How Not to Get Fired
Now that you got the job, it’s time to keep it.
Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz
Welcome to the VICE Guide to Life, our imperfect advice on becoming an adult.
You’ve passed your finals, been taken advantage by whatever internship they all told you that you needed, distilled your scant experience and massive promise into a cover letter and resume, swallowed your nerves during the interviews, and landed that gig. (Or, maybe your uncle just called his golf buddy and you were hired the next day.) Whatever your pathway, congrats, you have a job.
Now, how do you keep it?
There are, of course, aspects of your lifestyle that will need to change as you move from the comfort of your cloistered dorm to becoming a legitimate participant in “the working world.” Many of these changes are obvious: Show up for work, don’t be late, don’t yell at coworkers, probably don’t post on social media all day (unless that’s your job), don’t steal more than a few Post-it notes, and if you’re in a customer-forward role, maybe don’t tell each and every one to “fuck off?” Oh, and don’t lie to your boss, unless you’re unionizing the office or something.
But there are a few not-so-obvious workplace mistakes that can also get you canned just as quickly, like having a bad attitude. “If you’re seen as being overly negative or antagonistic, you’ll eventually become known as the soul-sucking anchor around a team’s neck,” Mike Kerr, author of Inspiring Workplaces – Creating the Kind of Workplace Where Everyone Wants to Work.
Here are three other, more subtle skills to master if you want to keep bringing in a paycheck:
Be a student of the office culture
The surest way to get yourself fired is by refusing to fit into the murky concept of your workplace’s culture. “A lot of times, [keeping an entry-level job] is more about a personality fit,” says Ryan Kahn, founder of the career counseling company The Hired Group. “Because if it’s a job that only requires a couple of years of experience, they can get anyone to do that.”
Staying silent in meetings and always being grumpy is an obvious pitfall, but the more granular elements of office culture can be tricky. Do you have to get drinks after work? Can you leave exactly at the strike of 5:00 p.m.? Do you really have to wear that awful lei on every Tiki Thursday?
Ideally, the answers to these questions are revealed during the job-seeking process, either through your own research, or by connecting with current employees before accepting the gig. If you need more information, grabbing a coffee or drink with a potential or current coworker isn’t the worst way to figure out these nebulous requirements. When you’re starting out, information about the do’s and don'ts of workplace culture will be some of the most vital you’ll get.
This gets into an important distinction between your old school life and your new workplace life. Previously, if you missed an assignment or failed a test, only you had to deal with the fallout yourself. But now that you’re in the workplace, if you mess up, it sets the whole team back. And if you start to draw the ire of your co-workers—and then they have to stay after work to clean up your mess—you’re going to have to update your resume sooner than later. Once you lose the support of your coworkers, you’re on your own, and that’s a bad place to be.
Prove you can adapt and learn
So far, the advice has stayed in the realm of what not to do. But there’s an entire list of things you can proactively do to keep the job. The most important one is learning how to be “teachable.” It’s a buzzword around work seminars, but at its core, it’s nothing more than being able to learn from your mistakes.
Screw something up—and you will, since you’re a person and all!—you must figure out how not to make the same mistake in the future. If you don’t show that you’re capable of improving, that signals that you’ve met your ceiling as an employee, which means you’ll likely be the first to go when it’s time for the inevitable changes that are made to a company. Keep your head down in the game of trimming costs by cutting payroll Whack-a-Mole by showing the ability to adapt and learn.
(Here’s a good place to note that if you’re working in a blue collar or factory setting, be extra proactive when it comes to workplace safety. Don’t do anything dangerous, of course, but also keep an eye on the dangerous actions of others. Ask your manager what the policy is if you notice something unsafe, then ask if you can shut it all down if you see something funky happening. And if they respond with a “no,” consider working in a different, safer environment.)
So, how do you go about improving? Usually, this means sitting down with your manager or a coworker to detail exactly where you messed up, then taking the necessary steps to fix it in the future. This process can dovetail into another method to being active within your office, which is by seeking out a mentor.
Make the boss wonder how they ever survived without you
The final way to make sure you’re not fired is to become so embedded within the company that they can’t fire you. Some folks call this “being a shark,” or maybe being a corporate climber. But all it really is is working at a place you want to work at while doing a job you like.
“Take initiative, always be visible, and become a resource,” says Erica Diamond, founder of the career blog, Women on the Fence. “The truth is, to advance, you have to be willing to do the things the common person in your job isn’t. Being a phenomenal resource makes you irreplaceable, and well, once you are irreplaceable, you are in the driver’s seat of your career.”
Of course, when you do become irreplaceable—meaning that you’ve officially kept yourself from getting fired—then it’s time for the next important step of your career: Ask for more money.
And then when you get it, wait a little while, and then ask for some more.
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