Don't let getting fired leave you feeling down and defeated.

If it's never happened to you, you've probably imagined it: getting fired from your job. Even though it may not be right at the top of your career nightmare list, it does happen. 

The good news is that you can bounce back from getting fired; it's not the end of your career — just a bump in the road. Once you fully understand what it means, you can take the steps necessary to set your career back on track to even bigger and better opportunities.

In this article, we'll cover:

What does it mean to get fired from your job?

In the United States, most employment is “at will,” which means that your employer has the right to terminate, or change, your employment agreement for any reason — with a few legal exceptions. Larger companies may be held to stricter rules, but for most mid- to small-sized companies, it's an “at-will” work arrangement.

While you can end up leaving your employer in a number of different ways, getting fired means that your employer terminated your employment against your will, often for something you did wrong. Perhaps your work isn't up to their standard, you've missed too many days, or you have been continuously dropping the ball on important deadlines; there could be any number of reasons that your employer isn't happy with your work. Unfortunately, this could lead to unemployment.

There are three types of unemployment. It's important for you to know which one you are dealing with so you can establish a game plan for getting your next job. Getting fired qualifies as frictional unemployment, which basically means that you are unemployed for typical reasons. You don't necessarily need to overhaul your skill set or wait for a booming economy; it's just a normal time in between jobs.

Are there signs you're getting fired?

Frequently, the writing is on the wall well before the axe falls. If you notice that you're being excluded from projects, feeling left out in general, and that your boss is giving you the cold shoulder, these could be signs you're getting fired. If you notice company-wide issues such as net losses, redundant roles, or even an impending sale or merger, these could also be signs that a layoff is coming

If the unthinkable does happen to you, take a breath and relax. You'll get through this. Here are some tips to help you through the tough times and on to better days ahead.

How to deal with getting fired

What to do immediately after

If you've been let go for whatever reason, don't sign the severance papers right away. Instead, take a little time to read over them and reflect. Here are some things to consider:

  • Are your vacation days being paid out? If not, request it.

  • Is the severance fair? Will it give you enough time to get back on your feet? If not, go ahead and negotiate; you can negotiate severance just as you would a job offer.

  • Depending on the circumstances, can you get a letter of recommendation? Be smart here. If it's a layoff, there's a good chance they'll be happy to write you a letter. If you're being let go for performance reasons, it may be best to let that one go.

Also, you want to keep in mind the things you shouldn't do after getting fired or laid off. Fight the urge to burn (or blow up) professional bridges, don't delete your files, don't storm out of the office and jump on Twitter and Facebook to rant about your now-former company or boss, and don't do anything else that will hurt your professional reputation. Not only does it make you look unprofessional, it could even leave you vulnerable to a lawsuit if you say the wrong thing. Those first days after losing your job can be very emotional. Keep a level head and keep your eyes on the future.

Take care of your emotional and physical well-being

Your initial urge might be to dive right into a new job hunt and sling your resume out to as many openings as possible. Yet, this approach is counterproductive on a couple of levels. First of all, a fast and haphazard job hunt isn't likely to land you the position you truly want. Secondly, you're probably not emotionally ready for that next job yet. 

You need a little time to take care of you. But, how do you do that? Here are a few tips. 

Allow yourself to grieve

It may sound a bit corny, but the loss of a job is still a significant loss. It's OK to let yourself embrace the grief for a short time — it's healthy. If you don't acknowledge it, you can't move on past it.

Get up and get out

Remember that hiking trail you've been wanting to try? Or how about that bike that's hanging in the garage? Force yourself to get some exercise, preferably out in the fresh air. Besides the obvious health benefits, it's just plain good for your mood.

Pamper yourself

Have a spa day. Get a massage. Go try that new restaurant you've been itching to visit. While it may seem counterintuitive to spend money on things like this, it can help you get your mind in the right place. You are special and you deserve it. You can also take this attitude with you on your next job hunt.


Beyond mourning the loss of your job, think about why it happened. Was there something you could have done to make yourself irreplaceable? Were you cutting corners and didn't even realize it? It's absolutely imperative that you learn from the experience so you can move on to bigger and better things.

Improve yourself professionally

While you are in between jobs is the perfect time to add to your resume. Take a class or earn a professional certification. There are a ton of options online for courses and certifications that are affordable, or even free, that are useful and look great on your resume.

Keep a positive mindset

Yes, you may be out of work for a while, but there is a lot of good that can come from this time in your life if you set your mind to it. Go ahead and make the most out of unemployment by keeping yourself productive and improving yourself.

