Receiving a bad performance review or leaving a job on bad terms is a low point in anybody's career. However, by no means is your professional life tarnished. In fact, it can even be an opportunity to grow. While the circumstances of a bad review or termination can vary, how you react to either situation is key.
Read on to find out how to make the best of a bad review or how to address a bad termination in your job search.
In a bad review, get specific
If you find yourself in a review gone bad, it can be tempting to get emotional, defensive, angry or embarrassed. However, keeping your cool and remembering the purpose of a review is the first step down a path to improvement. "The focus of any evaluation should be feedback: telling employees what they do well and highlighting areas that need improvement," says Timothy G. Wiedman, associate professor of management and human resources at Doane College in Crete, Neb.
Instead of putting up a wall between you and your manager, participate in the review and try to get specifics about where the problem is and what needs to change. "For example, if an employee is told that his or her research reports are substandard, what does that really mean?" Wiedman says. "Is it a problem with the data collection or the spreadsheets, charts and graphs included in the report? Or is it a poorly written narrative that is full of grammatical errors, making it difficult to understand the implications of the analytical information?"
The key to recovering from a bad review is to show the employer that you understand his criticism and you're going to take action. "When the employee participates in the discussion during the evaluation, it indicates that he or she wants to make the effort to fix the problem," Wiedman says. "And since most good bosses are problem solvers, they will support an employee who is committed to improvement. But that employee must then demonstrate a genuine commitment to a workable improvement strategy. Just talking about improvement will not cut it."
After a bad termination, do damage control
While a poor review is enough to cause concern, leaving a job on bad terms can be problematic for your career if you don't take steps to remedy the situation. Whether you were completely to blame for the bad split or you believe your boss was, it's best not to rehash the dirty details in a job interview. Instead, address the issues in a professional, matter-of-fact way, focusing on your interest in the position and why you're a good fit.
"A multi-reason explanation is always best [when discussing why you left]," says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide." "If one idea doesn't resonate, it is likely another will." Cohen suggests attributing your exit to a number of factors, such as preferring a better commute, looking for a role with expanded responsibilities and moving on after cuts to budgets and headcount. It's important to remain truthful, since references give employers the means to catch you in a lie. But keeping the conversation focused on the future instead of the past shows the employer that you're ready to move forward.
For instance, if a bad break-up with an employer is brought up through references or in the interview, demonstrate that you've moved on, learned from the situation and aren't bringing baggage to the new position. Cohen recommends this response: "'Yes, she is a tough boss but I learned a lot from her -- about setting and meeting exacting standards, working under pressure and following up. I learned from her that the devil is in the details. Those lessons were invaluable and I'm grateful for them.'"
Neither employees nor employers like to dwell on negative performance reviews or an uncomfortable termination. By making it clear that you understood the circumstances and have made efforts to improve, you're signaling to employers that you can take criticism well and you can grow in a role and make the needs of the business a priority.