I've been fired, so now what?

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.
Written by Wade A. Mitchell, Contributor

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.

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