Getting let go from a job involuntarily is one of the most traumatic professional experiences a person can have. It's a confusing, hurtful event that can leave you feeling embarrassed, frustrated, sad, and scared. Nobody is immune from it. Many famous people have been fired. It's also a reality check around just how much an employer impacts your life. Which often leads you to a 'crisis of confidence' around your abilities to control your career and professional future.
People Get Terminated In 3 Ways
As a former HR executive, I had the very difficult and unfortunate task of letting some people go. Regardless of the circumstances (i.e. a company-wide layoff versus getting fired for poor performance), it was extremely hard to do. It was the worst part of my job. In fact, part of the reason I left HR and became a career coach was to help people take better control of their careers so they could avoid situations like this. That being said, when someone comes to me after being let go, my first goal is to determine what type of termination they experienced. Why? Depending upon the circumstances, their approach to moving on and finding a new job may vary.
Here are the three most common ways people get terminated:
1) Fired for poor performance. In this situation, you were likely told both verbally and in writing (multiple times) that your performance wasn't meeting expectations. You also may have been put on a formal performance review that explained you'd be fired if you didn't improve. Or, you clearly violated one of the rules in the employee handbook and it was grounds for immediate termination.
Job Search Tip: You will need to be able to effectively and convincingly explain to potential employers what you learned from being fired and what you will do to make sure it doesn't happen again. Trying to make excuses or claiming it wasn't your fault won't work well. Employers want to know you can take a negative experience and grow from it. Otherwise, they'll worry history will repeat itself if they hire you.
2) Laid-of as part of a RIF (Reduction in Force). In this case, the company isn't meeting its business goals, especially financial, and needs to make changes. Perhaps they're eliminating an under-performing division. Or, they need to reduce overall headcount to stay profitable due to a decrease in sales. You likely are not alone in being let go. You may also have been given some severance pay.
Job Search Tip: Don't assume you have no accountability in the situation. Potential employers will want you to be able to articulate why you were chosen to be part of the layoff when others weren't. If you can't explain the reason logically (i.e. offer details to support it), they'll question if it wasn't actually performance related.
3) Let go as part of a restructuring. Sometimes, a company realizes it is under-performing and decides the solution is to re-evaluate staff, move people around, and then get rid of people who aren't providing enough value so they can replace them with people who can. In a way, it's a combination of the first two ways of getting terminated. This can be the trickiest of the three because you may get mixed messages. For example, the company could offer you severance pay while at the same time marking you as "ineligible for rehire," in your employee file. Or, you could have gotten good performance reviews consistently, only to suddenly be told you aren't meeting current expectations.
Job Search Tip: You need to get very clear on what the reference check policy is with this employer. Make sure you are told exactly what will be said about your performance. You shouldn't assume the company will give you a good reference. And, similar to the job search tips for the other two types of terminations, you should make sure you can articulate what happened properly.
P.S. - How You React To Being Terminated Matters (A lot!)
The most important thing I can tell anyone who has been terminated is people are watching how you handle this professional adversity. Be careful. You need to work through your emotions privately - and, as quickly as possible. Without the right mindset, you will find it tough to get a job. Keep in mind, most jobs today are gotten via referral. If you don't handle the termination well in front of family, friends, and former colleagues, they may hesitate to recommend you to people they know who are hiring.
The best revenge when you've been terminated is to get a new, better-fit job as quickly as possible. That can happen. This experience doesn't define you. Actually, it can teach you a lot about yourself, but only if you address it and focus your energy and efforts on putting it behind you.