Can you think of anyone you know who’s been fired in their life?
How about these folks to start: Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison, Mozart, J.K. Rowling…
See a pattern there? Just because you were let go, doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or that it’s the end of the road.
You can use the experience of getting fired as a springboard to bigger and better things. It can lead you to new opportunities that you wouldn't have thought of or had time to explore while you were at your previous job.
Getting fired can be a speed bump in the path toward reaching your career goals. If you’re looking at how you can overcome this, you may also be wondering about other parts of your career path.
Our career counseling service has helped thousands of people along the way succeed in their job search, prep for interviews, negotiate the details of their contracts, and otherwise hit their career targets. Get in touch with us If you have any questions or want to do a deep dive on this or any other aspect of your career path.
Step 1 – Get Back on the Horse, but Go Slow
It can be a real shock to be fired or laid off. Before you put some space between you and that experience, it’s likely you might take it personally.
Don’t reach out to your former employer or high-level players at other firms to ask questions, for an informational interview, or for a job interview too soon. If you do that before you get the sadness, anger, and bitterness out of your system, you run the risk of reacting or saying something unprofessional and potentially damaging.
Step 2 - understand why you were let go
Before you start your job search, understand why your previous employer fired you in the first place. Doing this will help you in three ways:
- It lets you know whether you’re really facing a problem when you get back to the job market
- It clarifies exactly what you’re facing when you get back
- It’s the first step in starting to answer the inevitable question of why you’re looking for a new position
One way to get the objective information you’re going to need for this step is to check in with trusted former colleagues or mentors who have insights into the situation. Another option, once you’ve gotten your emotions under control, is to reach out to HR to get some further answers about the reasons for your termination.
There’s a big difference between being fired for gross misconduct or because a round of budget cutting was going on, and you were the last person hired. In the latter case, your former manager should even be willing to give you a reference for the new positions you’re applying to.
The key term in this step is ‘objective information: you need to know the truth about why you were let go to make the best comeback from it.
Step 3 - time for self-reflection
Once everything has calmed down, and you’ve got a solid grip on your situation, take the time to reflect on your previous job. Ask yourself questions like
- What did I like about my job?
- What would I have changed about my job?
- How could I have done better at work?
Answering these questions will help you understand whether you should want to continue down a similar path with a different organization or whether a career change might be a better option.
If you decide the work you were in was a great fit for you, then think about what you learned about why you were let go and think about how you could overcome that going forward. But if you decide that you’d like to pursue a different opportunity, you can start to look at the skills or experiences you’ll need to make that move.
Step 4 – Keep Busy
On one hand, being unemployed is going to be stressful since you have your existing financial commitments and the things you need to provide for your loved ones weighing on your mind. At the same time, some people may react with the attitude of having an unexpected vacation.
But you need to balance the stress and the time you’re taking to get over being fired with the amount of gap time you’re going to have to answer for. You’ll have to explain work gaps because they’re a red flag to most recruiters, who may decide not even to call you in with one on your resume, but who’ll definitely ask you about them if they do.
A great way to get around this is to take some classes or volunteer during your time off. This will let the recruiter know you were committed to improving or learning new skills and gaining new experiences while you had the time.
If you’ve decided in the previous step that you want a career change, this time off is a perfect opportunity to do some skill upgrading or gain some new experience and knowledge.
Step 5 - finding the right fit after being fired
Once you’ve taken the time you need to look at why you were fired, get your head clear, and decide the direction you want to move, it’s time to start looking at some of the opportunities that might be available to you. Start by looking at some organizations in your area that are within the field you want to be in.
Do some research and consider what kind of employer you want to work for. Ask yourself
- What is the culture in these places?
- What does that mean about the kind of colleagues you’re likely to work with?
- What will be the environment there?
The goal is to understand the industry and gain some knowledge about the companies you think you might engage with. Taking this step will make the interviews go much more smoothly, especially if you were fired because of shortcomings or problems on your end.
Having some depth of knowledge will make you seem more credible, which is going to be important in the interviewing stages of this process. If you can show a company that you’ve given it real thought and that you are a really great fit for the new position, you’ll be in a much stronger position.
Step 6 – Update Your Resume or CV
Part of the time you spent being productive might have involved updating your resume, but this is the time to really focus your resume on the specific opportunities you’ve identified. It’s always best to tailor resumes and cover letters to the specific jobs you’re applying to, and in the case of just having been fired, it’s even more so.
