‘I’m taking on a new challenge’ – Why it’s so hard for us to admit that we’re unemployed

Many people prefer to use euphemisms to talk about getting fired, out of a sense of shame. But as these experts explain to EL PAÍS, there are other ways to deal with this moment

Recruitment experts say that they do not automatically rule out a candidate if they have been fired.
Recruitment experts say that they do not automatically rule out a candidate if they have been fired.Richard Drury (Getty Images)

Being fired unexpectedly doesn’t just force you to face a lack of economic and personal stability; it can also be a blow to your self-esteem and confidence. In a world that places more and more importance on public image and displaying personal achievements, it’s hard to know how to share the news about losing a job. On social media, professionals are now more likely to announce the start of new projects or sabbaticals than admit that they’re unemployed. Just as divorce has turned into “uncoupling,” the pressure to hide the truth of getting fired can give way to endless euphemisms.

LinkedIn, the social network dedicated to networking and job searching, offers a subtle tool to indicate that a user is seeking work. It consists of a green label with the phrase “Open to work.” The platform also gives the option to label pauses in a CV as paternity or maternity leave or volunteer opportunities.

Rosario Sierra, who is the head of sales at LinkedIn Spain and Portugal, explains that her company began a campaign at the beginning of the pandemic in order to support those who had lost their jobs. “Something we could prove in the studies we did was that many professionals consider it negative to find themselves unemployed. In fact, 48% said that they had, at some point, hidden it even from their closest circle, either because of shame [41%] or because they didn’t feel comfortable [35%],” Sierra explains. “However, with the arrival of the pandemic, the percentages have changed significantly. Seven of every 10 professionals polled believe that this exceptional situation has helped reduce the stigma.” The platform attributes the change to the empathy generated by the pandemic, and to the fact that more and more people now dare to share the news about their new situation.

Agustín López, who works in the communication sector, has been fired a few times. He now believes that it hasn’t been as bad for his career as some may think. In job interviews, he explains, “I have always been honest, and I’ve told the truth trying to explain well what happened. But I do think that maybe in Spain we still see it as something really negative. It doesn’t have to be like that.” In personal contexts, “sometimes I have told people that I was fired, and sometimes I haven’t.” On his social media profiles, he shared it after thinking over the message. “In the world of communication, I think it’s important for you to tell your own story and give clues about your work life and where you are, but in this case, I didn’t use the word ‘fired.’ I tried to think carefully about what I wanted to express and share.”

There are a lot of reasons that can lead us to be unemployed, or to take a pause in our careers, and it doesn’t need to be something to be ashamed about
Rosario Sierra, head of sales at LinkedIn Spain and Portugal

But not everyone opts to be so proactive. David Pérez, for example, didn’t update his CV after being fired until he could state that he had been hired by another company. “They fired me suddenly when my daughter was less than a year old, so I still had weeks of paternity leave to enjoy. Because of that, at first, I didn’t post anything on LinkedIn. Later, when I started to do some work for another company, I updated my profile to indicate that I was freelancing, but I never directly stated that I had left the previous job.”

Why is it still so hard for us to deal with this topic? Why do we keep seeing rejection in the work environment as something shameful? José Javier García López, a Spanish psychologist, says that it’s common to feel guilty about the loss of a job, and that this affects how we express it to others. “The person sees it as a negative thing about themself, and for that reason, they tend to either see themselves as a victim, complaining and blaming the company, or they can take responsibility for their role in the firing, which creates a certain sense of stigma.” He also points out that we avoid talking directly about getting fired “because it turns us into vulnerable people to others, and we tend to avoid letting ourselves be seen that way. That’s why we tend to use euphemisms to say that, though my boat has gone off course, I’m going to right it.”

Should we normalize getting fired?

Getting fired usually makes workers feel insecure about entering the job market. But recruitment experts tend to understand those situations intuitively. “If the profile fits for a position I’m looking for, I don’t discard a candidate just because of that,” explains José M. Serrano, Principal Talent Acquisition Consultant for the EMEA regions at software and technology company Sabre. “I just ask in the interview about the reasons and circumstances around that firing.”

Serrano notes that, though it’s not common, there are people who anticipate that question and indicate the reasons for having left a company on their CVs. “In firings, a lot of factors come into play that don’t have to be related to a candidate’s professional value,” the recruiter explains. “They normally follow restructuring within companies or the unexpected end of projects. It can also be because of bad luck, and that won’t mean that the doors close for them automatically. When it’s time to make a final decision, if they are just as qualified as another candidate, it could have some influence if someone has been fired multiple times compared to someone who’s never been in that situation. But just one firing wouldn’t affect the decision.”

Rosario Sierra also believes that talking about being fired is becoming more common, both on LinkedIn and in professional contexts. “There are a lot of reasons that can lead us to be unemployed, or to take a pause in our careers, and it doesn’t need to be something to be ashamed about. It can be a moment to share new lessons, evaluate our options and look for new ways to reinvent ourselves and grow professionally,” she says.

How to communicate positively about getting fired

Sierra points out that a good strategy is to express the situation from an inspirational perspective. “On LinkedIn it’s not just about sharing our achievements, but also about those situations that have given us challenges to confront to become the professionals we want to be. Only by speaking transparently about our own experiences can we connect with possible recruiters or contacts who can help us in this new phase,” the professional says.

In 2016, Princeton psychology professor Johannes Haushofer decided to publish a CV of rejections to demonstrate that failed projects are part of the path to success. Haushofer explained that if we only see the positive aspects of another person’s process, we tend to think that they’ve never faced rejection. That’s why it’s so important to accept failure as a normal part of life that we don’t need to be ashamed of.

“Thinking that a project that didn’t work out is a failure sees us go down with our own ship and makes us consider ourselves unworthy of continuing,” the psychologist José Javier García López argues. “We have to remember that once we get over the initial pain of being fired, we need to find our path once more. A failure is the best way to recognize that we need certain changes to get to our goals, as long as we see it as an opportunity and not as a reason to give up.” He adds that “platforms such as LinkedIn are windows onto our work lives, and as in all windows, we need people to enter ‘our store.’ Once they’re inside, we can show our products with their strengths and weaknesses. That’s the best time to be honest and display the challenges that our work lives have given us and that we have been able to overcome.”

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