Losing a job can feel catastrophic. But making the right moves from the start can make all the difference in turning a loss into an opportunity.
Losing your job is one of the most upending experiences of modern life. It can throw your confidence for a loop, and depending where you are in life it will send tremors, shockwaves, or seismic convulsions through your family’s financial situation.
It can also be a really good thing, forcing you to re-assess what you’re doing for work and potentially helping you to chart a new course that is more personally fulfilling.
And with doom clouds of a recession forming, according to a chorus of experts and pundits, this is as good a time as any to think about what to do when you get fired.
So, for advice, we spoke to two executive coaches who offered their guidance on what to do — and not do — after losing your job. From their in-the-moment tips about what to do and say during the initial conversation to dealing with your feelings and financial situation as you look for and ultimately land new work, this is what they recommend.
What To Do When You Get Fired: In The Moment
1. Try to Negotiate
Before you leave the room (or Zoom), see if there’s an opportunity to negotiate, says certified executive coach Margaret Chan. Offer to take on a different role, perhaps in another part of the company that may be expanding. “It will be a big help to be looking for a job while you have a job, even if it’s not the job you want,” Chan says.
2. Be Professional
Assuming the decision is final, be professional, Chan says. It’s a small world. Don’t lose your cool and say or do anything that would burn any bridges.
3. Establish Final Payment and Health Coverage
You’ll need to do some financial planning (and potential juggling), so find out exactly when you’ll get your last paycheck. If you’ve been getting your health insurance from your employer, you’ll need to replace it, Chan says. If you have a spouse, see if you can be covered on their plan. If not, you can pay out of pocket for Continuation of Health Coverage, better known as COBRA, for up to 18 months.
What To Do After Getting Fired
4. Don’t Take It Personally
Businesses look out for their bottom line, and beating yourself up about a decision that is, ultimately, a financial one, won’t do you any good. Instead, just keep your chin up and focus on moving on to the next possibility, says Jane Finkle, a career consultant and the author of The Introvert’s Complete Career Guide.
5. Take Time to Process
Being laid off can spark a grieving process that’s similar to that after losing a loved one. Finkle recommends taking a week or so to process that range of emotions. “You need a little time to… really take in what’s happened,” she says. You might feel like you’re wasting valuable time and you may have financial pressures mounting, but Chan says this breather is essential to repairing your confidence, which likely has suffered more damage than you think.
6. Don’t Start Sending Resumes Right Away
You may think you’re ready to hit the pavement and find that next opportunity, but you’re not, Finkle says. Without taking that time to process, it will be more difficult to project confidence to interviewers or, even worse, to recruiters, who are your gateway to numerous potential job opportunities (more on that later). See this break as a period of introspection and personal healing, as well as an investment in a better job search.
7. Do Some Self-Assessment
This may feel like a crisis, but Finkle says to see it as a rare opportunity. Ask yourself, What are my signature skills? What have I accomplished? What are my values? What do I want in a work environment? Doing this will remind you of your strengths and desires so you can move forward with confidence looking for opportunities that will give you satisfaction from your work.
8. Network for Information
This is not about finding a job. This is about getting the lay of the land as you assess the kinds of roles you want to look for next, says Finkle. Find out what’s going on in your space, who’s hiring, what’s changed in the marketplace. You may come back to these people later when it’s time to network for opportunities, she says, but right now you’re just gathering intelligence.
Starting Your Job Search
9. Update Your Marketing Material
Once you have a clear idea of what you want and what you’ve accomplished, Finkle says it’s time to update your resume, LinkedIn profile, and any other marketing materials such as a personal website. Build your resume with keywords relevant to your industry so it can pass automated screenings. Have someone look at your materials and give you feedback on them.
10. Create Your Departure Narrative
Before you start interviewing, know your story about why you were laid off, in case you’re asked about it. The hard truth is that companies don’t lay off their rock stars, says Chan, so be ready to explain why you, and not anyone else, ended up on the chopping block. Do this in a way that is honest and charitable to yourself.
11. Don’t Badmouth Your Past Employer
Create that departure narrative in a way that doesn’t cast aspersions at your old company or boss, Chan says, because nobody wants to hire someone who lashes out at their past employer.
12. Network to Get Work
Leverage past managers or coworkers, LinkedIn connections, alumni groups, and those people you know who just seem to know everyone — everyone knows one or two people like that, Chan says. Hiring managers want to hire someone they can trust. “If they get a call from someone they respect… it’s likely they’re going to give them a call, at least, or consider them for an interview,” Finkle says.
13. Reach Out to Recruiters
A single recruiter can open multiple doors, Chan says. The most valuable recruiters are ones you or someone you know have used to hire staff. If you don’t have any of those, ask someone you know who was placed by a recruiter to put you in touch with that person, or ask someone you know who has been contacted by a lot of recruiters for those contacts.
14. Treat Your Job Search Like a Job
Chan says it’s important to maintain regular hours and routines, treating the process of finding your next job much the same as you would having an actual job. “It will give you more structure and help you feel more balanced and with a stronger sense of purpose,” Chan says.
What To Do As Your Job Search Continues
15. Stay Hopeful
When times are tough, it can be hard to feel hopeful — but it's essential to find ways to be optimistic about the future, focusing on new possibilities, rather than dead ends, says Finkle. You may not get the first job you go after (in fact, you almost certainly won't), but it helps to keep your sights trained on the bigger picture: Know that there's a better opportunity or a better match ahead, and that each rejection is moving you closer to that
16. Stay Busy
Throughout this process, it’s important to do things you’re good at and enjoy, says Chan, to help shore up your rattled confidence. That can be exercise, a hobby, cooking dinner or even picking up your kids from school.
17. Find Someone to Hold You Accountable
“Think about who will be your accountability partner on days when you just don’t feel up to it,” Chan says. “It’s probably not a good idea to choose your spouse, I’ll tell you that,” she adds, saying that’s not a dynamic you want to inject into a relationship.
18. Don’t Go It Alone
Whether it’s logistics or emotional support, tap into the people you trust, Finkle says. Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling, ask a friend to help you prepare for an interview, have a former boss or colleague look at your resume — the more you can get help from those around you, the better you will feel and the more successful your search will be.
19. If You’re Struggling, Find a Therapist
If you’re feeling hopeless and struggling emotionally in this process, Chan recommends considering talking to a therapist.
How to Manage the Interview Process
20. Prepare for Interviews
“People don’t think about preparation, and it’s really essential,” Finkle says. Be prepared to answer questions about anything on your resume and hypotheticals about what you would do in a given situation. If you can, do a mock interview with someone you trust, and if you’re interviewing remotely, be sure you have a clear, quiet, professional-looking space to do it in.
21. Send a Thank-You Note
It’s old school, it’s simple, and it shows you actually care. Get the names and emails of everyone you speak to, and send them a brief — Chan says two short paragraphs is enough — thank-you message that touches on something you learned or are interested in about the company. If you feel like you misfired at any point in the interview, this is a chance to — briefly — address that with a clearer explanation of what you wished you’d said then.
At the end of all of this work will come a job offer. Get any offer in writing, and pay attention to benefits beyond just the salary, Finkle says. Of course, compensation matters, too, so decide what your best-case scenario is for pay and the lowest you would take. Be ready to negotiate, and be prepared to end up somewhere in the middle of your high and low.
While getting fired can certainly hurt your confidence and your finances and send your stress level skyrocketing, it’s important to take a deep breath and pursue the proper steps. If you take time to collect yourself and tap into your networks, you can find a new opportunity that’s right for you.
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