Occasionally people face the media and it’s apparent that their last job didn’t go well. Football managers are routinely announced as “fired” all the time; businesspeople have to face it too. They then carry on and launch something else – but what should you say if you’re in that position and a journalist asks you about your previous job?
Here’s where I believe Jeremy Clarkson has got it right. On the BBC this morning, he described his dismissal (actually the non-renewal of his contract) as “his own silly fault”. You can read about it here.
I don’t know Mr. Clarkson and I’ve expressed my opinion on his sacking before. This time, though, he’s behaved in the only way possible to emerge with any dignity or – crucially – employability.
Here’s a bit of a confession. I don’t like being fired. It’s happened before and every freelancer faces the prospect of a client finding someone cheaper. Competition for content creation from people based in lower-funded economies can be fierce.
However, when someone makes that decision I always withdraw politely as they may need me again, and I always say something pleasant about them on social media.
To do the opposite is to complain bitterly in public. I’m no cricket buff but have a look at this article by Kevin Pietersen, who basically accuses everybody he spoke to of dishonesty. You can think this, by all means; in sport it probably does no harm to vent a little as the audience doesn’t expect the same professionalism as they might in business. Do Google the story, there’s been acres of coverage, which is the other thing that happens when someone takes an aggressive stance. Journalists won’t leave it alone. Once again, this is probably acceptable to sportspeople who are expected to be massively skilled at their game but not necessarily polished presenters.
In business it’s different. Your communications are important and you have to make future employers look forward to working with you. Your social and Internet footprint will mean any complaints you’ve aired in the past will be easy to find. If there’s a suspicion you’ll turn around and trash your previous employer, or client, you’ll find it more difficult to find the next one.
So no matter how you feel, be gracious. Use bridging phrases when asked what you think about previous bosses: “Obviously we didn’t share a vision of how the company should go forward, and I wish her every success. What I’m focused on now is…”
But don’t be defensive or overly critical. It’s great for the journalist, we love a row, but not so good for your prospects or reputation. This time, Clarkson has manifestly got it right. Whatever he feels, he’s said it was his fault and that really leaves journalists nowhere else to go.