The unthinkable has happened.
You were fired, and it feels rotten, and now you are stress-Googling your brains out in an effort to figure out just how you’re going to pick up the pieces of this unexpected mess.
Deep breaths. Deeeep breaths. Unless you’ve been fired for something that was so bad that it made news or resulted in extreme consequences, there’s probably plenty of hope and promise that you can–and will–make a graceful comeback.
Here are a few key things to do first:
1. Be assured that you’re not alone
Almost without exception, the clients I’ve worked with who were fired feared that no one would ever understand what just happened, believe their explanation, or want to hire them, given the “stain” of the situation.
Not the case. Certainly, getting fired isn’t an ideal scenario, but it happens every single day in workplaces across the land. I promise you.
Sit down with an HR manager sometime and you will surely hear some doozy stories about employees that have left the organization. My guess is that your particulars are either quite common or are not going to be career ruiners.
While it may feel like you’re the only person to have ever been in this situation, you’re not. And that’s a good thing, because plenty of hiring managers will probably be less alarmed than you may fear.
2. Take the time you need to process it and calm down
Once you digest that you’re not alone, it’s time to find some calm. You’re not going to be a super-effective candidate if you’re all frazzled, defensive, or choked up. You also may say things that you regret, especially if you’re angry, or make decisions out of panic versus thoughtful consideration.
That said, there’s no shame in taking a few days or a few weeks off (if you can afford it) to process the reality of what went down. Allow yourself time to work through the stages of grief that absolutely come with sudden and unexpected job loss.
Once you’ve got a clear head and a bit of space between the event and the horizon, you will likely be much more equipped to proceed with confidence and mental stability.
3. Work to get a reference from that employer
Yeah, this one can be intimidating when you get fired. But it’s probably more doable than you might suspect. While you might imagine that everybody is talking about you and has turned on you, it’s highly unlikely that this is the case.
Go to your people. They don’t have to be your supervisors or even people that worked in your direct department (although the more they know about the great stuff you did, the better). You really just need a person or two to vouch for you, from that most recent employer.
Use care, of course, as you approach. Don’t gossip or rehash. Make a simple request.
Just make sure they are solidly on board with offering up a glowing reference. Also, avoid putting someone in the middle of the controversy–don’t ask people who are directly involved in the situation, or those who may get into hot water with their own jobs by supporting you.
4. Decide how to position it
Plan on being asked why you left your most recent job. This is absolutely going to come up, so be prepared. You will, of course, want to put the situation into the best possible light, but don’t lie. It may come back and haunt you.
The best explanation is one that positions the situation in a confident, direct, and succinct way. Then, try and move on to the, “Here’s what I can walk through your doors and deliver” part of the convo.
Say you got fired because your new boss made sweeping changes to your job description and then made it clear that you weren’t a fit (before hiring his college buddy to backfill your job).
Not awesome. You, of course, don’t want to go into an interview and gripe about what an unfair jerk this guy was and how mad you are about the situation.
Instead, go with something like, “For three years, my role involved analyzing market opportunities and then making recommendations to our product teams on potential new products and product enhancements. We worked incredibly well together and launched some amazing innovations. The firm recently reorganized and shifted leadership. My role was redefined, and much of the analysis work that I love was removed from my job. While I realized some key wins as my role shifted, the primary focus of the position was no longer centered on the things I do best, like [insert things you do well and know this company is seeking].”
That last sentence is key, as it will allow you to transition the focus from “I got fired” to “Here’s what I am excited to bring to you.”
5. Consider jumping into a “right-now” job to bridge the gap
If you’re shelled to the point that you don’t know if you even want to continue on your current career path–or maybe you know it’s going to take time to land the right thing–consider stepping into an accessible “right-now” job, or maybe even a volunteer role. Doing this will give you something to focus on now (instead of leaving you pouting over Netflix for months on end), without locking you into a job that maybe won’t be the right one.
It will also provide some interim income (if a paid role) and bridge the gap on your resume.
Note: If you don’t want this role to get tons of notice on your LinkedIn profile, be sure and turn “Sharing Your Profile Edits” off in the Privacy settings if you plan to add it.
6. Repair relationships as needed
If you really hosed yourself in terms of professional relationships, don’t just bury your head in the sand and leave a smoldering mess. These people will likely be the same ones you bump into again and again, should you remain in the same industry.
Assuming you don’t feel it’s a wrongful termination (in which case, be sure and consult a lawyer), be accountable and apologize directly to those you negatively impacted.
A genuine, direct apology may go a long way. I’ve even worked with a couple of people who ultimately earned another offer from that same company after taking responsibility for their actions. Also, be sure and thank your employer for the opportunity, and invite an in-person meeting should he or she ever want to discuss it further.
Losing your job sucks. Getting fired is even worse. But one job loss does not define you. You absolutely have piles and piles of great stuff to offer your next employer.
Regroup. Reorganize. And then get out there and lay it down.
The world deserves that thing you’re about to do next.