Being terminated can happen to any of us, unfortunately. It can occur at any time and even when it’s not your fault. There could simply be a personality conflict between you and your supervisor. Your idea of what the job was going to be like might be different from what the employer had in mind. You could have simply made a mistake. It happens … and you’re not alone. Each year, workers are fired for cause or unjustly fired (known as wrongful termination), but regardless of the circumstances, you’re left wondering: What should you do if you’ve been fired? Where do you go from here?
First and foremost, don’t beat yourself up. And don’t dwell on it. Instead, focus on what you are going to do next and how you are going to find another job. There are ways you can address this issue and put it in a neutral — if not a positive — light by focusing on your strengths and the direction you want to go. According to the encouraging words of Eckhart Tolle, “Whatever you fight, you strengthen; and what you resist, persists.”
Before you actively begin your job search, consider where you legally stand. Was your firing legitimate or could it be considered wrongful termination? Are you eligible for unemployment benefits? If you were fired for misconduct you may not be eligible, but don’t assume that is the case without investigating. Check with your state unemployment office, especially if you have a different opinion than your employer does about how you parted ways. In many cases, if there is a discrepancy between the two perspectives, the unemployment office will lean toward the unemployed job seeker rather than the employer when making a decision on unemployment compensation benefits. Also, many employment law firms offer a free initial 15 to 30 minute consultation to ensure that you know your rights and to guarantee that those rights are protected.
Résumés and cover letters
Your job-search communication and your approach must be positive. There is no need to mention that you were fired in your résumé or cover letters unless the application asks specifically. If it does ask, acknowledge the termination aspect in your cover letter and make sure it addresses the proactive steps you are taking as a result. Be brief; save the full explanation for a phone screening or in-person interview.
From the first application to your final interview, be honest but avoid being negative. The truth is bound to come up in one way or another so practice phrases such as “job ended,” “dismissed” or “terminated.” If the application specifically asks if you were fired, you need to answer yes. Lying on a job application may cause you to lose the opportunity and it may be considered grounds for dismissal at any time in the future, which could potentially cost you future unemployment benefits.
This is where the topic of being let go and how to address it usually matters most. You will most likely be asked the question, “Why did you leave your last job?” Keep it short, keep it honest, and keep it moving. Explain why if it was a company circumstance beyond your control (downsizing, merger, etc.). If it was as a result of something within your power or responsibility, tell the interviewer you learned a lesson and explain how you benefited from the experience. Take the negative and turn it into a positive. It’s not easy, but honesty is the best policy throughout the job-search process. If it wasn’t under your control (e.g., mass layoffs, company went out of business), mention it without sounding negative toward your former employer.