How to Cope with Being Fired: A Survival Guide

Man with box of belongings

Getting fired is probably one of the most stressful experiences you’ll ever have in your career, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your professional journey. Just look at J. K. Rowling who, in the 1980s, lost her secretary job because she was caught writing fiction on company time. Today, she’s one of the most prolific authors in the world, best known for writing the Harry Potter book series, with an estimated net worth of £650 million!

That’s not to say that you’ll become a millionaire if you start using company time for your own personal gain, though, but rather that there’s a light at the end of the (what seems like a very long) tunnel.

In other words, there is life after being fired. And this guide will help you deal with losing your job and get your life and career right back on track.

1. Realise You’re Not Alone

Although this probably comes as no real consolation (understandably so), but you’re not the first person to lose their job and you certainly won’t be the last. Like Rowling, many people were fired from their jobs before they found success – Oprah Winfrey, Michael Bloomberg and the late Steve Jobs (who was fired from his own company!) are excellent examples. In other words, losing your job might just be a blessing in disguise.

2. Don’t Blow Up

Your first reaction to hearing the words ‘We’re letting you go’ will probably be shock, fear or anger, and you may even be tempted to start calling your boss or HR supervisor all sorts of names and possibly even get physical. Even if they ‘deserve’ it, it’s important that you manage your emotions and keep your cool – however difficult that may be. Essentially, don’t do something that you may later regret (even if you can’t see that now), as it will only reflect badly on you and you might even get into trouble with the law. Try not to burn any bridges!

3. Find Out Why and What Happens Next

Make sure you understand why you’re being let go. If the reasons for your dismissal have not been clearly explained to you, ask for clarification. This will help you determine the legality of your dismissal and whether you have a case against your employer for wrongful termination (more on that later). This may also be an excellent opportunity to ask for a second chance or feedback on how to improve.

You should also find out what happens next: when is your last day – is your dismissal effective immediately? How will your departure be described to the rest of the company? You might also want to consider asking your employer whether they will allow you to return once everyone has gone home for the day to collect your belongings without having to do the walk the shame.

4. Know Your Rights

It is very important that you understand your rights as an employee and what your options are if you suddenly find yourself unemployed.

In general terms, your employer must:

  • Give you at least the notice stated in your contract of employment or the statutory minimum notice period (whichever is longer) – however, you can be dismissed immediately on the grounds of gross misconduct (eg: you were violent to a co-worker or a client).
  • Give you a written statement explaining why you were fired.
  • Pay you what you were owed (including salary, bonuses, commissions, holiday, etc.) or give you any ‘pay in lieu of notice’ if you’re not working your full notice.

Your employer has the right to dismiss you if, for example:

  • You’re unable to do your job properly, though they must first follow disciplinary procedures and give you a chance to improve.
  • You have a persistent or long-term illness, though you must be given reasonable time to recover and your employer should look for ways to support you. It is against the law to dismiss you because of a disability.
  • You are made redundant, ie: the employer needs to reduce their workforce.
  • Continuing to employ you would break the law.

If you have a case for unfair dismissal (for example, you were fired because you asked for flexible work, joined a trade union, took any maternity, paternity or adoption leave, etc.), you should try to talk things out with your employer first. If you’re unable to resolve the issue, then you can normally go to an employment tribunal.

It’s important that you seek legal advice if you believe you were unfairly dismissed or were forced to resign from your job (this is known as constructive dismissal). You can also speak to your union representative if you’re a member of a trade union.

Visit the GOV.UK website for more information.

5. Ask for a Reference

Although it will probably be one of the last things on your mind, it’s important that you ask for a reference before you leave, as you will likely be asked for one in your job search (note that your employer doesn’t necessarily have to give you one). Meanwhile, if you’re worried about getting a bad reference, ask your old employer for a basic reference which simply mentions your job title, salary and dates of employment. On that note, if an employer gives you a bad reference, they must be able to back up what they say with examples, such as supplying warning letters. If you’ve been given an unfair or misleading reference (and can prove it), you’ll be able to claim damages in a court.

6. Take Time to Mourn

Allow yourself a few days to mourn (keyword: a few days – after all, you don’t want to wallow in your sorrows and let your grief take hold of you). Take some alone time, don’t contact any employers for the first few days, drink some whisky or insert-choice-alcoholic-beverage-here and move on.

