If you’ve ever been fired or laid off, you probably felt the stinging emotion of the experience. And hey, most of us have been there. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2019, 67.9 million Americans were fired or laid off - and that was BEFORE the COVID pandemic. While there’s a difference between getting fired and being laid off, you may feel sad, bitter, angry, embarrassed, or possibly even relieved when either happens. Both situations make you the victim because they happen to you without your consent.
Getting fired or being laid off may not be your fault, but it is always your problem. Here are the best ways to handle this shocking occurrence and move beyond it.
Step One: Peace Out
When a company decides to part ways with you, it can throw you into an emotional funk that could subtly or overtly affect your ability to find your next job. That’s why the first step after being laid off or fired is to let go and move on.
This might take some time, therapy, venting to your spouse, or perhaps a few not-so-happy hours with friends. Losing a job can shake confidence in even the best employee. But you are actually in good company: millions of people experience what you’re going through - especially in the last year. If you want some perspective, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ layoffs and discharges spreadsheet. In fact, you're in such good company that economists have struggled to count how many layoffs have actually happened due to COVID.
No matter what you feel when you lose your job, your first goal is to get the bitterness out of your system. Because most of us need to work to support our lifestyles, the best advice for after the job ends is to move on, file for unemployment quickly, and get ready for the next big thing. One positive of the COVID-era is that unemployment has lost much of its previous stigma. Now we all understand that getting through the week is a success in its own right.
HR Guru Liz Ryan says that everyone should be fired at least once because it inoculates you against the fear of losing your income. While many people don’t have the ability to go without working for long, Ryan considers getting fired a process of liberation, as long as you turn the negative into a positive life lesson:
“Getting fired is the capital punishment of the working world, and it isn't even that bad. It's one unpleasant conversation that puts an end to the stream of unpleasant conversations you've been having anyway if you have a difficult relationship with your boss.”
She points out that getting fired does not guarantee that you won’t receive unemployment benefits. The burden of proof that you did something wrong rests with the employer, who must document your infraction thoroughly for the state to disallow your unemployment check.
If you were laid off, take the time to recognize that there are economic and corporate decisions outside of your control. It may be a flick of some corporate administrator’s pen that has had a huge impact on your life.
Whether you’re fired or laid off, you’ll probably wonder:
- Will I lose my home or the ability to support a family?
- How will this look on my resume?
- Will it negatively impact my job search?
- How will I stand out in a competitive job market?
Here’s the truth: Data shows that the majority of people who suffer from an abrupt job disconnect (a.k.a. a layoff or firing) return to work full force. A 10-year study of more than 2,600 executives recently cited in Inc. showed that 91% of the executives who were fired found a new job that was as good as or better than their old one.
Once you’ve taken a deep, soul-cleansing breath and realized that there is life after a pink slip, it’s time to look at the next chapter in your life.
Step 2: Get Back on the Pony
If you’ve been fired or laid off, you need to get back on the bucking bronco—unless you can retire from the rodeo altogether. Pick yourself up, dust off your jeans, and put your hat back on. It’s time to take a hard look at your skills, aptitudes, and next steps.
When it comes to interviewing for new jobs, being laid off might be easier to explain than being fired. Corporate downsizing and restructuring can happen when a new CEO comes on board, when a project ends, or when a market takes a sharp downturn. There are other reasons, but these three are pretty common.
Forget the idea that you won’t be downsized if you’re valuable to a company. Consider a corporate merger, for example. If your company melds with another organization and there are too many toddlers in the sandbox, someone may have to go. The decision is out of your hands and could be political or based on tenure — and probably doesn’t have anything to do with your ability to do the job you were hired for. Consider it bad luck or bad timing, but for whatever reason, you’re out.
The Harvard Business Review says, “Getting laid off is perhaps the most professionally traumatic experience you’ll ever have.” This is particularly true if you are at the end of your career, have devoted a decade or more to the role, and are thinking about retirement. This happens far too often, even without the financial realities of a recession to push things along.
