You may have seen your termination looming on the horizon months ago, or it may have been triggered by a bad business quarter for your company. Either way, as of 5:00 p.m. today, or even one week from today, you will be out of a job.
Here's a step-by-step survival guide to getting through the first stressful hours, weeks and months that follow.
Step 1: Give yourself time to reflect on what you want to do
When you get fired, making quick decisions never ends well. For example, self-pity can rob you of your confidence and make you feel victimized and angered to the point of doing or saying something you will regret. Regardless of whether you are close to retirement or just starting your employment journey, you owe it to yourself to take stock of where your strengths lie and what you really enjoy.
Keep calm and decompress for 48 hours. Spend time with your family and friends who support you. Be honest with those you trust about what you are going through. You will be better able to focus on your next steps if you are honest versus offering a facade.
Step 2: Don't sign anything before talking to a lawyer
Never agree to terms offered verbally or in writing, however generous it may sound, without taking time to review it carefully — often with the guidance of a legal professional well-versed in employment law. Severance agreements are business negotiations, and you need to consider as many options as possible that your employer has missed or chosen to withhold.
Step 3: Control the message from your employers
By keeping a cool head, you can make a bad situation less difficult if your employer will vouch for your skills and professional credibility. Ask your employer how he or she will communicate your dismissal. Offer some actual wording to make your wishes clear. You want to avoid, "Effective immediately, Terry Brewer is no longer with ABC Inc."
Without embellishing or trying to "spin" the situation, aim for a message that portrays you in a more positive light, "Effective immediately, Terry Brewer is no longer with ABC Inc. We thank her for her various contributions to our organization and wish her success in her future endeavours." The employer isn't saying the termination was mutual, but doesn't portray her as the culprit.
Aim for a message that portrays you in a more positive light.
Step 4: File for Employment Insurance
Start your claim for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits quickly. It can take one week for your claim to enter the system and approximately one month after that for your first cheque to arrive.
Step 5: Ask for a reference, even if you left on less-than-ideal terms
Consider asking for a letter of reference. If your departure is not performance related and you are on good terms with your employer, they may ask you to draft a letter and sign it. Even if your departure was not friendly, you never know unless you ask.
Step 6: Offer to do an exit interview
You can make a positive personal brand statement as a collaborative professional with whom a connection needs to be maintained. An exit interview is not the time to "call out" managers and other employers who made life difficult. Try to be diplomatic, not damning, in an assessment of others. Offer an example of an instance where you felt badly treated or misled, but avoid dwelling on it. Make your point and keep the two-way conversation going.
Step 7: Get your elevator pitch ready
Regardless of who you are speaking with, you will need a response that positions you in a favourable light. "I'm between situations" does not offer any insight into your goals or value. But, "I am taking time to consider my next steps and looking at a number of options" shows a pragmatic approach. It also positions you as being receptive to new situations the person could present to you.
People ask or speculate among themselves, "Did he jump or was he pushed?" No need to offer a detailed explanation when this question is asked. But if someone asks if you were fired, consider a response similar to one you would offer to a friend when asked why a personal relationship ended: "We mutually agreed that things weren't working out and that I would move on. We parted on good terms."
Step 8: Find a temporary gig in another industry
Consider a temporary gig to keep money coming in, both for a change of pace and to keep your confidence up. Finding a new job in your industry may take longer than you planned. A temporary position will allow you to be more discerning rather than just jumping at the first job offer even though it sounds too good to be true (it probably is).
Step 9: Get a handle on your finances
Review your household and personal budgets and be prepared to cut back for weeks or even months. This may seem intuitive, but in your quest to a) make yourself feel better or b) optimism that you will find another job quickly, you may want to splurge on yourself to ease negative feelings. Wait until you have started another job and the three-month honeymoon period has passed before pulling out your favourite credit card.
You need to project your robust personal brand, not one that is tarnished or deflated.
Step 10: Stay positive
Now more than ever, you need to project your robust personal brand, not one that is tarnished or deflated.
You can't create a positive impression by being vindictive and emotional, regardless of how frustrated you may feel. Avoid bad-mouthing those whom you know (or suspect) engineered your firing and don't waste large amounts of precious creativity and time planning revenge. Even if you are planning legal action, do your best to remain objective and professional.
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