So, You Got Fired: Here's a Step-By-Step Guide on What to do Next

You return to the office after lunch, ready to conquer your lengthy to-do list. Flipping open your laptop, you find an email waiting; your boss has flown in from out-of-town and would like to speak to you in her office. Your heart rate increases ever-so-slightly, as she rarely asks to speak to you in person, never mind unplanned. Then, her assistant stops by your desk and somberly relays the same urgent message, and something about the sideways glances from your colleagues sends your imagination into overdrive.

Pushing down the nervous little pangs of anxiety, you tell yourself that you're just paranoid and need to relax. You're good at your job and you're sure you must be overreacting. Maybe she is even keen to assign you to the new design project you've been eyeing - yes, that must be it.

Except, this time, you're not overreacting.

After you stride down the hallway into her office, projecting as much confidence as you can muster into your greeting, you take the seat across from her. She launches into a well-prepared speech of how she has appreciated all of your effort, dedication, and hard work, but she just doesn't think it is a good professional fit any longer; she outlines her plan for your last day(s) with the company, mostly unapologetically.

You listen, numb and shocked; your stomach is in knots and everything feels a little bit surreal - not to mention unfair.

Part of your identity has just been taken from you and removed from your daily life/routine. Perhaps you loved your job; maybe you hated it and had already considered moving on. Either way, the choice to leave was not yours to make in the end, and that always stings a bit. You have unfortunately just been fired or laid off, and it sucks - but what sucks more is being unprepared and not knowing how to proceed next.

So, collect your emotions and your belongings and follow these tips:

First, take a deep breath and compose yourself - don't panic. Your mind is likely scattered, but it's important to keep your wits about you. Despite whatever you may be feeling, be sure to remain professional and leave emotion out of your reaction and responses.

Tell the whole world what happened. It can be tempting to vent and unload to anyone with a willing ear - heck, even those that are not willing - but remember that this can potentially hurt you. Choose a few trusted friends or family members and talk the situation out, but then leave it in the past. You're going to be better, not bitter.

Bad mouth the company or your former boss. Even if you weren't at fault and others sympathize with you, it is never a classy move to throw dirt in the direction of a former employer. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point; you never know who you could be networking with that remembers the stories they heard secondhand from your former colleague. Don't gamble your professional reputation for a vent session.

Sign any paperwork immediately until reviewed thoroughly, and if need be, by an attorney - especially contracts such as a severance agreement.

Immediately start applying to new jobs until you take stock of your situation and career path.

Accept the first offer you get because you're afraid of being unemployed. This will likely cause you to accept a job that won't make you happy long-term.

Allow the experience to affect your self-worth or professional confidence. Remember that you are not alone - many notable public figures have been fired (some even multiple times) and went on to lead fulfilling lives with successful careers (hello, Oprah, Walt Disney, and JK Rowling). So, cry it out, sleep on it, do what you have to do - but remember - your career is waiting. Allow yourself one or two days to mope, but that's it - you don't wallow, you move forward and make sh*t happen.

Discuss the terms of your termination so that both parties are comfortable and understand what has been agreed to. Coming to a neutral agreement with your former employer will help as you begin to interview with other companies and limit confusion (and possible embarrassment) in your explanation of why you left your job.

If you have an employment contract, review and ask HR or the applicable manager to review with you to be sure you understand how that affects your search for a new job and future employment (i.e. a non-compete contract).

Ask your HR generalist to review all open items with you, including final pay schedule, open PTO or vacation, and due severance (if applicable). Review your health coverage benefits, and take full advantage in scheduling all health appointments prior to the date your benefits lapse (and this goes double if you have any funds locked up in a health FSA (flexible spending account). Ask for clarification on the guidelines as you likely will lose the funds if you don't use it). Also be sure to request paperwork to enroll in COBRA; before you sign up, look into your other coverage options. You may get more reasonable coverage on the government's Health Insurance Marketplace or, if you qualify, through Medicare or Medicaid. You can also look into coverage through your spouse's employer if you're married.

Assess your financial situation and make a plan so that you can live comfortably while you are in-between jobs. If you discover that you are less prepared than you had anticipated, vow to overhaul your savings strategy and use this as a lesson to better prepare for the future.

File for unemployment as soon as possible to ensure you have financial padding until you find a new gig. Your home state has a department of labor website that has all information needed regarding obtaining unemployment, including important information about labor laws (find your state here).

Decompress. Understand why you were fired so that you can grow professionally; reevaluate your performance and perhaps even your career path. Consider hiring a coach to help you outline your strengths and successfully rebrand yourself for your new job search. Look at this as an opportunity to start fresh and not limit yourself - set new professional goals and map out how to obtain them.

Update your résumé. Include all new relevant experiences, certifications, and skills you have picked up since your last edit.

Start your search for a new job - the RIGHT job. Use great resources available from Career Contessa, including everything from interview tips, negotiation, to accepting a job offer. You will discover valuable information that not only includes opportunities but background on the companies you want to work for.

Network, network, network! Utilize LinkedIn and reach out to contacts that may be able to put you in touch with companies and individuals that interest and intrigue you – you never know what could materialize into a new, exciting opportunity. Reach out to former clients and professional contacts and share your updated contact information; as you navigate unemployment and explore your possibilities, you may decide to utilize your network on a consulting or freelance basis. *Be sure that doing so will not create a conflict of interest or violate any agreements in place with your now former employer.

Prepare to interview for a new job - and to potentially talk about why you got fired. Unless the industry is small, I wouldn't recommend calling out the fact that you got fired in an interview, but if you know it's accessible knowledge, be honest. The key to explaining why you got fired is to show it wasn't about you. Explain that the department was downsized or your position was eliminated - that is much better than admitting you lost your job due to your performance. If it was and your interviewer knows that, explain what you learned from the experience and how you will use the knowledge to improve and move forward in the position they are hiring for.

And most of all...

Take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Losing your job can take a toll on your emotional well-being, and job searches can become draining at times. Surround yourself with a great support system and be sure to steer clear of negativity.

Remember - stay positive. Getting fired is an experience one can never truly prepare for, but by staying level-headed and focusing strategically on your future, you will be better positioned to find the job that was meant for you.

Have you been fired before? What tips did you use to stay positive and make the most of your job search?


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