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When Getting Fired Is The Best Thing That Can Happen To You

By Ken Sundheim
24 Comments

I don’t believe most businesses are planned. At least, KAS Placement (my business) wasn’t.

There were certain seeds that were planted almost unbeknownst to me at the time, but hindsight shows that they were truly crucial to my career, the careers of the employees at KAS, and those of our job seekers and our clients.

During college I took an unpaid internship at a brokerage house where I was assigned a cold-call list (from where, I do not know) of VPs at companies in Florida. My job was purely to see if one of the Series 7 brokers at our firm might send them out some equity research and follow up with them a month later.

Within a week and a half, I got to the point of stirring up enough interest from these people to pass them directly to a broker rather than having to wait that month‚ sort of like that movie “Boiler Room“, just not as cool.

Natural Salesman

Selling was a natural practice for me. Within a month, that unpaid internship turned paid, about $13 an hour, which was pretty good for me being the only paid intern in the office.

Within two years, my boss there was my own stockbroker. After the financial internship, I took an internship at a great company by the name of FivePoints Compliance in New York’s Chinatown.

This was three years after the Dot Com bubble burst, and the tech office complex we worked in was half empty. With a corporate gym only half full of equipment that wasn’t properly cleaned, the whole building had a Boulevard of Broken Dreams feel.

FivePoints was great, as they paid me $15 an hour plus commissions, taught me to use a basic CRM system, and gave me a more business-to-business understanding of cold-calling and inside sales. Within a month, I landed a 3 year / $18,000 deal from a cold-call.

But even given the experience and the money (which was a lot for a college kid), the absolute best part about working at FivePoints was the people. It was a small company and I got to see how a small company operated. The takeaways I got from simply analyzing their business model was worth well over the $15/hour.

I was all set to stay there after graduation until I was offered an outside sales job for $45,000 by a company based out of the Midwest. I would be working remotely, from home, and making calls around their New York City territory.

What they did, interest-wise, was on par with selling tickets to watch paint dry, but since they were paying so relatively much, why not?

Ironically, it was during this interview and offer process that I first came in contact with a recruiter. I had no idea what or who the person was or what a recruiter was.

She kept setting up appointments for me to interview with this company, which I found confusing because she did not work for this company and was only in the office three days a week.

Either way, I took the job and within three or four days, I realized that I made a big mistake. I don’t know if they hated their shareholders or what the deal was, but their business plan was just plain awful. In short, they were convinced that paper goods were the future.

As it happens, over the next five years, their stock went from $55 a share to nearly $7 — and we aren’t talking about an investment bank here. I spent the majority of my time at the firm writing letters to the CEO regarding how things could be improved.

Thinking he would never listen to a 24 year old, I mostly threw them in the recycle bin. As I remember, they were good business plans for a 24 year old.

I Got Fired

One day my manager, who was based from another Northeast city, called me early in the morning saying that I needed to get on the phone with two people from HR. Turns out that they were going to fire me. I was forced to resign as I didn’t want a dismissal on my resume.

However bad the company was, I was still devastated. After all, I was young and talented and unemployed in a great economy. I immediately started interviewing. Then, as I was a finalist for a sales role with a really top company, I dropped out of the race.

My mother was speechless and the whole situation scared me, but I figured if I couldn’t align with a corporate setting working remotely, I was going to get slaughtered at this place and its highly formal atmosphere. Starting my own business was really the only option, as doing well in corporate is an art — one that I could never master.

About the same time as all of this was happening, I went to take my girlfriend out to lunch. It was pure coincidence or fate that her office shared an open floor with a recruiting firm.

Sitting in the lobby for 10 minutes or so, I noticed a bunch of overpaid, over-arrogant, yet barely literate individuals barking at job seekers as if they were subhuman.

I remember one kid was literally making six figures.

“Yep,” I realized, “I can compete with those guys.” On my way home I went to Barnes and Noble and happened to pick up a 30-page book on recruiting so I could get a feel for what the contracts were like, etc.

