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The Reason You Just Got Fired Is Not The Reason You Just Got Fired!

Dear Stephen, 

I was recently fired, and it totally blindsided me. 

Doesn’t it seem like there are a lot of turnovers in marketing lately? I’m a senior marketing executive with a major manufacturer, and now that I’m out exploring the marketplace, I have noticed a disturbing pattern. Whether you’re a VP of Marketing, a Chief Marketing Officer, or even a Chief Creative Officer… you’re at risk of being sacked. And it’s happening in all market sectors - contract and residential, furniture, textiles, and flooring! Also, it’s not limited to the C-suite. People up and down the ladder, even people in product development roles and junior creative jobs, have been affected. What’s going on?!

I’m considered extremely credentialed in helping to build brands, and I’ve had my job for the past six years. I thought I was moving our company into a more sophisticated marketing direction that our customers were responding to, both online and traditional. But as I said, I was totally caught by surprise by getting the ax.

Now I’m out of work, and it’s affected my morale and attitude and probably the way that I’m interviewing. I feel stupid that I didn’t see it coming, and now I’m learning a lesson in humility.


Caught off Guard


Dear Caught Off Guard, 

First, I am sorry you lost your job. The higher the level of the executive, the more blind-sided they tend to be, and the longer it takes them to get a new job. 

I see this all the time. Don’t worry; you’re not stupid – you’re normal! When you’re earning a large six-figure income, you become hyper-focused on work; it’s not allowing you to see any mixed signals that may be there (and sometimes, there are none).

I have my own theory, particularly with marketing jobs, more so than sales jobs. Often, being fired has to do with the ultimate number you’re being paid in your salary.  In other words, it is never really the reason they tell you unless you have had a series of bad performance reviews.

By the way, if you’re in sales, such as a VP of Sales or CSO (A fancy newish title meaning Chief Sales Officer), or even a sales rep, and you’re not close to your sales goal and suddenly fired, and you’re really surprised, then you probably are stupid. 

However, when it comes to marketing, product development, or anything creative, there are so many intangibles that many business owners or company boards do not know how to measure success. Marketing and creative executives command very large salaries, and their bosses get impatient when they don’t see an immediate return on their investment. The result: you’re fired!

Here are some of my best tips on what to do if this happens to you. The strategies I’m going to give you don’t merely apply to marketing positions but could be useful for anyone who has lost their job. You need to think about this now…not after the fact. 

My first tip is that its up to you to check in with your boss at least once a quarter to say, “How am I doing?” Don’t assume that because you’re not under a poor review or because no one has said anything negative to you, everything is good. No news is not always good news. Frustration may be building, and the higher-ups may be losing confidence in you and your team; that could be better dealt with if you just asked your boss periodically if they’re happy with your work. 

My second tip is if you’re fired by an HR executive, your boss, or a combination of the two, chances are the reason they tell you you’ve been fired is not always the real reason you've been fired. 

Here’s what I mean: more often than not, my clients, who are the company presidents and CEOs, tell me it’s a budgeting issue related directly to salary. Even if you’re doing a good job, people are nervous about the future of the economy, they want to cut corners, and the higher-paid executives are always going to be the first ones to go – especially when there’s no direct way to measure performance.

I always suggest to an executive caught off guard by being fired that no matter the reason their boss gives them, if they like their job and they want to keep it, why not voluntarily suggest to your boss that you’ll take a 25% pay cut (or you pick the number) in order to keep it? Management will never tell you they are reducing your salary and asking you to stay – it’s easier to just fire you. Yet if you initiate that idea of a salary cut, maybe it will sound good to them. Best case, it works out for all parties; Worst case, you buy some time to look for another position. 

I recommend never signing a severance agreement on the spot without sharing it with an attorney. And think about this; if you are offered a generous severance in return for a non-compete or non-solicitation (only the attorney can tell you how generous it is, not me), believe it or not, I often encourage candidates to take that severance and walk away from the industry for a year. You may find a better job in a different industry and never want to come back! 

Lastly, if all else fails and you’re out of work, when you start to interview, and people ask you your salary history, please don’t scare them off with that giant number that you were making right before you got fired. That’s just your ego talking.

People making big incomes with fancy degrees always seem perplexed about how to answer the salary question. My suggestion is very simple because it offers a touch of humility with reality: “my current salary is zero.” Go on to say, “At my last job, my base was roughly xyz, but I want to get back to work, so what’s your budget?” 

It’s also important to take a short breather before you start to interview. Top executives who lose big jobs often become angry, and that’s not a good frame of mind to interview in. As you’ve read many times in this column, if you’re going to be unemployed, right now is the best time because there are so many jobs at all levels. 

Remember, readers, The Viscusi Group is happy to offer free career coaching to anybody in any industry wanting a helping hand. All you have to do is give us a call, and we’ll be happy to hear your story and help coach you toward your next direction. Please be sure to repost this article on your own social media so your friends and followers can see this offer as well. 

We may not have the right job for you as recruiters, but we certainly have the right advice. Call or email anytime. 


Stephen Viscusi

Stephen Viscusi is the CEO of, an executive search firm that specializes in the interior furnishings industry. Hires made through The Viscusi Group are guaranteed a one-year free replacement. Please share your story or comment on this article and send your workplace questions to Or give us a call at (212) 979-5700 x 101.