Posted on

Recovering from a career setback

Get back on track after a setback in your career using a three-phase process:

(1)  RECOVERY    (2)  RE-FRAME   (3)  REBOUND

(1) Begin your recovery 

If you’ve been fired, demoted, or passed over for a job you wanted, to begin your recovery:

  • Gather yourself emotionally. When you receive difficult news, your body automatically goes into “fight or flight” mode. Adrenaline flooded your body, which leads to irrationality. In this moment, say as little as possible or say nothing. The first thing out of your mouth is not likely to be useful for your reputation or future career. I learned this the hard way, hence, shut-up until you cools off a bit.
  • Take a hiatus. Take a break . After you’ve had some time to cool down—whether it’s 24 hours or several weeks—you can begin the process of reevaluating your career. I took almost a week to reconsider and put things in perspective.

(2) Re-frame a career setback

You may be tempted to dwell on a career setback after it happens, but that’s ultimately a destructive course. Reframe the setback instead:

  • Switch the questions in your head. Swap “Why me?” and other questions that provoke self-pity for action-oriented inquiry, such as, “What can I do to move forward?” or “What positives can I gain from this situation?” Take control of your lower-level self. Self-pity never lead to greatness.
  • Set “negativity appointments.” Rather than let negative thoughts consume you, schedule three 3-minute appointments each day where you allow yourself to think about the setback. During the rest of the day, if negative thoughts occur, mentally set them aside until your “appointment.”
  • Try to see the event or decision from the company’s point of view. This helps you forgive where necessary and gain insight that may help you avoid repeating mistakes. Perspective taking and rationalization of the setback from the company POV.
  • View failure as a beginning, not an end. Profound reinvention and great success often spring from a setback. As we usually heard, fail forward.

(3) Rebound from a career setback

Rebounding from a career setback takes time and determination and a lot of courage and hearts.

Here are four steps to guide your path back to career success:

  1. Face reality
  • Do a financial assessment. To lower your stress, figure out how long you can take to look for a job and whether you can reduce your expenses in the meantime. Optimize your personal expenses and calculate your ‘survival time’ without your current job, in case you decided to be on the hunt for a new one.
  • Decide which battles need to be fought. Choose efforts that restore your reputation rather than those that only drain your energy.
  • Talk it out. Share your story with trusted friends or family to manage negative emotions you may have from the setback before jumping into a new job search. Choose with whom you share these negative emotions carefully, only to those whom you trust completely.


  1. Recruit others
  • Reach out. Use your network for informational interviews, insight on job opportunities, and connections. Consider using your network’s network.
  • Enlist your network to tap members of their networks. A Stanford University study found that nearly 30% of job seekers found jobs through distant acquaintances.


  1. Rediscover your mission
  • Look to the future. When something ends, it’s a chance to start anew. What do you want to do? Where can you contribute most? What are your aspiration and life purpose.
  • Stay engaged. Volunteer, take on a temporary project, or sign up for a course to learn something new. In addition to keeping you from dwelling on the setback, these activities can expand your capabilities and network. Keep moving forward with personal development and investment.


  1. Rebuild your reputation
  • Develop a simple narrative. Be consistent in your account of the events that led up to your setback and what you learned. Don’t disparage your former employer or colleagues—it makes you seem unprofessional.
  • Focus on your strengths. The quicker you start using your talents again in a positive, visible way, the quicker your reputation will rebound.
  • Brush up your elevator pitch. Be ready with a pithy explanation of what makes you stand out.
  • Tend to your online presence, clean up your online profile. Make sure your social media profiles are up-to-date and positive.
  • Get allies to help rebuild your reputation. Tap old colleagues, mentors, and other contacts with credibility to attest to your skills and character.



Leave a Reply