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You’re Fired!

These five steps can help you move forward.

Xoneca, CC0
Source: Xoneca, CC0

Were you just fired? The standard advice is to take some time to process it, grieve, and reassess. But my clients have found that to be poor advice. They’ve found that the longer they “process,” the harder it is to move forward. The bad thoughts stay top-of-mind by revisiting and revisiting the “unfairness” of it all.

Few of my clients blame themselves, except perhaps that they didn’t play office politics. Most of my clients blame their boss, the economy, bad luck—everything but their performance. As a result, many of them form a hard chip on their shoulder.

My clients have found the following to be more helpful than extended time off to process.

1. Allow just 30 minutes of grieving. Be as angry or fearful as you want... for a half hour. After that, as described above, it’s wise to use your anger or fear to fuel your efforts to start moving forward. What should that look like?

2. Take a look inward, a hard, honest look and ask yourself if there are lessons to be learned from your firing. Sure, it could have been caused by a bad or bad-fit employer, so the lesson learned can merely be to vet employers more carefully. But really ask yourself: Have you been skilled enough? Hard working enough? Quick enough? Low maintenance? Incorporate any lessons learned into choosing your job target, any training you want to get, and what you’ll do differently on your next job.

3. Wisely choose your job target. Perhaps you’ll want to try for another job doing what you’ve been doing, maybe even aiming for a higher-quality employer so you can say, “See! They were fools to let me go!” But also ask yourself whether it would be wise to do a career tweak. For example, modestly change the sort of job or employer you want to work for. Even consider whether it’s worth the risk of the likely longer job search and lower pay that's likely if you try for a career change. And if you do go that path, what career should you consider? My book, Careers for Dummies, profiles 340 careers and self-employment opportunities.

4. Network, whether you like it or not. People who’ve been fired have a tough time getting hired if they simply answer job ads or post their availability on LinkedIn and other job sites. Even if you manage to get an interview despite being unemployed, your prospective employer will likely contact your former employer, who might not provide a glowing review.

Your best chance of getting hired for a decent job in a reasonable amount of time is to systematically mine your network. List at least 10 people who like you enough to refer you to someone with the power to hire you. For each person, decide whether to pitch them by phone, in-person, or invite them out for a drink, hike, etc. When they say they have no leads for you—which is usually the case—ask, “Would you keep your ears open and if I’m still looking in a month, would you mind if I circle back?” Nearly all will agree and now, instead of relying on the long-shot that they’ll have a lead for you that moment, you have recruited 10 or more scouts, far more likely to encounter something for you within a month or two.

5. Crisply answer why you were fired. There's a tendency to give a long answer to, "Why were you fired?"—You don't have a great answer, so you keep fumbling for one. But the longer the answer, the larger the proportion of the interview that's spent on the bad stuff.

Rather, give short answers to hard questions, longer answers to easy ones. So when asked, "Why did you leave your previous position?" you might say, for example, "It was the wrong job for me. The skills required ended up being different than I thought it would be. I'm excited about this job because it really is a good fit."

The takeaway

Getting fired is not fun, but it can be for the best: It can be a wake-up call to get your act together. It can push you to a better work situation when, if you hadn’t been fired, you would have stayed and been miserable. Getting fired can encourage you to make the career change you should have made long ago. And hopefully you won't be unemployed for long; the unemployment rate is the lowest in 49 years.