I wish I could say the rest was all history, but that wouldn’t do justice to the amount of leg-work that it took to start my business. In the end, it was worth it.

I love my company and am grateful to my employees, the job seekers who have helped my company, as well as the clients of my firm. For the rest of my career, I want to be a recruiter.

The moral of the story is that great ideas are all around us and the ability to take advantage of them is rampant as well. When you take advantage of these ideas, exploit them to the fullest extent and all your dreams will come true.

Ken

About Ken Sundheim

At age 25, Ken Sundheim started KAS Placement Recruitment and Staffing from a studio apartment in New York. With no industry experience nor contacts, Ken learned the staffing business out of a book. KAS Placement now has two offices and is currently nominated as America's Most Promising Companies in 2012 by Forbes Magazine. Ken has previously contributed to NYTimes.com, WSJ.com, USAToday.com, Forbes and many more. You can read more at kensundheim.com.

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24 Comments

  • I have to say that this read as an introduction to a bigger story. The ABOUT column is what really impressed me

  • I completely agree that working for a corporation or other big company is an art. I feel anyone can learn that art, but it felt to me like I had to sell my soul to do it well. Good luck, Ken, with whatever endeavors you chose to follow next.

  • Nice post….It’s not always clear when your let go, but getting fired can open up more opportunities that you would not have taken otherwise!

    • I heard a quote today but do not know from who-but it seems perfect here ” Dont Let The Fear of Tommarrow Keep You From Living Today”

  • This read comes at an interesting time in my life. My network has pretty much convinced me to work for myself. Yet, I still hesitate if this the right option and if I am dooming myself to never being employed again. You can’t take back anything you write on the internet ever.

    Did you feel that this recruiting was a natural fit for you, or did you just find that the challenges were rewarding enough to stick with it?

    • Hi Susan,

      I had the same fears about never getting a job again if I went off on my own.

      Though, at the day’s close, you can’t let fear be a main driver for doing anything. It becomes a bad habit.

  • Very good article, Really enjoyed reading this!! I too am young and always have some great ideas! I just find it very hard to put them in motion at times!! Thank you!

  • Ken,

    Nice read and I totally agree with you that the majority of the questions we have can be answered in a book we can pick up at the local book store or on amazon. The thought of working a job that your truly passionate about is vital. I have been in the military for the past ten years but my true passion is distance running and health…trying my best to lean more toward that area as a full-time blogger and entrepreneur. This is THE site to learn from. Appreciate your post.

    • Thanks so much for reading. Getting help along the way is always helpful, so I’m glad I could be a part of that.

  • Love to hear that you’ve made the most of the cards dealt to you Ken.

    One of my favorite sayings relative to the topic of this piece is, “All news is good news.” which is derivative of Napoleon Hill’s “Within every adversity lies the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.”

    For anyone who wants even more inspiration along the lines of getting fired actually being a gift, go seek out Harvey McKay’s book, “Fired Up: How the best of the best survived and thrived after getting the boot”.

  • This is a really great and encouraging story for anybody who wants to do more and “fight” the job market as it is right now.

  • Great story. I think the “…Is The Best Thing That Can Happen To You” actually applies to many situations in life. Often thinks look very bad at the beginning, when something unforseen happens. We are pushed out of our comfort zone and we don’t know how to deal with certain events… But later, when we look back, we often realize that those events were the ones that helped us to grow the most.

    • Couldn’t have said it better. I’ve had to deal with a lot on my journey, but every time I’ve come out better even though I didn’t think I would have made it at times.

      Though, the feeling that the work paid off and life may be easier than it was upon starting the business is something I cannot describe. I can only hope others get there.

  • Zoe

    Ken, I can relate to your lifestory. In 2007 my OH was made redundant, two days later we had launched a property purchase & renovation business. 7 houses later (still have 6) following the property market collapse in 2008, we moved into interior design and internal refurbishment, then following the birth of my daughter we researched into launching a new designer maternity brand which we started on-line just 10 weeks ago. Working 24/7 but determined to be a success! Live the dream!

