So You Just Got Fired. Here’s What to Do
The words “you’re fired” are terrifying to hear, both for contestants on “The Apprentice” and for everyday, hard-working Americans. If you’ve just been fired from your job, your instinct might be to cry, to shout and to spend a much-deserved vacation on your couch sulking in sadness. But you shouldn’t.
Being fired does not mean the end of the road for your career. It just means you have a new full-time job: managing your finances carefully while earning new employment.
How? By remaining level-headed, persistent and proactive.
Here’s what to do if you have just been fired:
In the Room
Whether it’s a company layoff or termination for alleged misconduct, you are likely to find yourself in a room with your boss and a member of human resources. When you’re told you’re being let go, it’s important not to do a few things.
Don’t Shout or Storm Off
Managing a professional relationship with your employer may be crucial to finding employment elsewhere.
Don’t Sign Any Severance Documents
Not yet at least. U.S. News recommends running any offered severance package by a lawyer; you may be able to negotiate for a better package. In fact, Forbes suggests that you might be able to ask for more than just money: Consider asking for an extension of health and retirement benefits.
During your negotiations, you can also determine how both you and your former employer will describe your separation to third parties. If possible, persuade your former company to agree that your separation was mutual when potential employers reach out.
If you intend to apply for unemployment, it’s in your best interest not to resign, even if your employer is pressuring you to do so. Only under rare circumstances – if it’s clear there was misconduct and you won’t be able to file for unemployment, for instance – would resigning be a wise option for your resume.
Getting fired isn’t just a list of don’ts, however. Asking questions is one critical thing you can do in the room when you’ve been terminated. Whatever you want to know, you probably have a right to know — severance details, benefits extensions, reference policies, unemployment information and why, specifically, you are being let go.
If you are emotional at the time of your firing and unable to think clearly or react appropriately, it’s acceptable to request a scheduled meeting later that day or week to discuss the details. However, if possible, it’s better to handle your questions right then and there and part ways.
Consider Wrongful Termination
It is possible that your firing qualifies as wrongful termination. In fact, an estimated 250,000 workers are wrongfully terminated every year, according to The Balance.
Per The Balance, “An employee can be considered to have been wrongfully terminated if discrimination is involved in the termination, if public policy is violated or if company policy states guidelines for termination and those guidelines were not followed.”
Laws regarding wrongful termination are tricky, especially when employment is “at will” and discrimination is difficult to prove.
Take Dennis K. of Boston, Massachusetts, for instance. Dennis worked for a private company with very conservative values, which made his position as an openly gay man very delicate.
“I always met my goals, and my clients loved me,” Dennis recounted. “No one had any problems except my boss and a couple of the managers. But it wasn’t something provable. It was just a feeling.”
Unfortunately, his anecdotes about his boss being extra hard on him would not be enough to file a wrongful termination suit. Dennis eventually found employment elsewhere, but his story is one of many each year that demonstrate just how difficult wrongful termination suits can be.
In the Weeks After
In the weeks following your termination, it can be tempting to freak out, to get angry or to do absolutely nothing at all. But your unemployment status should be a time when you work harder than ever — after taking a little time to relax and regroup, if necessary.
Go to the Doctor, Like, Now
It’s likely that your health insurance will be discontinued at the end of the month. Get a physical, an eye exam and a dental cleaning while they’re all still covered.
Take a Look at Your Budget
Realizing that you no longer have a dependable paycheck can be frightening, especially when you don’t know how long you’ll go without pay. Spend time with your budget, cutting expenses where possible – entertainment and travel, for instance – and dip into your emergency fund if you have one.
If things are going to be rough almost immediately (i.e., you live paycheck to paycheck), you’ll need to consider housing with lower costs, downgrading to a car with lower, or no, monthly payments or even getting a roommate.
Get a Temporary Job or Side Gig
If finances are challenging during your unemployment, find a temporary job, like retail or food service.
This will also prevent a gap in your employment. In today’s gig economy, you can consider self-employment options like freelance writing or driving for Uber. Remember, though, that some gigs may require an upfront investment or may not pay out immediately.
Take Care of Yourself
In an interview with Monster.com, Dr. Melodie Schaefer, from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, identified self-care as a crucial practice during unemployment.
This means staying fit, whether it’s working out or taking a walk in the park, and engaged, like a game night with friends and family. Keep mentally fit by doing crossword puzzles or free brain training apps.
File for Unemployment
If you were not terminated because of clear misconduct, then it’s likely that you qualify for unemployment. The Balance recommends checking with your state’s unemployment office to see if you’re eligible.
In general, the unemployment office will side with you over your employer unless there is a clear, demonstrable offense for which you were let go. If you’re not sure, just go for it.
That was the biggest regret for Nichole B. of Dayton, Ohio, when she was terminated last spring for metrics that were beyond her control. Because there were some discrepancies about her performance, she wasn’t confident in applying.
“I didn’t apply for unemployment and I wish I would have. I wouldn’t have gone through nearly as much of my emergency savings as I did,” Nichole said.
Nichole’s story, fortunately, had a happy ending. Shortly after beginning her job search, her previous company unofficially admitted it was wrong for firing her and did the unthinkable. “I was approached by my former company and asked to come back,” Nichole explained. “I ended up returning because they offered me incredible pay, a better schedule and a manager title.”
Update Your Resume and Start Applying for Jobs
The most important thing you can do when fired is to begin looking for work again. The shorter your gap in employment, the stronger your resume — and finances — will be. The Balance explains that resumes and cover letters need not address your termination; just stay positive: “There is no point in bringing up the circumstances of your leaving until you have to.”
In Applications and Interviews
While you can typically avoid mention of your termination in your resume and cover letter, honesty is key in your applications and interviews.
In fact, lying on an application can disqualify you from unemployment benefits and could be grounds for termination at any point, should that company hire you.
Senior talent acquisition specialist at Forrester Research, Abigail Smith, gave some solid advice for anyone who has been fired and is prepping for their first application or interview. “Do your homework on the company. See if you know anyone who works there or a second connection who could maybe introduce you to be referred in,” Smith said.
She added, though, that “honesty is the best policy when it comes to why you were fired.”
Smith and any other skilled recruiters or hiring managers will be sure to get to the bottom of your employment history in an interview. “I will typically ask what made them change companies,” Smith said. “Really what I want to know is if they left on good terms. If performance was the reason they left, how were they measured for success in that role? What limited them from performing well?
“If there is a gap in employment,” she continued, “what were they doing during that time? It could be anything from small side projects to helping a family member. We are all human. Just have a good explanation for the gap!”
In short, be transparent about your termination when asked or, if possible, find a way to bring it up before they ask and pivot with what you have done since. If it was downsizing, say so and move on. If it was performance related, explain what personal and professional steps you have taken since to improve yourself and ensure it won’t happen again.
Getting fired can be emotionally, mentally and physically draining, and, if mismanaged, the termination can wreak havoc on your finances. Be proactive in the face of termination, stay positive and don’t give up. Your next big career move is waiting for you.
Timothy Moore is an editor and freelancer living in Germantown, Ohio, with his partner and their two dogs.