You just got fired. Maybe you’re grateful or maybe you’re scared or furious.
However you’re feeling–and chances are you’re feeling something, and plenty of it–there are two things you need to do, and you might not like either of them.
After getting fired, the impulse to walk out the door and never look back can be really powerful.
Resist it. “Approaching your supervisor is one of the most important things to do” after a firing, says career coach Pamela Weinberg. “Don’t do it that day. Take the weekend, think about it, then put together an email that’s more dispassionate” than you actually feel. Then have a colleague or trusted friend read it to make sure it’s as neutral as possible.
Why? According to Weinberg, there are two reasons. First, you want to be able to agree on the reason you were let go. That way, when you apply for another position, your narrative and your past employers won’t be at odds when your prospective new employer asks what happened.
You probably won’t get a reference from your supervisor, but you’ll have established what it was about your working relationship that wasn’t a good fit. By defining that in terms your company can vouch for, you’ll bolster the case you make to future hiring managers for why the next opportunity is a better match.
The second reason to talk to your boss is to see what you can learn. Weinberg recently worked with a client who was one of two employees to be laid off. Her advice to him was to think self-critically: “Why do you think if they chose two people to let go that you were one of those people?”
Weinberg’s client didn’t have a chance to pose that question directly to his boss, but finding out those reasons–in as cool-headed a manner as you can muster–can result in some of the best feedback of your career.
“Use the experience to learn how to change some workplace behaviors, whether [they’re] personality-driven or communication-driven or something else,” Weinberg advises. “Go back and say, ‘I would love to get a better understanding of what it was so I can use this as a way to grow and change these behaviors before I embark on a new experience.’”
Weinberg acknowledges that material considerations come into play; plenty of people can’t afford to wait around before scoring their next paycheck. But if you can afford to take a few weeks–or even a month or two–before looking for new work, you should.
“People’s instinct is to get right back on the horse,” says Weinberg. But it takes time to sort through your feelings and plot your next move. “A lot of times, when you’re fired, there’s anger or resentment or sadness, and you don’t want to bring any of those into your next job interview,” Weinberg cautions.
What’s more, jumping right into a job search can miss an opportunity to take a fresh look at your career path.
“A simple thing to do,” Weinberg suggests, “is go through the job that you had and make a list for yourself: What did I like about this job? If I were going to do something else, what are the things I’ve been doing that I’m really successful at and really enjoy doing, and how can I take those transferrable skills into another career?”
Getting fired usually tempts us to react in the least productive ways conceivable, and keeping emotions in check is a huge challenge all by itself. Going back to confront your boss and then taking a breather before starting a job search can be extra difficult.
For those of us who simply can’t do those things, Weinberg has this advice: “The last thing you want is [to be seen] throwing your laptop across the room or cursing out your boss. Leave with your head held high and in as professional a manner as possible. People really remember how you are when you leave.”