Bear in mind while you're writing your resume or filling out applications that you don’t want to give more information than you need to that might hurt your chances - avoid highlighting the fact that you were fired or laid off. This is something that the employer may bring up in an interview, and you need to prepare for that, but don’t bring it up yourself.
Step 7 - reach out to your network
Before you start to actually submit your CV to jobs, you want to make a list of people who can act as solid references. In the case that the recruiter _does _ask about why you were fired, you can bet they’re going to want to follow up on the type of employee you say you are.
Your credibility is going to be really important in this case, and you need to find references who can back up what you're saying to sell yourself. Think about colleagues, former employers, mentors, or even other professionals who can act as character references.
Then reach out to them in advance. Do not forget this - reach out in advance to let them know your situation and to ask for their help. If they say no, that’s ok, at least you know in advance, but if they say yes, you’ll know you found an ally you can count on.
This exercise might also get you some solid job leads. When people know you’re looking for something new, they’re much more likely to point you toward an opportunity they’ve heard of, and a personal reference like that can make you a shoo-in.
Step 8 - Prepare your story
The next stages of finding work after being fired are probably going to involve some uncomfortable questions about why you’re looking for work. You’re going to need to be honest at that point about having been fired or laid off, but that doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t!) finesse the story, so you come off as positively as possible.
A good rule of thumb is that you don't want to be deceitful, but you also don’t want to volunteer anything that will put you in a bad light. The goal is to be secure and comfortable telling the story of what happened while showing off your best qualities.
Because everyone’s situation is going to be different, there’s no one best story, but here are some tips to bear in mind when working on your answers:
- Be honest
- Keep your story short and upbeat
- Take responsibility for why you were let go if it was your fault
- Demonstrate what you learned and how you’ve grown from what happened
- Be gracious, and do not say negative things about your former employer
- Describe your last job as a step toward where you _want _to be
Step 9 – Finding a New Job After Being Fired
There are so many ways for finding a job nowadays, from online sites to word of mouth, and direct referrals.
One of the best job search methods is networking. If you reach out to existing personal and professional contacts to see if they know of any opportunities and they can refer you directly, that’s a great position after you were let go.
You can look around for and start joining industry events or conferences where you can make new contacts. They aren’t going to know you as well as existing contacts, but getting in that personal interaction might gain you some great entry points for the work you’re looking to get into.
As you network, you will probably be asked why you are looking for a new job. It’s important not to hide the fact that you were fired or laid off.
Be honest about your situation. The same applies to when you get to the point of interviewing for positions.
Step 10 – Interviewing for Jobs After Being Fired
When it comes to interviewing after getting fired or laid off from your previous job, there are going to be a lot of tough questions. But in this situation, the hardest questions are likely going to be “Why did you leave your last job?”, which will be followed up with “Why were you let go?”.
Of course, you’re going to worry that once the recruiter finds out you were fired or laid off, they’re going to lose interest. But that’s why you’ve taken all the previous steps we’ve gone over.
By this point you know
- whether it was your fault
- what you learned from it
- what direction you really want to be headed in
- what the industry is like in your area
- and you’ve come up with a great story to paint yourself in the most positive light
Don’t worry, with all the work you’ve put in you’re probably better set up to get the job than most of the people interviewing for it. Also, things happen, and you’re your biggest critic - recruiters are going to be more understanding than you think.
What’s most important is that you’ve gone through all the steps we’ve outlined, and put together a thoughtful and honest answer to these questions that will let the recruiters know you’ve learned and grown as a result of whatever led to your dismissal.
With the right body language, talking about your failures truthfully and confidently will come across to the recruiter as a sign of someone that you’re honest, reliable and mature. And when you can back that story up with the references you’ve reached out for and secured in advance, you’re set up for success.
- Getting fired can be a traumatic and stressful experience, but it’s not the end of the world.
- Stay positive about your prospects and lean into your network.
- Reflect on why you were let go, what this means about your abilities and interests, and whether it says anything about where you want to work.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to coworkers and the HR department about the firing. Let your emotions cool first, then get some objective input.
- Reach out to people you know and/or have worked with in the past for job leads and to serve as references.
- Don’t leave out your previous job from your CV and cover letter, but don’t draw attention to having been fired.
- Plan how you're going to answer direct questions about why you left your last job
We’ve helped 1000+ people develop their career success through our career counseling service. Whether you need help at the job search stage, preparing for interviews, or while you’re trying to negotiate the details of the job or compensation, we’ve got experts that are ready to give you advice and help you strategize your next move.