as a business executive, a lawyer, and an investment analyst. She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from Cornell University and her juris doctor degree from Stanford University.

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