You Were Fired. Now What?
An everything’s-going-to-be-just-fine, open-in-case-of-emergency primer.
Let’s call a spade a spade: losing your job—being let go, fired, whatever you want to call it—is fucking terrifying.
Yes, there are those stories of people who are put in the same situation and use it miraculously to land a book deal, move to Costa Rica, or find that their calling is actually building a mobile app that allows you to book pedicures for your dog. Stories like those are real and, yes, might make you feel like getting fired would actually be the very best thing that ever happened to you. And that’s great! What you usually don’t see with those stories is the weird alchemy of luck, really fucking hard work, being in the right place at the right time, and, again, elbow grease that usually results in too-good-to-be-true full-time gigs. But as someone who has spent many a lunch break scrolling through Gawker (R.I.P.) only to click on any number of their Unemployment Stories and promptly spend the afternoon frozen with dread, I think it’s important to note the very real economic (duh) realities of losing your job. The merits of leaving the corporate life—whether that’s on your own terms or more of an, ahem, forced exit—to do your own thing are multiple, and we frequently celebrate them here. (And here, and here, to name just a few.) But it’s not always as easy or glamorous as the “Quit your job and live your best life!” stories (guilty as charged) make it seem—for most, it’s frankly not even an option. Especially when you have rent to pay—never mind mouths to feed.
All doom and gloom aside, it’s also important to note that it can and will be okay—more than okay, even!—you just need to make the right moves to make it so. Here, a few tips on how to deal.
US Deputy, Twitter Moments
How it really feels to be let go:
“Well, it didn't feel great. But you pretty quickly realize that nobody wants to be anywhere near a layoff—not you (the layoff-ee?), and not your boss, and I should hope not your closest colleagues. More often than not, I'd imagine that part is obvious, so for me there was this sense of shared misery—lots of farewell e-mails, lots of hugging it out, lots of people offering support. At the same time, there's an odd relief—all your work stress evaporates, and if you have a severance package, you quickly realize that you'll be able to just sort of hang out for a while.”
The move everyone should copy from John’s experience:
“Once you ground yourself after it all goes down, you pick yourself up, go to the bar and make everybody buy you a drink. That part was great.”
What happened next (and why negotiating your severance is key):
“The next day, I went back to my parents' home to just chill for a few days. Thankfully, they live a short train ride away. We didn't talk about a ‘game plan’ or some such nonsense. I had worked at my job for years, so I was fortunate enough to have a severance package and some paid out vacation time to cushion whatever financial burdens I had. This allowed me to take my time and enjoy a life of unemployed, uncommitted leisure.”
Get your ducks in a row, but take time for yourself, too:
“I posted my apartment on AirBNB immediately, since I had no real reason to stay in the city, and that actually helped enormously (along with some very kind friends who let me crash with them occasionally). For the next few months, freelance writing and consulting for my previous jobs floated me just fine. I baked thousands of cookies, I ate thousands of cookies, and used whatever new-found free time I had to pursue projects that had been shelved in honor of my career. (That's the cookies, FYI.) It wasn't until months later that a full-time job presented itself at Twitter through a friend, and it was a challenge and team I didn't want to miss out on.”
What you *shouldn’t* do:
“Don't panic, whatever you do. Panic will only cause anxiety, and nobody makes wise decisions while under the influence of anxiety. Do not send a snide e-mail to your office, do not make a scene—try to keep your wits and graces about you. You never want to be the person who left on bad terms. If you don’t have the luxury of a severance package, you need to investigate your options as quickly as possible—unemployment benefits, any vacation you could cash in, that sort of thing. But the most important thing to do is to take the opportunity to really think about what you'd like to do next. Getting laid off is a pain in the ass, but it's also a fork in the road if you want it to be.”
How he found his new gig:
“I was fortunate enough to have had a few jobs behind me and nearly 10 years of work experience, so I had enough contacts to reach out to and enough people keeping their ear to the ground for me. A random Gchat from a college friend lead me to the position I have now. Your network, particularly if you work in publishing, is your one-up. Everybody is sympathetic to the person who just got laid off, and they will help you out if they're chill.”
His advice to anyone who’s recently been let go:
“Sleep in as much as you want. To wake up at 11:00 on a weekday is a joy I cannot explain.”
CEO & Co-Founder, The Muse
*Ed. note: Kathryn is actually the head of a bossy career-advice site, The Muse, and is thus extra well equipped to advise in the “WTF do I do now” department.
Her tips for handling the news:
1. “Don’t be rash. Take a minute to breathe and process the news before saying anything at all.”
2. “Do be professional. Your emotions may be going haywire, but don’t do anything that will damage your professional reputation. For example, this is not the time to send angry messages or walk around yelling how much you hate the place; doing so jeopardizes your ability to maintain connections with colleagues (and even bosses) who might have been willing to provide references to future employers or might eventually prove to be useful members of your network down the road in other ways. If you have something to say, you can always say it later when your emotions have cooled.”
3. “Do be strategic. Don’t drop the ball on advocating for yourself and asking the right questions about:
-How this will be communicated to the company/companies who might call in for a reference to ensure it won’t impact your chances at getting a new job. Get this one in writing, if you can!
-This initial conversation is also the time to touch on negotiating severance or your termination package, including health insurance, when you can expect your final paycheck will arrive, how you will be compensated for unused vacation time, unused sick or personal time, expense reimbursement, stock options, bonuses, sales commissions, tuition reimbursements, and how you’re expected to get all of your things home.”
4. “Finally, give it some time. Don’t sign anything right away. It’s best to take a step back to review the information provided, get clarification where needed, and potentially have a lawyer review and advise on anything you don’t understand, such as unusual requirements from your employer or potential wrongful termination. And then take a step back and breathe! You’ve gotten through the hardest part.”
What you should do next:
“I would always recommend taking a (short) time to decompress. Given that emotions are running high, taking a few days to reflect, grieve if necessary, and process your emotions—anger, shame, and self-judgement are all quite common depending on the circumstance—can be healthy. Taking a brief pause can also help you get back to a place of positivity about your next step, so that any negative emotions don’t seep into your interview process and hamper your chances of finding the right next position. Even after you’ve got your head back in the game, try to maintain some ‘decompression habits,’ like going for walks, volunteering, cleaning out clutter in your apartment, or taking care of things you’ve had on the back burner.”
A weird trick that might help you get over that initial hump of shame:
“We’ve seen it work for people to write down ‘I got fired’ in ink on paper to help process the trauma and unload negative feelings as a way to move forward.”
How to approach the job hunt:
“Consider your values and priorities, including work environment, compensation, benefits, and job duties. Have they changed since you took your previous job? Similarly, look at your strengths and weaknesses—and be honest.
“Give yourself some direction—but don't limit yourself too much yet! Muse expert Lindsey Pollak recommends building ‘A Really Big List,’ including every company you think you *might* want to work for, people you admire or want to emulate who you might want to speak to, events you might want to attend, industry publications you should consider reading. Take a large universe of possibilities and put it all out there on the page.”
How to deal with that tricky “what happened at your last position” interview q:
“Be ready for the question, and be honest. I recommend taking a moment to make sure you’re calm, cool, and collected, and stay succinct: something like ‘Unfortunately, I was let go’ with a brief elaboration at most. Over-explaining can make it look like you’re covering something up. Follow up your less-is-more explanation with what you learned, and bring it back quickly to your strengths as a candidate for this role.”