If you were recently fired, laid off, or left a job on bad terms, it doesn’t have to have negative effects on the rest of your career.
People often say that in relationships no four words are worse to hear than, “We need to talk.” At work, the same rules apply. Is there any worse feeling than being somberly called into your manager’s office without warning?
Getting fired is never a good feeling, and the moments right after it happens, it can be incredibly difficult to know what to do next.
And unfortunately, not unlike the end of a relationship, getting let go from a job can mean hurt feelings, fights, and lots of uncomfortable change.
There is a lot to handle when you get let go from a job, both internally and externally. And – even though it’s challenging – handling it right is really important. How you react to the news and make your exit from a company can have a much bigger impact on your future than you might think.
Despite being fired, this job and the relationships you’ve built here will not just disappear after you walk out of the building. They will follow you into future jobs and will most likely resurface throughout your career.
It makes sense, right? If you stay in the same industry or the same town, you’ll see the same people. And those relationships will still matter for your future success; your former peers will still meet people who you know in common, they’ll still be called upon as references for you, and they’ll still have the power to influence the way other people view you.
So while it can be tempting to burn bridges and storm out of the office in a blaze of glory, that approach is actually really destructive if you want to land another job in the future. The relationships that you’ve built at this job will exist in the future, whether or not you want them to, so don’t ruin them. Resist the urge to self-destruct, and handle the news in a way that will do the least damage.
This is your guide to getting fired gracefully and continuing to have a happy, successful career in the months and years that follow.
There are a number of things you need to do to make a clean, graceful exit from a job
Okay, so first things first: getting fired feels terrible. Emphasis on FEELS. The moment when you first hear the news is almost always emotional, overwhelming, and confusing.
Your body will react. Your heartbeat might speed up; your palms might sweat. Your mind may go blank.
These physical, unconscious reactions influence your ability to process the information in a way that’s non-damaging to your career. Normally, when you sense a threat, it’s natural to want to lash out, defend yourself, fight back.
But in this case, success has a lot to do with holding back the first, instinctive reaction and doing more to control the situation and your responses.
- Storm out.
Even if you’ve been dreaming of the day that you’ll walk into your boss’ office, tell him or her how much you hate them and quit, this is not the moment to express all the things you’ve been stewing on for the past few months before you slam the door and make your dramatic exit. Let your boss or supervisor say their piece. It’s important to remember: they aren’t doing this to spite you or be mean. They are trying to run a team and you just didn’t fit into that puzzle the way they need you to.
Your boss or supervisor may actually be able to offer you insights about your performance or behavior that will come in handy later. So be open to listening. Sit quietly. Pay attention. Ask about next steps. What should you do? Where should you turn in badges, keys, etc? Do you need to fill out any paperwork now, or are you free to just pack up your desk and leave?
Let them help you make the best, smoothest exit possible.
- Badmouth your coworkers, boss, or the company.
When you’ve been working anywhere for long enough, you are bound to have some negative things to say about the people you work with or the company that you’ve been holding back. But now is not the time to say them aloud or share them via social media, even though you no longer have to face those people around the office every day.
Bashing former coworkers only serves to make you look bad, in the end. As good as it might feel to make a snide remark on social media or to loudly bash your old company at a happy hour– even if it’s not specific or overt – will not go over well for you in the long run.
Anything you put out on the internet can be shared, saved, or shown to other people – and usually, anyone can see it. And you never know who is reading your tweets today that might be the hiring manager between you and a dream job tomorrow. Is that the first impression you want to make?
Trying to win over people and convince them of your side of the story by bad mouthing your boss is unlikely to work and will almost always backfire. The best policy is to simple not say anything negative about your former employer to anyone other than trusted confidants, in private.
If you expect to be asked about the firing by people in your professional circles, have something prepared like, “It just wasn’t a good fit in the end” or “I wish them all the best, and I am looking forward to new opportunities.” You’ll save yourself some ruining relationships that you worked incredibly hard to build, and you’ll preserve the public persona you’ll want to have in the long run.
- Do anything extreme.
Getting let go is a shock to the system. In the meeting where you get the news, do your best to maintain your calm. Don’t yell; don’t knock things over; if you cry, do your best to keep it under control until you can leave and be alone.
After the meeting, remember that your goal is to maintain positive relationships and a great career even after this experience. Don’t make any drastic decisions that might interfere with your ability to do that. Try to think of the long-term, not just what would feel best in the short-term.
And as for the things you should do:
Handle what is going on internally first
The hardest part of getting fired is accepting that it has really happened.
