You're Fired! What a High-Profile Termination Means to a Career and Tips for Rebounding from Controversy

Executive recruiters say a public firing such as Microsoft's ex-CIO Stuart Scott endured can seriously injure a career but doesn't have to end one.

Getting fired in a very public manner the way former Microsoft CIO Stuart Scott was earlier this week can have a devastating impact on an executive's career but doesn’t have to be the end of it, say recruiters.

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Executives looking to rebound from a termination scandal must be honest with potential employers about the circumstances surrounding their departure, recruiters unanimously say. They also need to adopt a liberal definition of “rebound” to keep their career options open: It may mean relocating, switching industries or moving into an entirely different profession.

If the executive had a good reputation prior to the termination—was admired for his performance, projected a positive leadership personality—his professional history will aid in his recovery.

"There's a long list of people who have had pretty terrible ousters and not recovered from them," says Martha Heller, managing director of ZRG's IT leadership practice. "But executives can recover if they play their cards right," she adds. (Heller is also a career columnist for CIO.)

Three executive recruiters CIO.com interviewed believe Scott, whom Microsoft fired earlier this month, will land on his feet for that reason. Microsoft issued a statement on Tuesday confirming that it had terminated Scott's employment after a corporate investigation revealed he had violated company policies. Microsoft did not elaborate on the specific violation. The company updated Scott's bio page on its website on November 5, 2007, to note that Scott was no longer working for the company.

David Reff, president of executive recruitment firm David Reff & Co., says Scott's 17-year tenure at GE and his Vanderbilt MBA will be assets as he moves forward. "The future is still open for this guy because of his background and pedigree," he says. "He can write a book, join the boards of companies or he can get into consulting."

Shawn Banerji, a recruiter with Russell Reynolds Associates, doesn't think this incident is going to kill Scott's career. "He's not going to be a pariah sitting on the sideline for the rest of his life," he says. "It will take time and healing, but I am sure in due course this will be a thing of the past. The reality is, very few things in society today are terminal."

Banerji and Reff think Scott may even be able to get another CIO job.

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