Make a financial plan for the months ahead 

For obvious reasons, losing your job can put a major pinch on the household finances. If you think a job separation may be coming, it's time to prep your money so you can weather whatever storm comes your way. 

Here are a few tips to help you out.

Establish emergency savings

Everyone should have an emergency savings account — it's just smart. You never know when you'll get hit with an unexpected expense or a sudden loss of income. If you think you may be in that second category soon, get your savings started right away.

Have a plan for health insurance

If you lose your job, you may lose your health insurance benefits as well. Figure out what you need to do to keep your family and yourself covered if it should happen. This could mean switching to your spouse's work plan or finding independent coverage. You don't want to leave it to the last minute and end up uninsured at any point.

Look into unemployment benefits

We get it — this can be hard, but there's no shame here. Your taxes help to pay for these benefits and they exist to help you through the tough times. In most cases, you won't get nearly as much as what your salary was, but it could be enough to help pay for groceries or a couple of bills. Every state is a bit different, so do your research and see what's available to you.

Trim down subscriptions

These days, we all have recurring fees that we pay without really even thinking about it. Think about your entertainment accounts, like Netflix, HBO, or Spotify. Can you live without them for a short time while you get your career back on track? Many banks have recurring bill alerts on their apps to help you manage your subscriptions, or you can find independent apps, like Truebill, to weed out those subscriptions for you.

Get a side hustle

There's never been a better time to find a side gig for some extra cash. From rideshare driving to delivering groceries and online freelancing — there are opportunities everywhere. For just a few hours a week, you can pad your pockets just a bit and help keep yourself afloat. 

How to job hunt after being fired

Before you jump right into applying for jobs, take a little time to assess your situation.

Consider things like:

  • What's your ideal job?

  • What kind of company do you want to work for?

  • What are your realistic salary expectations? 

  • Do you need to brush up on any skills or certifications?

Once you've figured out just what you are looking for, it's time to really get started.

Start with your resume

The first step is to brush up your resume. If you haven't been keeping it up to date, now's the time. Add in all of your new job experience, skills, and certifications. If you're using an old, outdated resume template, it may be time to update the look of your resume as well. 

What about this last job that ended poorly? Do you need to put that career failure on your resume? The choice is yours, but you may want to weigh the pros and cons. How long were you at your job? If you were there for a year or more and gained valuable experience, it is probably worth including. Remember, you don't have to say anything about why you left on your resume; you just need to have the start and end dates of your employment.

Submit your application

Once you find some jobs that look promising, it's time to fill out those applications. Many online applications today don't go too far into details. Both Indeed and Linkedin have certain job applications that are no more than a couple of clicks. Just attach your resume, add your name and contact info, and presto — you've applied.

If an application asks you why you left your recent job, you don't need to worry about going into detail. Instead, save any explanations for your interview. Here are a few ideas of what you can put on your application.

Prepare for the interview

Congrats! Your resume and application got you through the first phase and you've landed the interview. Now what? Remember to keep the focus on the positive. They may ask you why you left your last job, in which case you may have to explain why you got fired. But how exactly do you do that? 

TopResume's professional writers have seen it all — and have some tips for job seekers who have been fired on how to handle the situation when it comes to your next job interviews: 

Don't get discouraged, it happens to the best of us. The important thing is to get your resume together and move forward. You don't even have to mention you were terminated.” – Resume writer, Keith

Depending on why, be honest about what you learned. 'We mutually agreed it was time to part ways' works as well – considering you are not currently chained to your desk refusing to leave, this is technically true.” – Resume writer, Carrie

Provide minimal information and only if asked. Keep any explanation short and concise. 'My employer and I had philosophical differences that couldn't be resolved.'” – Resume writer, Cheryl

There are always tactful ways to approach the subject without bad-mouthing your previous employer or making yourself look bad, including acknowledging that it happened and sharing what you learned from the situation. Either way, don't let getting fired define your career. Instead, focus on all of your successes and what you bring to the table for any prospective employer. 

How a professionally written resume can help

If your resume needs some work, is it better to do it yourself or to get professional help? You might be surprised. 

In 2019, TopResume conducted an industry-first study to quantify the impact of a professionally written resume on customers' job searches. The study found that not only did recruiters value candidates with professionally written resumes to be worth seven percent more than those with self-written versions, but also that 68 percent secured a new job within 90 days of having their resume professionally written.

In fact, there was a 32 percent higher rate of finding a job for those who had a professionally written resume than those who wrote their resume themselves, and 42 percent of them moved on to a higher-level position. Our customers' stories back up the data. If you want to go from crickets to job offers, don't delay — it's time for your success story.

Worried about your career's future and want to make sure your resume is ready for a new job search? Let us help with a free resume critique!

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