This post was originally published May 27, 2019.
I was let go from my first professional job after college. It was my first, real experience with failure and it was a shock that left me embarrassed and deflated. I felt like no respectable person had ever been fired before and that I would never find another job again with this black mark on my resume.
But people who are let go from one job can absolutely find a new job, maybe even a better one. I wish someone had told me that even though I had been let go, I was still worthy of gainful employment. And you are, too.
If you have been fired or let go recently, here are a few steps to make your comeback. These are all things I wish I had done much sooner.
What To Do After Being Fired or Let Go
1. Find out if your former employer has a “no reference policy,” meaning they do not allow employees to act as references.
If so, try to get in touch with a former coworker who also no longer works there to be your reference. Keep in mind that they will act as a personal reference, and not a company reference that speaks on behalf of your former employer. It would be more professional to make this known to the company you’re applying to.
If your former employer doesn’t have a policy like that (lucky you), politely get in touch with someone from that company that you trust and ask them to be a reference. Also remember that a lot of companies may not allow references, but they can still be contacted for confirmation of employment through their HR department.
2. File for unemployment.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but I hadn’t even considered it when I got fired. I was surprised when my dad recommended it, but you pay into it and it’s something you’re usually entitled to if you are let go.
Unemployment payments will help cover expenses so that you don’t have to take too much from savings or go into massive debt.
3. Warn others that still work for the company that fired you.
Were you put on probation? Were there warning signs? Be honest (without being bitter) so your former coworkers know and can be more prepared if it happens to them.
I was put on ‘probation’ a few months before being fired and my manager downplayed it. He made it seem like it was a formality and wasn’t a big deal, and that they would help me improve. They never mentioned the possibility of termination.
A few months after being let go, a coworker reached out and told me he had been put on probation and fired as well. We both should have realized the severity of the situation and started looking for other jobs the moment we realized that our current jobs weren’t as secure as we thought. But if I had warned him, he might have had a head start.
Remember ANY form of probation serves as a warning to be heeded. At least start updating your resume and looking for other opportunities, even if you end up staying with the company.
4. Talk to family, friends, anyone about the fact that you lost your job and are looking for new opportunities.
No need to feel embarrassed, getting fired from a job happens to a lot more people than you think. After a few days of wallowing/ reflecting, it’s best to get back on that horse and prevent too long of a gap on your resume.
Finding a new means of income is now your new full-time job. People in your life might surprise you and share their inspiring stories about how they lost a job and made a comeback.
5. Assess/ plan your financial situation.
Figure out what to do with your 401(k) if you had one with your former employer. Can you keep it with that company? Do you have a certain period of time to transfer it to your next employer’s 401(k) plan? Do they owe you back-pay for paid time off you didn’t take?
You need to focus on paying bills, having a roof over your head and eating regularly. Gaining control of your finances will give you much-needed peace of mind during your upcoming job search.
6. Be honest with yourself about why you were fired.
Was it a behavioral or performance issue? Was it because of something out of your control? Although people can be let go for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with their performance (i.e. a layoff due to budget cuts), I was fired because I made too many mistakes and cost the company money as a result.
I could downplay my part by knocking the company’s lack of proper training and ineffective management style (both of which are absolutely true), but it was an important step for me to acknowledge my role and accept that I had royally failed.
This exercise taught me what work environment I didn’t thrive in and what new behaviors I should adopt in my next job to be more successful.
7. Do NOT lie about getting fired on your application.
This can absolutely come back and bite you. If you interview with a new company and they ask why you left your last job, be honest about what happened. Rehearse how you will articulate this experience over and over again (it took me weeks to get a professional answer out without crying.)
This is different depending on what industry you work in. You don’t need to give all the details, but telling the truth and explaining what you’ve learned/ how you’ve changed will be better for you in the long run.
It’s not uncommon for someone to get hired and then fired later on for lying about past employment circumstances. And try to stay brief and positive. Bad-mouthing your past employer can make you look unprofessional. And maybe give the impression that you’re a problematic employee who doesn’t play well with others.
8. Use this as an opportunity to figure out what you really want to do.
In a notebook or spreadsheet, make a list of companies you’d like to work for or jobs you’d like to do.
Have a side hustle that you could expand? Have a dream job you never had the guts to apply for? Let this be your push to start anew.
And remember, getting fired does not always have to be a reflection of your value as a person. And it can become a great story of how you were able to turn it around and create a valuable learning experience.