Job Hunting Tips for the Recently Fired (and Some for the Rest of Us, Too)


Job hunting after you've been fired can be an intimidating task, especially in a tight job market. It may not be a cakewalk, but there are ways to make getting your first post-termination job a bit easier. And once you've cleared that hurdle, the impact a firing has on future job searches decreases. (See also: 6 Tax Deductions for Job Hunters)

Get Your Emotions in Check

Getting fired is one of the most distressing things a person can go through. The uncertainty of sudden unemployment coupled with the humbling experience of being dismissed instead of leaving by choice can cause anger, feelings of inadequacy, anxiety about your future, and an overall depressed mood. These reactions are completely normal, but they're also unhelpful.

To get yourself back where you need to be, focus on positives instead of negatives. Think about your strengths and what you can contribute to an organization. Forgive yourself for any failures and make a conscious decision to move on. If you make peace with the situation, feel confident about what you have to offer, and adopt the view that you've only experienced a minor setback, getting back out into the working world will be a whole lot easier. (See also: Lose Your Job Without Losing Your Identity)

Reassess Your Situation

Once you've dealt with the emotional side of the situation, you've got to get analytical. Think about what went wrong, why, and how you can stop it from happening again. Next, ask yourself some important questions:

  • Where do you really excel?

  • Which areas of your expertise do you need to build?

  • Are you utilizing your skills and knowledge in a way that was satisfying to you? If not, what would you rather be doing?

Getting fired can be the push you need to break into a new area of your field or start a new career altogether, so as you're evaluating your strengths, weaknesses, and goals, think about how they would fit into new positions or industries. Don't be afraid to look into other locales for new opportunities.

Take Immediate Action

Getting fired is one of the worst times to take an extended break from working. A hole in your employment already sends up red flags to prospective employers. Revealing that you were in fact fired before that gap could lead them to believe you have even more serious issues. Plus, the longer you go without making progress, the more those negative emotions you're trying to control start to fester.

Start your job hunt as soon as possible. The same day you receive your walking papers is a perfect time to begin, but you can take a few days to get your emotions together if you need it. If your search starts getting lengthy, say more than a couple of months, you may want to look into freelance and volunteer work or enrolling in job-related courses to fill the hole. You'll look better to employers if you've been keeping busy since you were laid off. (See also: Getting Work Experience Without a Job)

Optimize Your References

You'll need extra good references to take the sting out of the nature of your previous departure. References from pre-firing employers are good, but references from the job you were let go from are even better. Fellow employees should be able to substantiate the explanation you gave about your parting as well as tell potential employers about your positive contributions.

The absolute best reference is one from your former managers or other higher-ups. The viability of this option depends on the reason you were fired and how well you performed before things went south, but having a positive reference even after you've been fired can make a huge difference. To maximize your chances, you could try sending a post-termination letter admitting any wrongdoing, and thanking the employer for the opportunity and learning experience. Even if you messed up bad, this bit of mea culpa can sway your old boss toward giving you a good — or at least better — reference. (See also: How to Get Great Job References)

Describe Your Job-Hunting Activities Wisely

The way you present your circumstances can have a big impact in your job search. Using a statement such as "Actively pursuing new opportunities" in your cover letter and online job networking profiles lets employers know you're available without disclosing exactly why. If you're taking a new career path, Deborah Jacobs of Forbes Magazine recommends a statement such as "Currently seeking to leverage my Equity Floor experience and education into Investor Relations." This kind of phrasing works well when you're discussing your job status during interviews, too. (See also: How to Make a Good Impression at Your Job Interview)

Be Upfront, but Not Too Upfront

You definitely don't want to make any mention of your firing on your resume, cover letter, or online networking profiles. However, you also don't want to wait so long that the employer finds out on their own while checking references. The best time to broach the subject is during the interview. Wait until you're asked to describe your previous job or why you left your former position, and then give your explanation.

In the event that you really messed up and don't want future employers to know about the job at all, you could simply leave it off of your resume and avoid bringing it up during interviews. This works better if doesn't have much relevance to the position you are seeking or if you were only there for a short time, but you may still be able to pull it off if you have other career-related activities to fill in the blank. Keep in mind that this will not work for people who are applying for jobs that require background checks or complete disclosure of all previous positions, such as in government, financial, and legal work.

Prepare Your Explanation

You'll need to formulate a statement that gives potential employers the facts surrounding your firing without injecting resentment, blame, or other negative emotions into the story. Even if you feel that your termination was unjustified, you need to avoid bad-mouthing your old boss or coming across as defensive. Interviewers only need to know what happened, why it happened, if there was anything you could have done differently, and what you've gained from the experience. Most importantly, you have to come up with a reason the mistake won't happen again. Above all, do not lie. There's a chance a potential employer will learn the real story eventually, especially if the job is within the same industry, and being dishonest is the surest way to disqualify yourself from a job.

Planning out what you'll say makes it easier to be upfront about the situation, but discussing these kinds of stressful subjects can still make you uncomfortable. Even when you're telling the truth, anxiety can cause you to stutter, avoid eye contact, perspire, and flush red  all tell-tale signs of lying. To avoid raising an interviewer's suspicions unnecessarily, practice your explanation in front of the mirror or with another person, until it sounds natural and authentic. (See also: Body Language Mistakes That Sabotage Interviews)

Word Your Departure Carefully

Even if the truth seems pretty bad, there are ways of making it come across better. Avoid use of the word "fired," because that particular expression carries a stigma that interviewers may find hard to overlook. Using phrases such as "I was let go" or "My employment was terminated" tones down the inherent harshness of the situation. Pairing your big reveal with an aptly-worded statement can then shift the focus from the negative subject of your discharge to the positive subject of what you can contribute to the company. Something like, "My limited sales skills simply couldn't keep up with the fast-paced production required by my previous employer and I was let go. However, I believe my graphic design skills will be well-applied in this position as an advertising assistant."

Tell Them What You Did Right

Referencing situations in which you excelled at your previous job assures potential employers that you weren't just flailing around Mr. Bean-style, leaving confusion and calamity in your wake. Highlight your successes, such as the number of new accounts you brought in or the projects you completed. If you were better at one aspect of your job than another, put emphasis on the duties you did well. Have your references mention these things as well to support your description.

Show What You've Learned

One of the most effective ways to decrease the impact being fired has on your job hunt is to demonstrate that you've addressed the issues that lead to your firing. If the problem was a lack of knowledge, tell interviewers about the steps you took to fill gaps in your expertise, such as engaging in self-study or enrolling in continuing education courses. If the problem was due to interpersonal issues, explain how you've learned to work with a greater variety of personalities and viewpoints and now have the ability to handle similar situations better. No matter what the reason, the key is to describe how the knowledge you gained will help you be successful in the position you're applying for.

Have you ever been fired from a job? How did you get hired afterward?

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