I Was Fired! Now What?

WorkCoachCafeWe’ve had several questions lately from people who have been fired.  They are struggling a bit with the recovery.  The thing to remember is that being fired happens to most of us at least once in our careers. 

Being “fired” is different from being “laid off.”  If you are laid off, you lose your job as the result of a reorganization or “down-sizing” that eliminates several jobs (maybe thousands of them).  And your job is one of the jobs eliminated.  Being fired means, as an individual, your services were terminated for some reason other than an organizational change.

In the USA, most of us (but NOT all of us) are “employees at will” which means, basically, that an employer can fire us at any time and for almost any reason and without any notice.  There are exceptions, detailed in this Wikipedia “at-will employment” entry. 

Your Career Is NOT Over

Yes, this is an unfortunate incident, and it may be a bit of a setback for your career.  It can also be a wake-up call that sends you off onto a better career path you would never have found if you stayed in the old job.

More often, being fired is like a speed bump – it slows you down for a while, but you get over it, pick up speed, and move on.

Step 1 in Moving On After Job Loss: Managing Yourself

Many questions are probably running through your mind: What to do next? How to pay the rent/mortgage and other bills?  How can I find another job?  Who will hire me?  How do I explain what happened?  Who can help?  What should I do next?  Try not to let the questions turn into anxiety and fear.


1. Deal with the anger.

Often, there is a substantial amount of anger to deal with related to being fired. And that anger adds to the stress and makes “moving on” more difficult.  But moving on to the next job is not optional for most of us.

The anger can spill out in networking discussions and in interviews, both of which are deadly for your job search. No one wants to recommend or to hire an “angry nutcase” or someone “with a chip on their shoulder.” 

People want to solve problems, not add to them.  You don’t want to appear to be a problem.

Instead, try these approaches:

  • Acknowledge the anger.
    Recognizing that you are angry can often help defuse it. Does being angry at your former boss or a co-worker help you? No – it hurts you (not them).
  • Dump the anger.
    People often find that, if acknowledging the anger doesn’t help, writing it down may. Sometimes documenting the situation helps – just writing out what happened step-by-step. Or, simply dumping the anger out onto paper or into a word processing file that never leaves your computer (NOT in an email!).  Yelling at Siri on your iPhone, perhaps.  Simply the act of writing it down can help defuse it.  You may need to talk with a professional on the topic.  Do whatever it takes to put it behind you. 
  • Move on.
    “Forgive and forget” is cliche because it’s so true and so helpful, although often easier with the passage of time. But, forgiving is important for moving on to the next stage in your life and career.

I’ve seen people continue to sabotage their job searches and careers many years after being fired, which only makes the whole situation more tragic.  Get rid of the anger so you can move on.

2. See if you can find a positive “take away” from the experience.

See if there is a way for you to determine what actually happened.  Were you simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught in the line of fire?  Did you misinterpret an instruction from your manager?  Did you ignore an important rule?  Did you “cross” your boss or a co-worker or upset a customer or client?  Were you a bad employee in some way?

Look at your documentation of the situation, in the step above.  Does reading that help you see how you could do things differently in the future?

If possible see if someone familiar with the situation will share their perspective with you.  They may not be right, but “seeing” the whole situation from someone else’s point-of-view can be helpful. 

Then, try to avoid making the same mistake again (IF you made a mistake).  Or, perhaps you learn to avoid a specific personality type, organizational structure, or job that puts you in the same kind of difficult situations with customers or co-workers.

Step 2 in Moving On: Developing Your “Official” Answer to Why You Left

Once you have your anger and disappointment under control, develop your “official” version of why you left.  Your answer needs to be truthful, positive, verifiable, consistent, and brief.

Some things to keep in mind as you develop your official answer:

  • Tell the truth.  Lies can be discovered, and the truth is the easiest thing for you to remember.
  • Skip the blame-game.  No trashing of your former organization or the people in it (always backfires).
  • Most employers will not confirm anything but your job title and dates of employment when called for a reference check, all verifiable.  If a court or some other public entity was involved in the process, check to see what a search engine inquiry shows.  And know that you may need to address the information revealed in an online search. [Read Critical New Job Search Skill: Reputation Management or Recovery for more information.]
  • Don’t tell different versions of your answer to different people.  Tell the same version to everyone in your networking, in job interviews, and in other business discussions.  And that version you tell is your “official” answer.
  • Don’t tell the “whole story” – as fascinating as you may find it, no one else really wants to know all the gory details, and they might interpret the situation differently than you do (to your detriment).  Stick to the condensed version.  Even after you’ve been in your “new” job for 20 years.

Hopefully, someone in the old organization can serve as a reference for you – a co-worker or colleague you may call on if needed.  Do not hand out that person’s name and contact information – or your list of references – unless requested at the end of an interview process.

Step 3 in Moving On: Looking ahead, not back.

This could be an exciting time for you – time to change the direction of your career. Time to reach out for that goal you may have really wanted for a while.  Perhaps it’s time to go back to school.  Or to focus your networking and job search energy in a new direction, maybe the job or employer you have been thinking about for a long time.

Don’t try to go back and “fix” what happened.  It’s over.  Put it behind you.  Focus on your future.

Bottom Line: A Career Is a Journey, Not a Destination

Don’t let this speed bump become a roadblock.  One phase of your career may be over. The next one is beginning. Make the most of it!

© Copyright, 2013, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.

More About Recovering from Being Fired:

How Do I Interview after Being Fired?

I Got Fired for Reading Patient Records. What Do I Say in a Job Interview?

Job Interview: Reason for Leaving Your Job After 15 Years

Job Interviews: Explaining Why You Left That Last Job So Soon

The Interviewer Asked Why I Left My Last Job and I Said Too Much!

Critical New Job Search Skill: Reputation Management or Recovery

Do You Think of Yourself as a Failure?


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. Cleo Carriel Benitez says:

    So nice being here. I always learn something, or many things whenever I visit your site. Congratulations. You”re great.

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