While it’s natural to emotionally stumble during this time, the way you move forward will set the tone for the rest of your career. Here are three tips for bouncing back from a layoff:
- Take a break, whether it’s a vacation or just a staycation. The idea is to find perspective by leaving the scene and getting out of your head for long enough to find your center again.
- Assess your finances to determine the realities of your situation. Mapping out the bills and a budget will help you feel more in control. It’s an exercise aimed at reducing your anxiety by starting with the basics of money in and money out. Address any expenditure cuts necessary to lessen your financial burden.
- File for unemployment. You've likely been paying into unemployment for years, take advantage of the system that is there to support you.
- Lean on your support system and don’t carry this burden alone. Talk out those raw emotions and put them behind you. Give yourself the time to get through any anger and resentment you might feel. If you can grapple with the hurt and uncertainty with your friends, peers, and family, and then harness that energy for the job search, you are going to be just fine.
If you’re fired, not laid off, the assumption by you and future employers is that you’ve done something wrong to deserve the termination. How can you shape a job interview conversation if some great big, powerful boss stamps “FIRED” on your resume?
5 Steps to Get Your Next Job
Whether or not you’ve been let go for perceived or even invented performance issues, do not rush back out into the job market until you’ve quashed the bitterness and anger that’s probably oozing out of your pores. When you’re ready, focus instead on the positives that you bring to a company. This is a fresh start, whether you were ready or not. Do these five things to launch your next adventure:
1. Create your talking points. Determine how you’re going to address this with a hiring manager. Try to be factual, not emotional. Bitterness will turn people off. In a succinct explanation, share what you learned from the experience and how you’re applying it to your next role. Avoid negativity, focus on the future, and practice self-awareness by owning how the job wasn’t a fit. Need more? Check out our article on how to talk about your layoff in an interview.
Example: “Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right skill set for the role. I learned a lot, though, and I’m focusing on opportunities that highlight my strengths.”
2. Clean up your public appearance. Do some career and credentials upkeep, including updating your LinkedIn profile and resume. Your LinkedIn profile should use appropriate keywords, have a nice headshot, and feature an interesting tagline that shares what you offer to future employers. Make sure you turn on the feature that says you are “open to new opportunities.” Request recommendations from your professional connections on the platform.
Next, focus on your resume. Ask a colleague to review it for errors. Make sure the resume mirrors your LinkedIn profile and is keyword-heavy but succinct. Try to get the document down to one single or double-sided page, if possible. If you still have the “objective” header with a short paragraph, cut it. When a Recruiter receives your resume, they know your goal is to find a new job.
Finally, practice your interview skills. Are there writing or programming tests you’ll need to take? If so, brush up on those skills so you’ll be ready for employers.
3. Mine your social power. Use your social networks to share your credentials and what you’re looking for. This is crucial because many jobs are found through networking. Take the time to map your social connections. Where do your close friends work? Are there openings that they can recommend you for? Ask them to reach out to their network to see if there are jobs that may be a fit. Then follow the same process on LinkedIn and Facebook or any other social media networks you have. Share your resume and get the word out that you are looking for employment.
4. Get out in the community. Most regions have meetups or other community events that you can get involved in. Use the power of the internet to find groups that interest and inspire you. Your local chamber of commerce may be a good resource. Volunteer, network, get out there, and you will find your next opportunity.
5. Use Recruiters. Now is the time to reach out to Recruiters. They are great resources to help you understand the job market. They will share advice for your resume and talk with you about your goals for the future. If you know someone that works in HR or recruiting, consider taking them out for coffee and career advice. Also, look for recruiting firms in your field and make connections with a few. Register and get your resume into their databases. Recruiters get hiring requisitions and will search their databases for potential candidates. If you’ve done the work to make your resume keyword-friendly, they may find you and call.
Getting fired can be demoralizing. Unfortunately, it’s likely to happen at least once in your career. With that in mind, let’s close with a little quiz for the newly fired. Are you ready?
Question: Name five famous people who were fired before they made it big.
Answer: According to The Balance Careers, the list reads like a who’s who of talent, including Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Walt Disney, and Thomas Edison.
You’re in good company, so consider this career setback strictly temporary and get back out there.
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