People get fired from jobs every day. It happens to the best of us even when it is not your fault. Personality conflicts, new company directions, and just dropping the ball are all things that can cause a person to be fired. If it happens to you, learn what you can do to protect your career growth. Also, read what not to do if your company shows you the door.
What not to do
Do not make a bad situation worse. All employees who once felt like a "Working Class Hero" for burning bridges, and giving the company a piece of his or her mind on the way out, eventually regretted it. Why? No one is perfect. People have disagreements. Burning bridges cost relationships and your career lasts longer than the number of days you stay angry with a boss. Dramatic bridge burnings with companies make for great movie scripts, not reality.
Do not say the wrong things to the wrong people. Do not use your last day to vent to all of the employees how you truly feel about the company. Do not go around ripping into all your supervisors revealing the ugly truth behind your firing.
Even if your colleagues agree that your firing was unfair, in the long-term of your career, your closest colleagues will not trust you. They may not trust your ability to handle pressure. They may think of you as a “loose cannon”. In today’s LinkedIn-connected world, everyone can find your former staff and ask them questions about working with you. You want former colleagues to only have positive things to say about you.
What you should do instead
Time to have a hard discussion. It is ok to talk to your employer about the following things:
- Your severance pay.
- Your benefits, unemployment, and references.
- You can also ask if the decision can be reversed (ie. appeal the firing)
If you are emotionally overwhelmed by the news, ask if you can make an appointment to discuss the above issues. Still, it is best to handle this discussion the same day, especially because you need to know when your last paycheck will arrive.
Handle the legal issues
Before your new job search, find out if you were the victim of wrongful termination. Was your firing legitimate or were laws broken in the process?1 Some reasons people are wrongfully terminated:
- Constructive firing
- Discrimination (age, race, gender, preference, faith)
- Asked to commit a crime
Also, find out the following from human resources:
- Are you eligible for unemployment?
- Are you operating under a non-compete clause?
If the reason for you getting fired is not clear and decisive, you will want to pursue if the firing was legal.
Keep the dirt out of applications, cover letters, interviews, and resumes
This is a simple one: Keep the fact you were fired, and any other form of negativity, out of your resumes and cover letters. No one needs to know. If it comes up, explain the situation from a positive point of view that shows you took one on the chin and moved on. It was just business.
Using reasons for leaving like “Terminated” or “Job-cycle completed” are always easier to read than “Stupid boss” or “Cheap company”. Leave the negativity out.
For interviews, if the question comes up, keep the explanation brief, use reasons suggesting it was not your fault (downsizing or layoffs), and turn the negative into a positive. Most importantly, stick to one story and never insult anyone you worked with. If you do, people will view this as an indicator of future negative behaviors. Never lie, of course, but tell a nicer version of the truth.
Let go and move on
Ending this blog with two important pieces of career advice:
- You can only do what you know until you know better. Then, do better.
- Letting go and moving on requires letting go of grief, but never forgetting what happened.
Keep these two pieces of advice the next time you are fired from a job. It is a big picture mindset that will keep you grounded if/when getting fired catches you off guard.