Most people will experience a termination or layoff at some point in their professional career.
If you happen to be one of the many each year who are called into “The Boardroom” only to be given your walking papers, know that you are in good company. Famous people who have been fired include Jerry Seinfeld, Walt Disney, Mark Cuban, JK Rowling, and even Oprah who was once (and now famously) told she has no business in network television.
Here are five actions you need to take to minimize the fallout, financial impact, and mental duress of being terminated:
1- Immediately apply for unemployment, COBRA, and assess your finances
You can ask the HR Director for assistance in what you need to do to apply for unemployment and COBRA which allows you to purchase health insurance at a discounted rate for up to 13 months. It can take a number of weeks for any state system to process your request so don’t delay. I also highly recommend assessing your finances and seeing where you can make some cuts. Detail a monthly budget and know exactly what you need to meet your household budget expenses–to the dollar. Possible spending cuts may include dining out, bundling phone, cable, and internet, cutting auto insurance add-ons (towing, rental car, and deductibles) using coupons, and saving energy (turn that thermostat down!).
2- Don’t sign a severance agreement right away and negotiate how you’re departure will be described to future employers
In many cases, you will be offered some sort of a severance agreement which may include pay benefits, career outplacement, and other inclusions in exchange for your signature. Don’t sign the document right away and read over the severance agreement carefully once you are away from the premises as your signature will nullify any monies you may be owed or any legal action you can take. Most employers will allow you 2-4 weeks to sign an agreement, so read it over carefully and consult an attorney if you are unclear about any language or inclusions.
You can also try to negotiate how your departure will be described when potential employers call to confirm employment. You may be able to negotiate a “dates only” or “neutral terms” type of answer. Remember, in almost all cases, your employer does not want to stand in your way regarding gaining employment after you are terminated. This coupled with the fact that no employer wants to engage in a costly legal battle over things that may be said to a potential employ mean that you definitely have latitude concerning how your departure will be termed.
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3- Take time for a “cool off” period
Take time to asses what went wrong and how you will do things differently in the future. Because many workers are employed “at will” (which means you can be terminated without justification provided the employer isn’t breaking the law) you may never know exactly why you were terminated. So don’t dwell, but spend some constructive time giving yourself an honest assessment and evaluation.
One proven remedy for minimizing anger and resentment is to get out and volunteer. You’ll feel great about yourself and form some important networking contacts in addition to assisting an organization that can probably really use your skills and expertise.
When peers and acquaintances do ask about your employment situation or what happened in your last job, keep you answers brief and guarded—do not criticize the employer. As with your Miranda Rights, anything you say can be held against you. Occupational, industry, and certain business circles can be small biospheres indeed, so keep your answers and descriptions vague and perhaps even somewhat positive. You can always punch the pillow when you get home.
Keep your emotions in check. Don’t do anything rash or vengeful. Focus your energy on landing a better position—not seeking revenge. It may work in the movies but will only land you in hot water—or jail—in the real world.
Use this time to get back into working out and exercising if you’ve fallen off. Exercise has been proven to minimize stress and reduce depression. The gym is also a great place to meet people who can turn into valuable networking contacts. So sign up for the kickboxing class and kick some stress!
4- Focus on your job search: “A better career and a better you”
This may be a great time to consider a career change if the problem with your last employer was the nature of the work you were doing. The few hundred dollars you may spend hiring a qualified career coach can pay off immensely if it helps land you a better job in a new industry at an added pay rate.
Stay busy and get out—group events (personal and professional), meet people, and networking can all help you develop momentum. You should choose the career, don’t let the career choose you!
Taking some classes or seminars can also give you an edge in your net positions and provide you with some solid ways you’re working on yourself when you are asked in an interview. Many seminars are free or low cost. Check your local workforce center, chamber of commerce, and business journal for upcoming events in your area.
Don’t mention the termination in your résumé cover letter. Ensure your dates of employment are accurate and ensure you describe your most important duties and responsibilities and especially all achievements, accomplishments, awards, and problems solved.
5- Minimize the impact in a job interview: Be brief, honest, complimentary, and quickly move on to the next question
When the topic comes up, address the situation truthfully. Background checks and employers who confirm prior work history are the norm.
Tell the interviewer what happened without disparaging the company or the employer, and how you learned or will approach things differently in the future. Do not get emotional and rehearse your answer.
You can try an answer like this: “When I first came on board the position was a solid fit for my skills and experience. However, over time the company and position evolved to the point of where it hardly resembled what I was hired to do. The employer and I reached an amicable agreement that it would be best if I moved on.” Don’t belabor the point and try changing the focus by moving the interviewer on to the next topic or by asking a follow up question regarding a prior topic the interviewer addressed.
Considering the median tenure for the average worker in the US is 4.6 years, it’s no surprise people are changing jobs at a more rapid rate that at any time in history. Layoffs, buyouts, mergers, and close-outs happen more frequently now than ever. Add in the fact that sometimes workers find themselves in the wrong position at the wrong time with the wrong boss and you have a musical chairs rendition of today’s modern workforce.
Being terminated does not have to be the end of the world. Take it from Jerry Seinfeld and Oprah, a termination from a prior position can often be the springboard to a better job and a better you!