So, You Got Fired (Or You Think You’re About to Get Fired) 

Fired. Laid off. Let go. Downsized. Right-sized. These are all euphemisms for unemployment. No matter what you call it, it means you’re out of a job.

What’s important to remember is that you can be great at your job and still lose it. The economy, changes in the industry, mergers, and acquisitions — all of these can affect your job. Even if you were fired because of something you did (or didn’t do), this moment doesn’t have to define your career.

I’m Worried About My Job
Sometimes, there are signals when the loss of your job is imminent. Some of these are strong signals — your company is bought or merged into another company (another red flag is if there is a lot of duplication in job titles or functions within both companies. In this case, generally, the acquiring company’s employees will be the ones to stay.) or your company loses a major client or the industry as a whole faces a crisis. An economic downturn may make you wonder if your job is safe. And don’t ignore the company grapevine. Anytime you hear rumors of layoffs, there is often a grain of truth to the tale. Or maybe you’re having a clash of personalities with your boss. On a related note, anytime you get a new boss, beware.

Other times, you may not have an inkling that there is trouble in the company. The writing may not be on the wall, and you may be fired “out of the blue.” In hindsight, you realize you had started to be left out of key decisions or meetings. Perhaps some of your workload had been shifted to other employees but the changes were subtle. You can see them now, but you didn’t see them at the time.

If you’re worried about losing your job, but you haven’t yet been fired, here are some things you should do to prepare:

  • Create or update your LinkedIn profile, but be careful about doing too much at once while you’re still employed. It looks suspicious if you go from a new profile to having 200 new connections in a week. Don’t draw attention to yourself by populating your profile overnight. Be mindful of your privacy settings. Change the setting for notifications so that your network doesn’t get notices when you update information on your profile.
  • Lock down your privacy settings on your other accounts, especially Facebook. Be especially mindful of your posts. Don’t post anything negative about your current job. (Even with your privacy settings at the maximum, anyone who is friends with you can take a screenshot of your post and share it with anyone else.) You don’t want to give anyone a reason to fire you.
  • Update your résumé. Getting a head start on collecting the information for the résumé will help you if you do get fired. It may also give you a 2-3 week head start on your colleagues who haven’t kept their career marketing documents up to date.
  • Start depersonalizing your office, but take things home gradually so that it’s not apparent that you’re removing items. Also, collect the information you’ll need for your résumé while you still have access to your company records. (For example, dates, names of trainings, copies of performance evaluations, sales records, etc.)
  • Check out your company’s employee handbook and/or your employment agreement with the company to find out what’s owed to you. What is the company policy on accrued — but unused — benefits? Are you entitled to cash out unused vacation time, or is it “use it or lose it?” Also, review the section that outlines what constitutes “termination for cause.”
  • Tighten your belt (financially speaking). Are there expenses you can cut out for the time being? (Services you’re not using, subscriptions you didn’t realize you had, or extra features/benefits you can remove?) Now is the time to start stockpiling an emergency fund for your living expenses, especially if you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck. Don’t wait until you actually lose your job to assess your financial situation.

You may also want to start searching for a new job. It’s almost always easier to find a job when you have a job, so if you think your job really is in jeopardy, you might want to start looking for your next job now.

“You’re Fired”
Somehow, it seems much more benign when Donald Trump says those two words at the end of every episode of The Apprentice. But when those words are directed to you, you may be shocked. What you do next, however, can make the difference in the length of time you’re unemployed, and how you fare financially.

What to ask for:

  • Decide on whether you want to resign or get fired. This may seem like an odd issue, but there are circumstances when you may wish to resign instead of being fired. If you are fired, you may be eligible for unemployment compensation, benefits, and severance pay. However, you may choose to resign rather than have the stigma of “getting fired” on your record. (You will need to disclose that you were fired if you are asked that specific question on a job application. If you resign, you can answer “no” to the question.) In some instances, you may even be asked to resign rather than be fired. Make sure you carefully consider the pros and cons of each response before making your decision. For example, you may not be able to collect unemployment benefits if you resign.
  • Inquire about severance and outplacement assistance. Now is the time to negotiate, but don’t be pressured to sign anything if you’re not ready. Some employers won’t release your final paycheck until you sign a release, but that doesn’t mean you need to sign anything right away. Find out what’s available to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for severance.
  • Ask how reference checks will be handled. What will a prospective employer be told if they contact the company? Will your supervisor provide you with a letter of recommendation? Can he or she take calls for reference checks, or are those handled through the HR department? What information will be released to the prospective employer? (Some companies will only verify dates of employment, job title, and final salary and will not answer questions related to why you are no longer working for the company.)
  • Information on transferring your retirement account with the company, if you have one.
  • Find out how — and when — you will receive your final paycheck from the company. (Again, you may be required to sign some paperwork before the final check is released.)

