How to Recover from Being Fired

I was fired once.  When I worked for IBM, I was a project executive for a large client. The senior project executive and I butted heads over how to deal with them…and he decided to remove me from the project.  AKA – I was let go from the project and had no idea how to recover from being fired.  

It broke my heart.  

I was embarrassed. But I was also humbled. As most people do in my situation, I felt powerless and angry. Oh…and I felt grief. After all, I had put my heart and soul into supporting that client and was stunned at being released. How could they go on without me? (Did I mention I felt humbled?)

While getting fired from a job will always result in a sudden life change, it is important to be thoughtful of your next steps. For me? I was assigned to a new project within IBM and within a short time was promoted, so I guess you can say that I landed on my feet.  So what did I do to recover from getting fired?

Keep Calm and Carry On

I was in a town board meeting one night when one of the commissioners made a motion to fire the town secretary.  Another commissioner quickly seconded the motion and the vote commenced. Her termination was not only effective immediately, but she was in the room when it happened.  

Taking notes. 

I cringed in my seat as everyone in the boardroom gazed at the town secretary. What she did was impressive…she kept on doing her job.  There was no drama or outburst…just a continuation of note-taking.  

I wasn’t the only one in the room impressed and she had another position offered to her before she left the town hall that night.  

Ask why 

Staying calm is important because this will enable you to ask questions. You have the right to seek clarity as to why you are being let go. Be sure to be analytical, asking for the details behind the decision.

I would also note that it is important to understand that the decision to terminate you may have more to do with the company and less to do with you. Perhaps it was a cultural misfit or there were creative differences between you and your supervisor. Understanding the actual reasons that led to your termination will provide you with the details you need to grow (individually and professionally) as well as guide you in future career choices. 

If your release isn’t related to your performance but other things like budget cuts, downsizing, or cultural fit, consider asking if there are other opportunities for you to consider within the company.

Leave gracefully

Several years ago I was witness to someone getting fired from a job when he picked up the phone and threw it against the wall. 

Do not do this. 

Don’t shout. Don’t storm out. Don’t threaten or otherwise become combative. You will be emotional, but maintain your professionalism. If this employer sees you in a positive light during this extremely charged situation, they may consider you for other future positions. Also remember this is a small and tight-knit industry, and it is therefore highly likely your current supervisor will move onto another company at some point. This is a time to impress your supervisor with your professional and thoughtful reaction – translate this advice into “Don’t burn your bridges”.  

Another thing to consider: if you make it clear that you want to learn from the situation and leave on a good note, this supervisor may be willing to offer a positive reference to a future potential employer. And don’t forget to thank your supervisor for his/her time as well as the valuable experience you gained while working with the company.  

Once you have left, do not blast your previous supervisor or company on social media. You can’t take it back once it is out there and the impression it will leave on others about you will not be positive. 

Don’t defend yourself – even to yourself  

Instead, analyze (and then analyze some more).

Getting fired can be an opportunity for growth, but only if you own your termination. Even if the termination was a result of something besides your performance, use this experience to assess, improve, and learn.

If it was due to your performance, take some time to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Most would offer that you need to focus on improving your weaknesses, and while I don’t disagree theoretically, I feel it is more important to be aware of, improve, and leverage your strengths. Your strengths come naturally to you; therefore, not only are you more likely to enjoy performing those tasks, but you are also more likely to naturally perform them in a competent way. Alternatively, you will be less likely to excel in tasks you don’t enjoy, so consider what you did and didn’t enjoy about your previous position.  

Understanding your strengths will also help you better define your career path as you can select roles based on tasks in which you know you perform well. After you have assessed your strengths, then come up with a plan to address your weaknesses while leaning into your strengths to be successful in your next role.

I would also note that performing this analysis will help you answer the “Why should we hire you” question during your next interview. 

If you were released due to the ‘other’ things such as cultural fit or downsizing, spend some time considering what type of company you want to work with next. What type of company culture will fit your work style best? Are the companies you are considering working with growing, remaining static, or reducing in size? Consider if these companies are conducting studies that are of interest to you. Do these companies offer you the ability to grow your career?  

Own your next career choice…do not allow getting fired from a job to keep you from being in control of your next move. 

Branding Yourself After Getting Fired

Update your resume.

Refresh your LinkedIn.

Do not stretch the dates of other positions to hide getting fired. 

I would much prefer to represent someone who will own their mistakes than someone who hides them. Professionals who own their mistakes learn from them. And being able to discuss what you learned from getting fired is how you brand yourself.

So What’s Next? 

Gather references. Always, always, always have relevant and recent references available who are able and willing to speak to your capabilities. 

Begin to search for new positions. But be picky. 

And, practice your interview skills.

Future employers will ask why you left your last position; therefore, be prepared to gracefully talk about your termination. It seems simple, but folks rarely start by practicing the honest answer to the question: Why did you leave your last position? 

You will want to maintain a high level of professionalism when you answer the inevitable question.  Stay calm, do not gossip, and keep the discussion to the actual topics. This will show how you respond to a difficult situation. 

Additionally, be accountable. Take responsibility where it makes sense to without making excuses.  Be sure to discuss what you learned from the termination, including how this action will help you become a better team member for this particular position. This line of discussion will naturally answer the “Why should we hire you” question without your interviewer even asking it.

Something most won’t tell you is to be mindful of body language. Do not let your interviewer feel you are hiding something. Maintain eye contact, do not squirm, and keep an open body position. Be prepared for questions related to how you will not repeat the same error in a future position. 

Finally, Give Yourself a Break

You may grieve over the loss of your job or assignment.  I did. And you know what? Even after my ego stepped up I realized that it was okay to be upset…so give yourself a break. Finding ways to get over this surprising life change is a healthy way to deal with getting fired. 

Find an Agency to Support You

Branding yourself after getting fired from a job can be tricky. We can help you overcome the stigma of being released from a previous position.  Be open about your situation and let us know how we can help.