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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Getting Fired From My First Job Led Me to Find My Career Path

Tristan Layfield
Sacred of Moon Reflections

During Tristan Layfield’s first year after college, he worked as a research technician at a university near Detroit. Eight months in, he took a Friday off to visit Chicago with a friend. Before he left, he submitted his time sheet.

That Thursday, though, there was a glitch in the system. He could only record regular working hours, not time off. This technological malfunction was a regular occurrence—most university staff had experienced it. Nevertheless, he took a screenshot so he could show his boss when he returned.

“Being the naturally skeptical person I am, I decided I needed to start covering myself by documenting things” Layfield explains. (Which, honestly, is never a bad idea.)

Despite the evidence, he was fired the following Tuesday. Well, sort of.

Reprimanded for incorrectly logging his hours, Layfield brought up the flaw in the system. But it didn’t really help. In addition to that issue, they also thought his performance wasn’t up to par because one of his recent lab experiments became contaminated.

In full transparency, Layfield feels his boss had been looking for a reason to let him go. While he did have the opportunity to present his case to a judiciary panel, HR explained that, if he lost, it’d be really hard for him to get another job there. If he quit that day, though, he’d have a better chance at another university position.

Layfield chose option two. After all, it was either resign or risk being cut off from the largest hiring source in the community. As a new grad with little experience, he couldn’t risk that.

He wasn’t sure how to move forward, but he knew he had to—even knowing how unfair his situation was.

“I gave myself one day to have a pity party,” Layfield shares. He said to himself, “You can cry as much as you want and have as many feelings as you need. But after you wake up tomorrow, it’s action time.”

Photo of Layfield leading a summer program for the Center for Urban Youth and Family Development in Detroit courtesy of Tristan Layfield.

So, on day two of unemployment he sat down with his roommates. He wanted—and needed—to be honest with them. Losing his paycheck impacted his ability to pay his rent, and that would affect them, too. Were they willing to help him out? They were.

Next, he addressed the conversation happening in his head. The one telling him he was a failure and would never find a job again.

“I had to silence it all,” he shares. “These thoughts, issues, and problems weren’t going to pay the bills. I needed to focus on what the goal was. And, in that moment, the goal was to get paid.”

Being forthright with his friends didn’t just help him keep a roof over his head—it also helped him get a job. One friend encouraged him to apply to the department store she worked for. He interviewed, and next thing he knew, he was selling men’s furnishings—ties, suits, and other professional wear.

Retail wasn’t Layfield’s dream, but it sure took a lot of pressure off. Four months after starting, store leadership promoted him to head of the men’s and kids’ shoe section. And, not too long after that, he became the department head of cosmetics.

Photo of Layfield leading a career workshop at the University of Michigan courtesy of Clyde Barnett III.

One day, he looked up and realized he’d become complacent. What he’d planned to be a short-term fix had turned into 18 months.

So, he ramped up his search again, hoping to land something that involved science—a topic area he’s been interested in since his grandmother taught him courses in elementary school—talking to people, and selling things. Eventually, he got a hit from Thermo Fisher Scientific, a biotechnology company that supplies laboratory equipment around the world. After interviewing on his lunch break one day, he got a job as a site specialist.

“That’s when my career really began to flourish,” Layfield says. “It’s where I started to come into my own and really feel myself as a professional.” He stayed with Thermo Fisher for almost five years, becoming a supervisor and eventually managing 23 people across three different states.

Getting fired or laid off isn’t fun. Not even close. But for Layfield, it all worked out.

“If it hadn’t happened, I’d probably still be doing research,” Layfield says. “But my career would be pretty stagnant—there isn’t much room for growth in that field unless you go back to school.”

These days, he works as a project manager at IBM Watson Health, implementing health care tools for employers and ensuring clients meet Affordable Care Act requirements. Burnt out from managing a large team and traveling all the time, Layfield wanted a similar role with less management responsibilities. When he found this opportunity on LinkedIn, he knew it would be a good fit and that his skills would transfer well. In addition, he also started his own career coaching business, where he helps people with resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, and more.

As for advice he’d give others who get fired? “Swallow your pride and take a job that will pay the bills,” Layfield says. “Sometimes, you have to take a few steps backward in order to move forward.”

Full disclosure: Tristan Layfield works for IBM, who is a current client of The Muse.