Grace Under Pressure: Bouncing Back from a Career Setback


Kathy Lavinder, CFE
Owner and Executive Director of Security & Investigative Placement Consultants

An investigator with a boutique professional services firm contacted me recently. Her employer was having financial difficulties. That was something she knew, but what she didn’t expect was that her job would be eliminated. Her work evaluations had been top-notch, but she was the most recent hire. She never saw it coming, so it was a tough blow.

After a day or two to absorb the shock, this investigator did what I recommend anyone in that situation do. She updated her résumé to reflect recent work experience and training. She emailed several people, including her former supervisor at the boutique, to ask if they would serve as references. Then she turned her attention to LinkedIn. She began expanding her network by sending out invitations to connect, with special attention given to recruiters and talent acquisition specialists at employers in her home town. She quickly joined several new LinkedIn groups that focused on her areas of expertise and interest. Then she updated her profile page to make it crystal clear the kind of work she has done and the kind of role she could handle.  

Professional lives, like personal lives, can veer off course sometimes. As this young professional demonstrated, it’s vitally important to begin with an unemotional and clear-eyed assessment of the situation. Discuss the particulars of your situation with several people you trust, who know you well and who you know will be discreet. Find the right perspective – determine if this is a minor setback or something truly serious. If you conclude it’s a minor event, then look for ways to learn from it and move on.  

If the development falls squarely into the serious category, such as a job loss, you’ll need to develop a thoughtful and appropriate response. An adverse event outside of your control, such as a bankruptcy filing by your employer, is an example of something you can’t impact. But you can respond and you can even be prepared for this kind of event. Keep your résumé up-to-date, periodically check job boards and passively use to push relevant job announcements your way. In a career crisis, however, don’t do anything hasty because storms – even big ones – blow over, and your career may be none the worse for it.  

If you’re in the middle, or even the periphery, of an adverse event, it becomes something you cannot ignore. As a fraud prevention, investigation, or mitigation specialist it can be problematic if the issue involves some failure on your part – perhaps it was an oversight or a misjudgment. Whatever the matter, your actions and judgments will surely come under the microscope.

Keep doing your job to the best of your ability, while taking ownership of your mistake or shortcoming. Be a professional who exhibits grace under pressure. This response may provide you with an opportunity to redeem yourself even if you had direct involvement in the adverse event. After all, to err is human, to forgive divine. If you can demonstrate how you’ve learned from your mistake or misstep, you may be able to redeem yourself. By communicating that you’ve gained new self-awareness and have serious intentions to correct deficiencies or make amends, you may qualify for a second chance.  

On the other hand, a catastrophically bad judgment call and/or an integrity lapse are two things in the fraud prevention arena that are usually career killers. Keep that stark reality in mind as you go about your work.  

If your career emergency truly is critical and calls for action, contact your fraud sector peers, as well as former colleagues and recruiters, to alert them to your newly launched job search. Communicate that you’re ready for your next career challenge. Do not go into great detail about your situation at this point. Always keep in mind how important discretion is in the anti-fraud arena. You’ll have to be proactive to find your next job since it’s a competitive market, but there are always opportunities available.

Find more career advice from experts like Kathy in the ACFE's online Career Center.