Whether it’s “your fault” or not, being let go is a traumatic experience. It invariably produces emotions ranging from disbelief and rage to guilt, shame, and depression. It generally creates financial stress, which can lead to serious anxiety and conflicts within families. And the sense of uncertainty and loss of control that goes with being fired can make it more difficult to manage a job search in an intelligent, energetic, creative fashion — if you let it!.
There are entire books that focus on the trauma of job loss, along with career counselors and psychologists who specialize in helping layoff victims cope and regroup. Clearly, all the issues associated with job loss can’t be addressed in a few paragraphs. Nevertheless, here are a few suggestions.
First, remember that in today’s job market, the stigma of being let go is much, much less significant than ever before. The continual waves of mergers, spin-offs, company launches and closings, downsizings, expansions, and re-engineerings that have marked world industry over the past three decades mean that a lot of people have been laid off at one time or another. And those who haven’t been fired are well aware that they’ve escaped the ax only by good fortune. As a result, no one really looks down on people with one or two layoffs in their past. Instead, layoffs are viewed as par for the course. Try mentioning being fired the next time you’re at lunch with half a dozen other working friends. Rather than glances of disapproval, you’re more likely to see nods of understanding and hear comments like, “I’ve been there.” Of course, this doesn’t apply if you’ve been fired repeatedly, or for a cause like lying, stealing, or punching your boss. But most people who are one-or two-time losers in the job wars have little difficulty moving on to their next opportunity if they don’t take it personally and understand it’s just business.
Second, you can minimize the psychological and career damage of being laid off by handling the process intelligently. Here are some of the steps to take:
- Negotiate a fair severance package. Rather than simply accepting the company offer, request a couple of days to consider it. Then talk to peers and former bosses and colleagues. You may find you can get the company to increase your final pay package, extend your health and life insurance benefits, or provide you with services such as career counseling.
- Try to analyze objectively what you did right and wrong. Examine your history with the company. Could you have handled your job better so as to extend your tenure? Were there warning signs you ignored? Make a list of work and people skills you intend to improve in your future jobs.
- Start your next job search promptly. Don’t spend weeks watching NetFlix or feeling sorry for yourself, or spending your savings on a vacation or some other consolation prize, even if you can afford it. The loss of psychological momentum you’ll suffer can be harmful.
- Don’t be embarrassed about losing your job. Develop a simple, neutral, accurate, one-sentence explanation for why you lost your job. For example, you can say, “The company reorganized, and mine was one of several positions that were eliminated.” Using this or a similar sentence to spread the word among your friends and acquaintances will maximize your chances of hearing about a worthwhile opportunity.
The great automobile entrepreneur Henry Ford said, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” His words apply to getting fired. Don’t waste time and energy bemoaning what you’ve lost; focus instead on the new horizons in your future.