No one goes to work hoping they’ll be let go that day. So even if there have been warning signs, the actual event is still usually a shock. There’s the anxiety of hearing you’re being fired, and then there’s the stress about money, your reputation, your abilities…
After the initial meeting where you learn you’re being let go, it is important to first and foremost take some time to process the news and think about how you’ll move forward.
Before you do anything else, give yourself some time to process. It’s tough to accept but your performance at work was falling below the standard in some capacity, or that you weren’t a good fit for the team. But once you’ve been let go, it is too late to change what has already happened.
Focusing on the what-if’s and the reasons why it’s unfair won’t help you move forward.
So, as much as you can, embrace it. It might be painful now, but you can’t truly start your path of improvement and land another job until you’ve processed getting let go of from this job. And the sooner you do that, the better.
Here are some of the best ways to help absorb this information and begin to move on from it:
Write it out
Not only is it therapeutic to write out your feelings and reactions, but you do some really introspective thinking by writing down how you feel in a private journal too. This is a good place to express all your frustrations and negative thoughts about others, so you can get it out without damaging relationships in real life.
Once you’ve written through your feelings, try probing the reasons why you were let go. What did they tell you? Were you surprised by parts of it? Did anything come up that you knew they’d say? Analyze the things that led you to this point so you can learn from them.
You don’t have to have answers. You just need to think it through, and get your thoughts in order – and writing them out is the best way to get scary, big thoughts out in the open so you can overcome them.
Talk it through
Find someone you trust to talk about your feelings and thoughts with. Stay away from coworkers or anyone closely associated with your former employer. Oftentimes we say things we don’t mean or express ourselves more strongly than we mean to while we are faced with surprising or bad news, and you don’t want to make someone uncomfortable or force them to choose between you or their employer.
Instead, opt for a close friend, spouse, or even a therapist. Talk to someone whose primary interest is *your* well-being; getting an outside perspective or even just ranting to someone who is willing to listen can help you process what you’re dealing with emotionally.
The main goal is to process your emotions, negative thoughts, and impulsive reactions before you actually do anything. Getting these out of the way now will help you avoid doing something you don’t mean when you handle the external components of being fired.
Get your external affairs in order next
One of the hardest parts of being let go from a job is having to face the people you know professionally. And as much as you might like to stay in your room with the lights off for the rest of your life, you’ll have to face your peer group eventually.
It’s better to do this confidently and in control of your situation, rather than waiting for it to happen and trying to improvise.
If you did burn some bridges during your exit process, you can make still repair the situation or relationship. First, take these steps:
Apologize. Plain and simple! If you said things in the heat of the moment that you feel bad about, make it right by following up with those people and apologizing sincerely.
Don’t try to justify your reaction by making the apology about how *you* were feeling at the time; instead, phrase it in terms of the other individual. Try a statement like this: “I’m so sorry that I took my emotions out on you after being let go. I’m sorry I _____.”
Manage your relationships
The connections and relationships you’ve made at work shouldn’t end with your employment. Be sure to reach out to individuals at work that you still want to keep in touch with.
Keep in mind that many coworkers will likely feel awkward reaching out to you first, especially if your exit was quick or you reacted badly.They won’t know whether or not you want any ties to a place that you were fired from, so the ball is in your court. If you don’t have time to say something in person before your departure, make sure you send out a simple, personalized, and courteous email to peers that you’d like to keep in touch with.
It can just be a few short sentences like this:
I’ve enjoyed working with you and getting to know you over the past ____ months/years. Even though I will no longer be working at _____, I’d like to keep in touch with you! I can be contacted at my personal email address: _______________.
It is important to include some personal contact information; your work email address will be disabled and prevent people from getting in contact with you if they don’t have alternative contact info for you.
Don’t expect responses from 100% of the people you reach out to, and don’t overdo it on follow up; if someone doesn’t reply promptly, then give them space. People might not respond right away or at all; just make sure they know you’d like to stay connected and then leave it up to them to reciprocate.
End on a good note
If you’ve taken care of your internal and external affairs, all that is left now is making your exit with grace. Be polite and happy during your departure from the office. There are plenty of people in your workplace, (probably likely including the person that ultimately had to let you go), that want to see you succeed.
Think of this as an opportunity to make necessary changes and improve your skills as an employee. You have been given a valuable learning opportunity, and your next step is to make sure you learn all you can from it, so that you’re more successful in the future.
Have you been laid off or had to fire a member of your team? We’d love to hear your insights and tips for making a graceful exit from a job so that you can move forward with positivity.
For more tips and tricks on getting back on your feet
- Career derailment can happen at any time says chapter 59 of “The Truth About Managing Your Career…And Nothing But the Truth.”
- Put together a step-by-step plan with “Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss.”
- And focus on landing that next gig with “This is How to Get Your Next Job” from AMACOM.