7. Don’t B*tch about it on Facebook

Or Twitter or LinkedIn – or anywhere else, for that matter. It’s understandable that you’re feeling hurt and angry about your dismissal, but if you really need to vent your frustrations, speak to a friend – in private. Whatever you do, do not take to social media to complain about losing your job and the ‘awful company’ you used to work at. Remember: potential employers will likely look you up online when you start applying for jobs, and coming across your expletive-filled digital rants will make them question your fitness to the role and their company.

8. Get Support

You don’t have to go through this difficult time alone. While it might be painful to admit (to yourself as much as your loved ones) that you were fired and you might be ashamed about it, letting family and friends know what you’re going through and seeking their advice will help you come to terms with your sudden job loss as well as help you move forward. You might also want to consider seeking professional help (ie, talking to a therapist or counsellor) if you’re dealing with anger issues or depression.

9. Look over Your Finances

It may take you some time before you find a new job, and you should always assume the worst. Now is, therefore, the perfect time to get your finances in order by cutting back on unnecessary expenses and luxuries, and making sure you have enough money to get by for at least the next three months or so. If you’re struggling to survive financially, you might want to turn to family and friends for help – however ‘humiliating’ you think it may be. Remember: these are the people who care for you and will gladly help you without a second thought.

10. Claim Unemployment Benefits

The ‘plus’ side of unemployment (I use the word ‘plus’ very lightly) is that you may be able to claim some benefits while you’re looking for a new job. These include:

  • Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Universal Credit
  • Council Tax Reduction
  • Housing Benefit (to help you pay rent)
  • Working Tax Credits (if you already claim them, you might be eligible to a higher amount)

11. Learn from Your Mistakes

One of the most important steps for moving on from getting fired is to learn from your mistakes, however big or small they are. Try to be honest with yourself as much as possible, and ask yourself how much blame you bear, what you could have done differently and whether you provoked the sacking. The answers you get from these questions will not only help you come to terms with your sacking and move forward but also make you a more effective and self-aware individual. On that note, try to avoid making mistakes you have to live with for the rest of your life.

12. Use Your Free Time Wisely

You’ve got a little free time on your hands now that you don’t have to wake up at 7 o’clock in the morning and go into the office for eight hours every day. But that doesn’t mean you should spend all day in your pyjamas binge-watching Game of Thrones and chugging wine down like there’s no tomorrow – however appealing that sounds. Instead, you should take advantage of this time by updating your CV, fixing your LinkedIn profile and sending job applications. You might also want to consider building a personal website to showcase your work and developing your skills through online learning (there are many online course providers offering free courses; you just need to know where to look).

13. Pick Your Battles

If you’re planning to sue your employer, don’t broadcast your intentions (eg: ‘I’ll sue the hell out of this damn company!’). Having said that, unless you have a very good case against your employer (eg: you were fired because of your age, sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, beliefs, etc), you probably won’t get anywhere. Moving on would be the best advice here.

14. Keep in Touch with Co-workers and Clients

There’s no reason to be bitter and cut all ties with co-workers and clients. In fact, it might just be the worst thing you could do, given the circumstances. And that’s because they could prove useful in your job search – for example, they might know someone that’s looking to hire a person with your skills and qualifications. (This, essentially, reiterates the importance of developing – and maintaining – meaningful professional relationships throughout your career.)

15. Start Over

No matter how desperate or rejected you feel, it’s time to move on. Find a new job or change careers altogether if you weren’t happy in previous job. On a side note, as the average job search takes 43 days, don’t write off a temporary position or even freelancing – it may be necessary if you’re short on cash, and it could lead to better things.

It’s essential that you don’t badmouth the company or your former boss in interviews, or lie about why you were fired. If you’re asked about why you left your previous position and you’re worried getting fired will make you look bad, offer a euphemism for an explanation: ‘The company and I realised we were not right for each other’. Be prepared to elaborate, though!

Have you ever been fired? How did you cope with losing your job and what did you do to move on in your career? Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and experiences with us!

Don’t forget to check out our complete handbook to employee rights – you just never know when it might come in handy!