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 Restarting Your Career after Being Fired

By Joe Stein

As much as no one wants to think about it…getting fired happens. We tend to focus on the type of job search that is most appealing to us, the one where a person leaves to better their career. The reality is that many people every day start their search after being fired. I know that one of the most frequent topic of email questions posed to me by our readers is on this topic, so the situation is not unique.
It was not that many years ago that being fired carried a significant stigma that was very difficult to overcome. It is still not an enviable position for a job seeker, but you are in a much better position to move on from this incident than you were a decade or two ago.
Being fired does not necessarily mean you can’t be a very productive employee in another situation. Sometimes a person finds themselves caught up in a change of leadership, or perhaps a situation where you simply made a mistake that you will not repeat.
So, what can you do to get your job search started after being fired? Below are some tips to consider that should help you get on the right track.
·         Determine Quit or Fired – This is a major decision that typically has to be made in the moment. Often, an employee will announce that they “quit” during a termination meeting to prevent their employer from firing them. There is a reason why most employers eagerly accept your resignation in lieu of having to formally fire you. By quitting, you may forfeit your ability to collect unemployment (saving the company money) and diminish (or even eliminate) any claims you may have against the company regarding an illegal termination. If you feel like you need to “quit” to save “face”, or you want to avoid the “fire stigma”, you can certainly resign but do so knowing that your decision is not without ramifications.
·         Mentally Move On – It is tough to be told that you are no longer wanted at any time in your life. It is especially difficult when you have to also carry the burden of wondering how you will land your next job, while finding a way to pay the bills. Hiring Managers will recognize immediately if you are wearing your termination on your sleeve and this will negatively impact your landing a new job. Lean on your family and friends for support, or just place your best game face on when entering an interview.  Don’t use your interview to offer a scathing criticism of your former employer, but rather take the high road to avoid appearing bitter.
·         Determine What to Tell Them – This is singularly the most asked question I encounter from job seekers. What should I tell my prospective new employer about how my previous employment ended? Most companies will not provide a reference beyond confirming your position title and dates of employment, so you do not have to worry about them going into detail.    
I am always reluctant to give much advice regarding what to write or say about your firing, since you could always lie either on your application or in the interview. I can never advocate taking this tactic (I am always amazed on how many of my job search advice peers actually do write this). You do not have to make any mention to being fired on your Cover Letter or Resume, simply because you control the information on those documents. If asked on an application, you can write that you can explain sufficiently in the interview. My general advice in the interview is to be honest (once again…I can’t recommend to people that they lie), but limit the details provided, especially knowing your former employer most likely won’t provide it in a reference.
If your stay was short with the previous employer, you may want to consider not even placing the job on your resume. It is quite common to leave off jobs that are not relevant for the positon you are seeking or of a short duration.
·         Be Prepared – You will be asked in the interview about your departure. Unless you are comfortable in keeping your story straight, while weaving an elaborate story, you will need to honestly explain. Since you know this question is coming, you can prepare your answer.   This will prevent you from supplying a rambling response that will come across poorly. Utilize friends and family during mock interviews, so that you are comfortable and confident in your answer. Do not seem surprised or upset when asked this inevitable question. Instead, stay calm and poised. Keep your answer short and then redirect the conversation back to your qualifications. Rather than stressing the details of the situation, instead focus on what you learned from the event.
·         Line Up Your References – In this situation, your references become even more important to your job search success. Communicate to your respective employers how you are prepared to provide a number of references vouching for your skills and effectiveness. Do your legwork on references ahead of time by already lining up several of them that will provide a nice cross-section of your job history and will speak well of you. These references may prove crucial for the Hiring Manager in overcoming any doubts he or she may have about hiring you.
One of the most challenging events in a person’s life is having their employment terminated. This occurrence, however, does not have to permanently damage your career and ability to secure future employment. You can move forward from a termination by having the correct mental outlook and carefully planning your job search activities.
As always, best of luck in your job search!