The Big Secret About Getting Fired

Throughout my life there have been many times when I feel like Cassandra.  She was a Greek prophetess cursed by Apollo so that her prophecies, though true, were fated never to be believed.  For me it has often been about stating what I felt was obvious and having others look at me like I’d just landed from some other planet.

One of those areas in which I notice I have a really different perspective is ‘why people get fired.’  It looks like they got fired because they made mistakes, embezzled from the company, or didn’t do the job effectively.  My experience in corporate land says that’s not so.

Before I detail this out let me say that I’ve only been fired once, from my very first job.  I have, however, fired people, seen others being fired, and heard a myriad of stories from friends and clients about being fired.  I know this really isn’t about Money, and yet I keep running into this with clients.  My point is to expose that this does happen, and warn you so you don’t get caught in it yourself.

You may have a very different opinion, and here’s what I notice: What gets you fired is not really about the work you do, or don’t do.  It’s how you fit in the culture of the company.  It about whether or not the people in power like you—and by the way, those people may not be in the top slots on the org chart!  It’s a system thing.  Are you a fit?  Or do you stand out?

In many ways, a Company—just like a Country—has a personality.  In order to fit in and be successful you need to align with that personality.  If you don’t, you won’t last.

Oh,  they will find a more plausible reason to let you go than that you don’t fit.  But nevertheless, it will really be that you just don’t fit.

In my experience if you get hired and really aren’t competent at the job you will be let go within a short time—six months or less.  If you’ve been there awhile and somehow now they don’t like you, and you are sensing impending doom, know that it’s about  that you don’t fit in the current culture, or perhaps in where the culture is going.

The irony is that NO ONE actually talks about this.  Thus my Cassandra thing!  I worked in various Corporate lands from 1970 to 2000 and found this to be present everywhere.  As a manager I admit that I would find other issues/mistakes to come up with a viable reason for firing the person.  They were all true and valid.  However the real reason was that they just didn’t fit.

If someone fit in the culture those mistakes would be forgiven or overlooked.  If you don’t fit you aren’t forgiven.  Certainly in some ways this is awful, it’s like cliques in High School.  And it’s what is happening.

So my suggestion is to look for kindred spirits and places you ‘fit’ as a person, as much as you look for a job that suits your skills.  It’s no fun to stay where we don’t fit, and it’s more than likely not worth the money however much it is.

And if you are in a place that you did fit, and somehow the culture has changed, dig deeper and see if your being suddenly always in trouble, or let go has to do with that… there may be some financial compensation for you if the game has changed.  For example if you recently got a raise or a promotion, and then get transferred to another boss who fires you, there is something else going on—something for which you may be able to get some compensation.

Bottom line — fitting in is often way more important than being competent.  Just sayin’


Shell Tain, the Untangler

If you’d like to chat about Cassandra things of your own, or how to navigate these ‘not performance based’ problems give me a call at  503-258-1630 or check out my website at

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