Kyle McCann has always prided himself in his ability to make the best of any situation.
So when his boss fired him from the job he started just eight weeks earlier, McCann held back tears and decided to focus on the bright side.
McCann, then 26, joined VizyPay, a startup based in Waukee, Iowa, that designs payment technology solutions for small and mid-sized businesses across the U.S., as a sales account manager in June 2017.
He was the second employee hired at the startup and hit the ground running in his new role, signing several new accounts within his first two weeks on the job.
But then business slowed down — a lot. McCann went weeks without signing a new customer. "At first, I thought it was going to be the easiest job in the world, going to business owners and saying, 'How can I save you money?'" he tells CNBC Make It. "I was terribly mistaken … I quickly realized I'm not much of a closer out on the field."
So when Austin Mac Nab, the founder and CEO of VizyPay, texted him one Friday afternoon in late July to swing by his office, McCann knew he was toast. "I knew exactly what was coming, that I was getting fired," he says. "But I decided to go into that meeting with a positive attitude and see what would happen."
McCann's first thought walking into the meeting with his boss was how he was going to pay rent next month.
He and his girlfriend, Shannon, who was working a temp job at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, had just moved to an apartment in Waukee and "probably couldn't afford the rent on her salary alone," he says. "But I tried to remind myself that everything happens for a reason … I was definitely scared but tried not to worry too much."
Even after Mac Nab told him he was getting fired, McCann remained calm and upbeat, thanking his boss for the opportunity, highlighting the positive elements of his experience at VizyPay and asking for feedback on his performance.
"He was very humble and didn't give me a bunch of excuses as to why he failed," Mac Nab says. "He held himself accountable to the fact that this job wasn't for him, which not many people do, especially when they're getting fired."
Listening to McCann during the meeting, Mac Nab started to question his decision to let the recent hire leave the company altogether. "I felt he was genuine, authentic and hardworking, and my gut instinct kicked in during that conversation, it was a heat-of-the-moment decision," Mac Nab says. "I thought, 'I have to keep him someway, somehow at VizyPay, just not in this job.'"
So, after Mac Nab fired McCann from his role as an account manager, he offered him another job at the end of the meeting that he thought might be a better fit for McCann's skills and friendly personality: How would he like to be a customer service representative instead?
The offer came with a lower salary than what he was making in his previous role, and would be just enough to cover his bills and groceries. McCann went home to talk it over with Shannon first and then accepted, to Mac Nab's surprise.
"I had leads on other opportunities that paid more, but I saw something special in VizyPay," McCann says. "I was eager to stay with the company because I truly believed in their vision and the people behind it."
Fast forward five years and McCann, now 31, still works at VizyPay — he recently celebrated his one-year anniversary as the company's director of operational strategy, and the company now has 91 employees. He and Shannon are married, and she recently took a job as VizyPay's director of marketing and sales enablement.
McCann often reflects on the meeting where he was fired as a defining moment in his life that taught him "patience, the definition of grinding it out … and believing in not only ideas but yourself," he says.
While you can't always avoid getting fired, Mac Nab and McCann agree that there are a couple of things you should keep in mind during an exit meeting to leave on good terms:
- Don't be defensive: Ask for feedback and recognize where you could have improved in the role.
- Keep your emotions in check: If you lose your cool, you could jeopardize a return offer, or your employer could be less amenable to negotiating your severance package or providing a reference for a different job.
- Maintain an attitude of gratitude: Thank your employer for the opportunity and highlight some of the positive takeaways you have from the experience.
"You can't control other people's actions, but having a positive attitude and always being willing to put in the hard work can really open so many doors," McCann says. "Getting that second chance and being able to prove what I can do … it's been unreal and has led me to build a career that makes me really, really happy."