One day, if you are very unlucky (or lucky, it depends) you might get fired. It’s not as funny as they play it in the movies, but maybe they play it funny because it is one of those things that makes your shit turn to water. I recently had that experience, and I thought I might walk someone through it because right after it happens? You’ll need some handholding.
Before it happens
- You’re going to have a meeting and it will probably be set up at a time when you won’t think you’re getting fired. I had one job that fired people after reviews and you knew who was getting fired because they got called in last. At my firing, I was told to stay after an all-staff meeting about a project I was on. I had to give a summary of everything I had done.
- A week or so before it happens, you might be asked some odd questions, like what are your passwords (they’re updating things, they swear!) or you might have to give an update on all your projects. If this mysteriously happens, be on your guard.
- Your HR person will act really stressed out for a week. You won’t know who is getting canned, but someone is getting canned.
When it happens
- You’ll probably have your manager and the HR person in there with you. Unless you’ve done something really wrong (like stolen from the company or consistently come in late) the reason will probably be total bullshit (I wasn’t happy enough). The most important thing to do is to react with grace. You may cry, and that’s okay, but don’t get angry. Why? You don’t want to confirm anything for them. Say exactly this, “I’m sorry you feel that way and I’m sorry I won’t be able to continue on [project that is really important to you].”
- You won’t be thinking straight and will probably have to go directly to your desk to clean up (which is thrilling, let me tell you. Nothing says humiliation like walking out of your office with a giant box at 2 in the afternoon!). The HR person (or security guard) will be watching you do this. Try to ask a few important questions like how to get COBRA.
- Continue to be graceful. Don’t smash things around. Just quietly pack up your stuff. Crying is okay.
After you get home
- Call a person you trust: your mom, your partner, your best friend, whoever. Tell them honestly what happened and why you think it really happened. When I got fired, I knew I didn’t deserve it, but I also knew my behavior maybe could have been better in some ways. Say everything you’re going to be afraid to say in a couple of days.
- Make up a story for people who really don’t need to know. Say you got laid off due to the economy. It’s easier and invites fewer questions. With close friends and family, you don’t have to be perfectly honest. My family can be total douche-canoes in situations like this, so I kept with the laid-off story.
- Take a break. Watch a movie. Eat some mac and cheese. Try not to think about it for the rest of the day. I don’t recommend drinking since booze acts as a depressant. I do recommend ice-cream.
- If you can afford it, call your therapist and make an appointment.
The Next Day
- Apply for unemployment. In most cases, your employer still has to pay unemployment, even if they fire you, except in cases in which you really broke the rules (like stealing).
- Send an email to the HR person asking about COBRA (you maybe forgot about that in your panic the day before).
- Update your resume. On your resume, you are going to have that ugly scar from the day before. Try to fill it in with something ““ maybe go freelance in your particular industry so you have something different at the top. It will make an interview a lot easier.
- Update your LinkedIn ““ I never thought LinkedIn worked until it helped me get a new job.
- Get in touch with people from past jobs that didn’t fire you and with allies from job that did. Go to lunch/coffee with them. Don’t say negative things about your old job (in some cases, don’t mention you were fired), instead treat them as potential job-givers and pick their brains about what they are currently doing. It sounds trite, but networking is everything. Try to get some of these people to write recommendations on your LinkedIn.
At an Interview
- No interview is as nerve-wracking as the one you get post-firing. One benefit to the economy being so poor is that they often don’t ask why you left your last job because of course, the economy is bad. If you’ve managed to put freelance at the top of your resume, you’ll also maybe sidestep that gem.
- If you do get asked, have a good answer. If you got fired for bullshit reasons, you probably just conflicted with your boss. Here’s a good answer, “Job A was a poor person/organization fit and it was a mutual decision to let me go. That said, I feel that Job I am Interviewing For is a much better fit due to [list of values that you are going to say you love].”
- Act like you weren’t fired. Your confidence will be shot, but pretend like it isn’t.
Look, getting fired isn’t fun. It’s one of the most stressful things that can happen to you. Hopefully this guide will make it less stressful.
Share your stories and advice in the comments.