I've been fired, so now what?

I've been fired, so now what?

Summary: Getting fired isn't the end of the world--or the end of your career. Use these approaches to deal with the situation professionally and land a new job.

TOPICS: IT Employment

OK. You've hit bottom. You've been cut. Sent packing. Let go. Sacked. Canned. Punted. Terminated. Fired. What do you do now?

In this column, I'll present a survival kit that can help you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

Basically, you must get through five steps in the process of recovering from the loss of your job: deal with it, damage control, plan of action, execution, and damage control (reprise). Let's take a closer look at each.

Deal with it
Sound harsh? Maybe so, but there are many ways to "deal with it". The most important thing is to get through the denial phase. Accept that you've been fired and that only you can get yourself back on your career path. Go ahead; feel sorry for yourself for a day or two. Take some time to calm down. Unless you seriously intend to pursue legal action, forget about blame. Admit it was your own fault you got fired, and go on from there. I'm not going to deliver the usual "whenever a door closes another one opens" speech, but the fact is, you have nothing to lose. It sounds corny, but making up your mind to find a better job is the first step to doing just that.

Damage control
Let's not get into the circumstances of your termination--the fact remains that you must try to sell yourself to another company. Before you begin your job hunt, you need to take some steps to minimize the effect getting fired has on your job search. The straightforward approach is best here. Contact your former supervisor if possible. Explain that there are no hard feelings, and tell him you intend to search for another job. Ask what he would say if a prospective employer were to call for a reference. This can help for a couple of reasons.

First, you may be surprised at the answer. In today’s litigious society, employers will often go to great pains to smooth the exit for a terminated employee. If you left on reasonably good terms, your employer will probably give you a decent reference. If you know in advance what your former boss will say about your termination, you can smoothly address the issue in future interviews as a "teachable moment." Explain how much you learned and that it will never happen again.

But suppose you left on horrible terms, setting your boss' desk on fire as security dragged you from the building. When you contact your ex-boss about a reference, he swears he’ll take out an arrest warrant against you if he so much as hears your name again. At least you’ll know where you stand, and you'll know not to put prospective employers in touch with him!

Plan of action and execution
This is simple. Get another job. A complete guide on job hunting is for another article (see our recommended links for some articles that can help). For our purposes, I'll simply tell you to get busy with your best job-hunting techniques--networking, resume scattering, door to door, whatever. Just put together a plan and make it happen. Not sure how to start? Hey, you got that last job, didn't you? Start with how that happened and work from there. And no, "execution" does not refer to your former boss!

A tip: You don't have to volunteer on your resume that you were fired from your last job. Make no reference to it on your cover letter either. There will be an opportunity to discuss it later. It's not your obligation to bring it up. Just don't lie about it if asked.

Damage control--reprise
OK, you've wrangled an interview. Now what? Again, you don't ever have to volunteer that you were "involuntarily terminated". If the interviewer has any brains at all, he/she will ask. If asked, don't play word games and dance around the fact that you were sacked. Admit it. Ask for a chance to explain the circumstances. Few people can pass up what might be a juicy story, so you will likely get your chance.

With as much graciousness as you can muster, explain why you were fired, and try to make it sound like it was the right decision. What the interviewer will be thinking is: (a) are you a psycho, and (b) you look pretty good so far--was it something all that bad, really? Being gracious and positive can have an incredible effect--it might actually work in your favor if you do it right. Make sure you explain that being fired is an opportunity to explore jobs that better suit you. Arrive prepared to explain exactly why the job you’re seeking is just such an opportunity.

Do not, under any circumstances, say anything negative about the former employer. This is vital. No matter how bad you got hosed, you’ll only look thoroughly unprofessional, or, worse, like a complete nut case. Furthermore, if you've instituted legal action over your firing, don’t tell the recruiter. You might think that mentioning a lawsuit will show it wasn’t your fault you were fired, but what it says to the interviewer is "Hi! I sue companies for a living. I'll sue you too, and you’d be insane to hire me.” Not the sales pitch you want!

It's not the end of the world
To sum up, the things to remember if you ever find yourself holding a pink slip are:

  • Accept that you have been fired, and work through it emotionally.
  • Contact your former employer and minimize the damage in your impending job search.
  • Have a real plan for your job search and stick with it.
  • Don’t volunteer that you were fired but never deny it.
  • Never be negative when talking about your previous employer. Be gracious and positive when explaining why you lost your job.

Doing these things will not guarantee you another job right away, but you’ll present yourself in the best light in your quest for new employment.

Topic: IT Employment

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  • I felt this was very helpful to me and I really thank you for having something like this for a person in my perdicament to refer to. It's been really hard for me to loss a job with a company I 've been with almost 4 years and never had any disciplinary actions against me or written up, but since i'm her on missouri it's an at will state and I was also in a new dept. which a probation period you can be treated like a ne employee and they can fire you for whatever.
  • I feel this was a great article, however I am looking for ways to avoid pointing fingers. I have been unemployed for a month and have been interviewed by 5 different companies. In the interview, they continue to dig even after I answer the question with all the tact I have.
  • I have an interview in about 1 hour and the one thing I am concerned about is how I explain the reason why I was fired from my last job if they ask "why"?
  • I truly have no idea why I was terminated. My performance review was excellent, from all aspects it appeared my boss was very happy with me. I was only at this job 9 months, and was never "written up" or reprimanded. When I was called down to HR, I was simply told "We've decided to let you go. Things just aren't working out". When I asked for some specific reasons, it was just repeated "It's just not working out".