  • This really shows that when you put your mind to it, with a passion and determination, you really can succeed. I think this is great and should give encouragement to all those that need to take that step. I presume it meant you were out of your comfort zone for a while?

    • Hi Suzie,

      Yes. Just about every day I am out of my comfort zone. You think it would end, but it doesn’t. At first, it’s daunting, then it becomes the usual, then when there is no conflict, you feel a bit empty. ; ).

  • I am a little bit skeptical about this stories. Many people can do it, because they have a great personality and a huge determination in what they do. On the other hand there are thousand of people who can not bear the loss of the job. It is always a huge step to forget about your previous job and start a new venture alone. Good Luck!

  • When I was 15, I got in love with the radio business. And wanted to be a ‘dj’ more than anything. At 20, I started college, refused to get hired as a kindergarten teacher (throwing away 5 years of specialized high-school) and got my dream job.

    In 2009, after 10 years on the job, the radio station closed down. No other opportunities showed in my city, so I had to either go for unemployment or start taking my web design hobby seriously.

    It’s been more than 3 years. I am earning 4-5 times more than I did when working at the radio station (and that was a good job anyway), have traveled A LOT (18 months in the US, 2 in Spain), am more relaxed and HAPPY.

    Getting fired was the best thing that happened to me too :)

  • very inspiring. thanks for sharing!

  • Ken, your story sounds a lot like mine and probably that of a lot of people. When we work in organizations we try to make organizational goals our goals, and we pattern ourselves off the success stories within the organization.

    The problem with that is that we may be trying to play and succeed at a game we were never suited for. Sure some people will always succeed in any organization, but thats because they’re playing their own game in that organization. Others may never succeed there no matter how hard they try, which ultimately is a waste of time.

    The advantage to self-employment is that you have a real opportunity to create your own game, that thing you’re really good at and have the best chance of succeeding at. But that means you have to invest some quality time in determining what it is you are or will be good at.

    There’s a close connectlon here between success and what it is you’re passionate about. Unfortunately many people think that pursuing passions is frivolous, but if you want to find a business you’ll succeed at, it’s the first order of business. What you love is what you’ll work at almost effortlessly. With the internet, becoming self-employed is easier than ever. There’s no excuse for anyone to stay in a job they don’t like or aren’t suited for. And you can easily start a business as a part-time venture until you’re ready to take it full-time.

    What you’re passionate about is what you’ll invest your time and effort into without struggling. It’s who you are and what you have to offer the world.

  • Hey ken i really enjoyed reading your post its really amazing where life can take us sometimes its crazy how a bad situation can sometimes take us into a greater path hope this story helps more fight the underpaid day job.

  • Getting fired is like the alarm clock in the morning, it wakes us up from our slumber.

    So long as we don’t hit snooze, or pull the clock out from the wall.

    I guess that’s the thing, a wake up call is designed to wake you up. It makes no sense to resent the alarm clock OR resent the person who fired you.

    Which is easy to say in theory BUT much harder to live out in practice, especially when you are struggling to make ends meet.

    But being alive and in pain (debt, uncertainty, future anxiety) is certainly better than being dead and comfortable in your tidy little six feet long, box of a life.

    That’s what I think anyway.

  • Hey Ken, sad to hear that HR had to force you to resign but you seem like you gained a hell of confidence and burning desire to get back straight into it, as any successful businessman would, such as yourself. Good work!

  • Great info guys. Yeah getting fired can be the universes way of getting you off track to follow your heart. Sometimes we need a push to do something we want to do, but are afraid to do. Desperation acts as a motivator to do want you feel in your heart or gut. No one usually has the guts to just quit a job and end the consistent income, but you know you would rather be doing something else and you are too afraid to bale out.
    I was “Let Go” from a job I hated with a passion. I knew instantly it was “Gods” way of letting me know, he was doing it for me, cause he knew I wouldn’t. Life has a strange way of throwing you into another situation that you cannot see yet, but knows you will excel in. Listen and follow your heart.
    Good Luck, weasley

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