Fired to Write

Penning your thoughts about being fired may help you land a job sooner.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published March 1, 1993 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

You've been fired. You're furious; you feel you gave the company the best years of your life. And, of course, you're anxious, worried about your own future, and your family's. What to do?

The best way to cope with job loss may be to spend a half hour or so a day writing about the trauma of being let go. Penning your thoughts may actually speed your chances of getting a new job.

Among 63 men laid off by a computer company and offered the usual battery of outplacement services, reports psychologist James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., those also randomly assigned to writing got jobs sooner than the others.

Translating events into words diminished the stress they experienced and increased their understanding.

As a result, Pennebaker reported at an American Psychological Association annual meeting, it changed the way these men presented themselves in new job interviews. They were less hostile--more employable.

The results surprised Pennebaker, professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University. The men who found jobs fastest didn't actually do anything different. Writing didn't make them go on any more interviews or send out more resumes. Rather, the writing forced them to address their emotions and cognitively reappraise their situations. It actively dissipated negative emotions, and prevented them from resurfacing during a job interview, where they could sabotage a candidate.

"The study shows that it is important to translate events into words." The effects, Pennebaker explains, are specific to writing. "It slows you down." Those allowed to reflect on their experience master it.

The men in the experimental group were asked to spend 20 minutes a day for five days writing about their deepest feelings about being laid off. Eight months later, 53 percent of them were working again. By contrast, among those who received only the usual outplacement services, only 18 percent had found new jobs.

Writing gave the men a chance to openly talk about negative emotions, says Pennebaker. "They had less need to justify why they were laid off. They had come to better terms with their dismissal."