    What do I tell a prospective employer? I do know there were some financial issues at this company, bonuses were delayed, pay concessions were taken, etc.

    My boss was out of the office at the time of my discharge and at no time did he ever discuss any of this with me or ever indicate he was unhappy with my performance.

    I'm just baffled and don't know what to say on interviews when this comes up. I do know however that my being placed in the job was experimental and I also know my position was never replaced.
  • I wasn' fired, but could not stand to work at this job any longer. My boss was very difficult and locked me in the office when I told him I was leaving his employ. I worked for him for 16 months and did a great job (his words.) I would have worked at least a week's notice, but after he locked the door, well I just couldn't.

    We live in a small town and everyone knows him.

    I have said we had a difference of option, but the interviewer want's more details.
    I am not sure what to say, ils.

    after this job, I was again employed for a good company. I had a nice job, but was laid off due to budget cuts. I worked only 3 months. but the work history is good.

    I have had 5 interviews but no offers.
  • I just got the boot from the HR director. He was very kind. My boss wasn't there.

    I learned two things; always go with your instincts and never lose faith in yourself. I set up an interview already and think I will be just fine.

    Sometimes people don't mesh. And sometimes the employer is longing for his former employee who worked with him for 20 years and can't be replaced. Consider it a blessing in disguise.
  • I had to leave my job after a lot of bitching. I know I was no angel but it wasn't all me.I have been so stressed I don't know what to do next. I have been offered a ob but since I left a lot of things have been said about me and I am terrified I will get a terrible reference and the new company will withdraw their offer. I pray it all goes well
  • Ok.. I just read the advice that was posted but what if none of that works.. I was fired from a Law Enforcement position. I have did damage control by calling me supervisors ( who think I should not have been fired) and contacted some folks I knew on the admin side of things for their help.. It has been 6 months now and i have still not gotten another job.. I started looking for just another Law Enforcement position but now I am down to Office Depot and Wal- Mart. No matter how much I sell myself, I always get the letters in the mail stating that my previous employer did not give a favorable reference and that this new agency does not want to take any risks with me. Thats ridiculous.. Should I just forget about Law Enforcement altogether now? What should I do?
  • Well, my story beats them all. I was fired and for a good reason I suppose. I was required to drive for the company I worked for, and my tag had expired on my car. I was pulled over for not having my seatbelt on, and after showing my license, was told THEY (drivers license) were revoked for not paying some traffic tickets. I HAD TO call my boss to get them to come up pick up someone I was transporting, and they saw me GET ARRESTED! can you imagine getting arrested in front of you boss?? STILL< it all has not been as bad as it could have been, because my boss actually CRIED at having to let me go-- it was out of her hands. She would have given me time off to get things straight, but corporate said NOPE. She even called me at home later after i was out of jail to check on me. IT was a total nightmare, but im sure the company will work with me on giving me a good reference. If i am straight with the next employer, I think i can another job pretty quickly.
  • Hi. In your case, it would be worthwhile to invest in a reference-checking service. The rates vary. These services act as prospective employers, and call for references.

    They do all they can to get more than the standard start-/end-dates, and will provide you with a report of what your former employer(s) have to say.

    They will not only speak with supervisors; if necessary, they will speak with secretaries or others who do not normally give references.

    In your case, it is essential to know exactly what is being said and by whom--especially in light of your stating that supervisors disagree with your firing.
  • this assumes you've gotten as far as the interview--that's the easy part.

    what does one put on a job-application, though? if the employer doesn't like what he sees there, the bit about an interview is moot.
  • Read ZDNet Asia's IT employment trends report for more career tips:
    How to land that job
    How to secure a second interview
    Is CMMI certification worth the investment?


    If you've a question for our experts, write to: asktheexpert@asia.cnet.com
  • i was fired by my boss' wife b/c she thought he & i were having an afair. the daughter is making it really hard for me when potential employers call to verify my status w/my previous boss. what do i do, or what can i do about this?
  • Okay, I'm gonna be honest and therefore need a honest repsonse.

    I was recently fired for being late to work. I had only been working at that job for approx 2 months.

    This is the 4th job that I have and the first one I got fired.

    When I go for another interview... do I mention this job at all and if asked, should I explain the reason... I really learned from my lesson but I feel by telling the truth I will will look unreliable and not even get a chance.

    What should I do? Thanks for you time and help...

  • Ok, try this one on for size:

    I was fired from a prestigious position at a prestigious organization because the Head of Human resources leaked an email of my misgivings about my incoming new boss to him directly.

    The reason I know this is because as it happened the unlocked drawers of the human resources office files were temporarily moved into my work area and one night I went into the drawer and read my file which contained printed out copies of the email transactions.
  • You hit the nail on the head! It's not that people are fumbling during an 'interview', it's that people are not getting the chance for an interview! I suspect it's because employers are probably already calling the former employer to see why they don't have you as an employer anymore. Don't need to hear explanations from the jobseeker's mouth when the former employer has already trashed him/her, don't you think?
  • I would not use him as a reference. Use one of your co workers that like you as your reference for that job.
  • you deserved to be fired....going through someone's files--even if it was "your file" is criminal.
  • If you are given the option to be terminated or reign what is the best option>
  • Resign. It is best to leave on your own terms.