Being fired can come as a huge shock, leaving you feeling angry, ashamed or resentful. So, before you launch yourself back into the job market, follow these steps to help minimize the fallout.
Give yourself time to let it sink in
You can't really bounce back into an effective job hunt until you've dealt with the negative emotions. You'll need to project a positive image to woo potential employers, so give yourself space to work through your feelings.
It can take time to see the situation in a more objective light, but it's helpful to think about what went wrong, and any lessons you can learn. Could you have prevented it? Was it down to external factors (company problems, management changes, etc) or your own shortcomings – in which case, what will you need to do to improve your future employability?
There may even be positives. Perhaps it frees you up to explore a new career path, or it's given you the opportunity to reassess where your strengths, values and interests lie. Try to keep perspective. Don't let being fired overshadow an otherwise stellar career. Focus on your overall pattern of highlights and achievements rather than on a one-off.
Work out how you will present it
If the job itself was very brief, you may be able to omit it from your CV, especially if you have other activities to account for the gap. If you decide to include it, detail your achievements in the role, and don't give the reason for leaving.
Decide how you will talk about it in interviews. Aim for a short and factual explanation. Too much detail can make you sound defensive rather than accepting of the situation. It's important to show that you've moved on and that you're completely focused on the job you're interviewing for, so it's worth asking a trusted friend or colleague for feedback on how you come across when you talk about it.
Here are some ways you can talk about being fired in response to a "why did you leave your last job?" type of question:
- If you were laid off due to a merger, restructure or downsizing, give the wider context: "As you know, our industry has been badly affected in the recession, and unfortunately I was made redundant along with five other colleagues."
- You can also highlight management changes or a shift in direction: "Our department was recently restructured, and the new manager's priorities meant that my skills and expertise couldn't be efficiently deployed."
- If you were fired for performance reasons, try to emphasise mutual agreement: "Actually, it was a joint decision." Briefly explain the circumstances, then move on to why you want the job you're interviewing for and what makes you a good match.
- Alternatively, talk about what the experience taught you: For example, if you were fired for a performance issue, you can mention how you're now addressing those problems: "The experience taught me that..." is a good way to move the conversation on naturally.
Prepare for your next move
Don't rush into a job search before you've taken the time to decide your career priorities and to plan your next move – whether that's in a similar role in the same industry, or a move into consultancy or freelancing. Avoid firing off unfocused CVs in a desperate attempt to get any new job. Instead, bring your CV up to date and spend time customising it to the roles and companies that now interest you.
Put the experience behind you by shifting your focus towards what you can offer. Assess your areas of expertise, find examples that illustrate these, then present these clearly and convincingly in all your dealings with potential employers – on CVs, at interviews, in speculative letters, at networking events, and so on. Make sure you can articulate why you want to work for that particular employer and how your experience makes you a good match, rather than giving them the impression that you're applying for new roles indiscriminately.
Also think about your networking messages. Don't start contacting people and asking for help until you know what your career goals are. A message such as, "I'm really interested in finding out more about x sector or y company", will give people more to go on than, "do you know of any jobs going?"
Maintain a professional image
Try to agree the wording of a reference letter before you leave, as well as any communication to colleagues, clients or suppliers about your departure. Exit as gracefully as you can and don't publicly slate your ex-employer or blast out angry emails. Keeping a folder of positive performance reviews and endorsements from other company managers, clients and colleagues as well as previous letters of reference, can speed up your job search.
Check that you can access professional networks such as LinkedIn (and that you're using a personal rather than company email address) and remove any personal files from company computers. Don't leave networking to the last moment either. The more active you've been in your professional communities, the easier it will be to ask for help.