In most cases, you’ll be asked to leave the building immediately, and will be escorted off the premises (especially in mid-size or larger companies). You may not get a chance to pack up your personal belongings yourself, or even say goodbye to your colleagues. While it may feel unfair, it’s a safety concern for the company. Some fired employees have taken revenge on the company by destroying files or making a big scene, and that makes employers wary of letting you pack up your own belongings. If you are missing items or need access to information after you’re let go, contact the HR office and/or your supervisor for resolution.

It can be difficult to do, but try to leave on good terms. You may end up back at that company again at some point, or working with the same people in a future job. Plus, your future employer may contact the company for a reference and/or you may want a recommendation from your most recent supervisor.

First Things First
The shock of losing your job can be overwhelming. However, the decisions you make during this time are crucial to making a successful transition to a new position.

One of the first things to do after being fired is to check into unemployment insurance benefits.

The unemployment insurance program provides benefits to people who:

  • have enough employment to establish a claim
  • have lost employment through no fault of their own
  • are ready, willing, and able to work
  • are actively seeking work

You may not be eligible for benefits if:

  • You were fired because you violated a company policy, rule, or procedure (including absenteeism or insubordination)
  • You quit your job without good cause
  • You are out of work because of a work stoppage (except for lockouts) that violated an existing collective bargaining agreement where you worked

File your claim for unemployment benefits as soon as possible. If you wait, you may lose out on benefits.

There are also retraining and job support services available through the federal government. The national system of local One-Stop Career Centers (established by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998) offers job search assistance, career counseling, job search workshops, labor market information, and other employment services. You may access many of these services for free.

Take advantage of the programs available to you. Many of these are paid for through state and federal funds. This isn’t charity. These are programs paid by tax dollars, and the goal is to get you back working again.

What If I’m Part of a “Mass Layoff”
You may receive advance notice of your job loss if you are part of a “mass layoff” event, defined as layoffs that involve at least 50 employees from a single company within a five-week period.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act applies to employers with 100 or more employees. WARN requires employers to provide 60 days’ notice in advance of plant closings and/or mass layoffs (unless the layoff resulted from the closure of a faltering company, unforeseeable business circumstances, or a natural disaster).

Get Your Finances in Order
One of the biggest mistakes many people make after losing their job is not making immediate adjustments in their finances. With the average unemployment lasting 36.5 weeks, and many workers living paycheck-to-paycheck, the first thing you should do is adjust your lifestyle to fit your new financial reality … at least temporarily.

When you are fired, you may experience a substantial loss in income. As a result, you may qualify for federal programs that determine eligibility based on income. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Medicaid.

You may also be eligible for special programs for the unemployed. For example, the “Home Affordable Unemployment Program” may reduce your mortgage payments or suspend them altogether for a period of time. Your credit card company may reduce your interest rate or lower your required minimum payment.

Don’t Wait
The longer you are unemployed, the harder it is to find a new job.

If you lose your job unexpectedly, it can be particularly difficult to move forward quickly with a new job search. You may still be mourning the loss of your old job.

It’s a cliché, but the old adage of a window opening when a door closes applies here. If you are completely honest with yourself, can you think of one or more positive things that may result from this? Are there things you want to do in your next job that weren’t available to you in your previous position?

You need to get started on your job search right away. It’s easier to find a job when you have a job. Hiring managers instinctively wonder why you were let go, so if you can answer that question for them up front, it may help you land the interview. The longer you are out of work, the bigger this issue becomes. So don’t wait to start looking.

Even if you think you’re not ready to go back to work again, there are many things you can do in the early stages of the job search to move forward before you are ready to actually start applying for jobs.

These may include:

  • Updating your LinkedIn profile
  • Applying for unemployment benefits
  • Working with your résumé writer to update your résumé and cover letter
  • Conducting informational interviews with people in your field to identify opportunities

Putting your résumé together can also provide a boost to your self-esteem as you work to gather your accomplishments.

One of the most important questions you can prepare for is, “Why did you leave your last job?” Your answer to this question can mean the difference between being offered your next job, or not. Don’t be defensive in your answer. Don’t badmouth your previous employer. Both of these are huge turnoffs for an interviewer. It can be difficult not to carry the hurt and disappointment of being fired into your search for a new job, but negativity won’t get you far.

And make sure the reason you give for leaving agrees with what your previous employer will say in a reference check. (If you didn’t clarify this during the termination meeting, now is the time to follow up with your previous supervisor or the company’s human resources department and find out.)

Tips for Success
Get help and support. The older you are, the more fearful you may be. It can be beneficial to seek counseling or career coaching to help you during this time. Don’t be afraid to consult specialists to help you navigate the process — for example, an employment attorney if you feel you’re not being treated fairly by your previous employer.

Stay positive. This is probably the most difficult thing to do after being fired, but it’s also the most important factor affecting your future success. It’s normal to feel sad, depressed, angry, or hurt when you’ve lost your job. Acknowledge your loss, but move forward one step at a time. Be sure to take care of yourself — eat right, exercise, don’t hole up at home. Take advantage of the programs and services available to you, and position yourself to be successful in your next job.