There are major differences between quitting a job, being laid off, and being fired.
When you give notice, you (ideally) have more control over your next steps and career narrative. If you're one of several people being laid off, you may be given some guidance from your previous employer about next steps, or whether you'll be getting a severance packages. Plus, most people won't wonder if the outcome was your fault.
But being fired feels like a scarlet letter, though, and few people have the luxury of waiting until their confidence is back up to start looking for a new job.
If you're in that lonely boat, and aren't sure how to get back on your feet after a career hit, try taking the following steps highlighted by Patrice Rice, the founder of restaurant and hospitality recruiting firm Patrice & Associates.
Tie Things Up Where You Are
Most of the time, if you’re fired you have to leave the premises pretty quick. If you do have time, there a few things you can do to make a good last impression. Offer to finish any projects you were working on that day, offer to write a “desk manual” so the next person to come in can get up to speed quickly, or you can offer to be on phone support to a new hire. Also, promptly make sure you turn in all keys and equipment you were given during your time at the company.
Hit The Ground Running
Rice says the same general job hunting advice applies to both senior and junior job applicants, post-firing. First, enlist a coworker or manager at your previous organization to agree to be a reference for you. "Get someone who will say great things about your work quality and work ethic," she emphasizes.
Next, update your résumé and start looking for new jobs right away. "A company that is hiring looks more favorably at candidates they see as go-getters — the ones who look for a new job immediately," Rice adds. Although it might be demoralizing, research backs up this theory: People who are currently employed notoriously face better odds looking for a job than those who are out of work.
A recent study from the Federal Reserve banks of New York and Chicago and economists from Columbia University found that "almost half of job offers (48.7%) in a given four-week period went to people who already had jobs but were actively looking for others. But 26% of offers went to employed people who hadn't even been looking for work."
So, even if you need a little time to wallow and regroup, try to stay future-focused.
"This is more important for junior employees who don't have as much experience," Rice says. "Applicants with less experience will likely have to go through double the amount of interviews as a more experienced applicant. So, getting a jumpstart on applying is ideal."
Reframe Your Experiences (Without Lying)
It's not uncommon to be worried about the quality of your references. If you have fears about receiving a bad reference, give the person you are requesting one from an adequate amount of time to consider it and write a thoughtful one — or an opportunity to decline graciously. Just don't assume you can quietly avoid the subject totally.
"Before going into any interview after being fired, it's important to know what your previous company is going to say in a reference check," Rice says. You might think that submitting a great application will magically make being fired invisible, but all it takes is for someone to confirm the dates of your employment for everything to come out.
Here are a few professional ways to answer questions about being fired if the topic arises in an interview:
"The company decided to go in a different direction with the position, and my skillset didn’t match."
"I left on good terms; it was a mutual decision."
"The company and I had different philosophical viewpoints regarding the position, and we couldn't meet in the middle."
"During the interview process, I was led to believe that the job would be different from what it ended up being."
"I was there for ____ years, and was consistently promoted at the appropriate times. A new manager came in and brought their own support team, and the position I was at wasn't needed anymore."
Many of these responses are diplomatic ways of describing an impasse between you and a previous employer, which you can frame yourself. Still, you want to make sure that you can back up any qualitative assertions with a real person who can vouch for you.
For example, if you want to claim that you left on "good terms," consider whether any ex-colleagues or managers would attest to that if asked during a reference check. Past disagreements about job expectations, your skillset, and even work performance can be mitigated if you find a way to discuss those issues (and show you've learned from them) in a thoughtful way. Just don't be the person to start the mudslinging — that will hurt your chances at landing the new job, and your reputations, the most.