Being fired is never fun, but career coach and executive search professional Scott Uhrig says losing your job doesn’t have to derail your career.
In fact, many people learn valuable lessons from the experience and come back stronger than ever.
Here are seven things you can do to make sure your professional life stays on track after you’ve lost your job:
1. If it’s not too late, try asking your company to give you one last shot.
One thing Uhrig hears a lot from people he works with who are between jobs is that they never truly understood what they were supposed to be doing for the company. If things look ominous but you haven’t already been sent packing, you might want to try writing down your job description on a piece of paper and showing it to your boss.
If he or she has had a different idea of what your job entails, perhaps clarifying that discrepancy can ease the tension that had gotten you in hot water in the first place.
“Sometimes that clarification can actually salvage your job and that relationship,” Uhrig says.
2. File for unemployment benefits as soon as you can.
Depending on the circumstances of your dismissal and what state you live in, you could be eligible for unemployment benefits that could help you pay the bills while you’re looking for the next gig. Check with your state’s labour department to find out whether you qualify.
3. If you can afford to, take time to decompress.
Uhrig says that while it’s tempting to get “right back on the horse” and start applying to jobs, it’s not a good idea if you’re still too bitter about losing your most recent job.
Calling the experience emotionally traumatizing, the careers expert recommends that people who are in a bad place mentally should probably take some time to come to terms with what has happened.
One thing he says is useful is reminding yourself that you are not alone, and even very successful professionals sometimes find themselves out of work.
4. Understand why you’ve been fired.
One of the most important steps for finding the next job is understanding what went wrong in your last one. Oftentimes, Uhrig says, people lose their jobs because they just weren’t a good fit for them.
What he recommends doing is taking stock, quantitatively and unemotionally, of what the company’s goals were and where you came up short in trying to achieve them.
Most importantly, he says, people need to “own the failure” by understanding what they personally did wrong and not blaming others for what happened.
5. Learn what you do best.
Once you’ve figured out the weaknesses that doomed you at your last job, you can start thinking about the strengths that will help you flourish in the near future.
Uhrig recommends asking your friends and former colleagues to tell you three things you do well and three things you do poorly. Ultimately, he says, you’ll see a pattern that will give you a good sense of what your best qualities are.
If you have the money, you can also go see a careers coach, who can provide guidance and personality tests that will help you discover where your talents lie.
Once you’ve determined your strengths, you can brand yourself as an expert in these subjects during your job search, which will give you a leg up over other people who are selling themselves as generalists.
6. Don’t just look for any job; look for the right job.
Once you know what you’re good at, you can start thinking about what kind of job you’d like to have next. Uhrig recommends pinpointing specific jobs and companies that seem like a good fit and honing in on them.
Rather than sending out a blast of applications to any open position you think you might be qualified for, he says you should use LinkedIn and your own personal social network to find people employed in positions of power at the companies you want to work for.
From there, you can reach out, have coffee, and discuss how you could be of service. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting a new job that is just as bad a fit for you as your old one.
“If you cast a wide net and consider the most opportunities and you position yourself as a generalist, you optimise your chances of getting a job quickly, but time and time again I see that being the wrong approach,” Uhrig says.
7. Prepare to talk about being fired.
Once you’re at the stage where you’re going on job interviews, it’s important to come up with a game plan for how you’re going to address your gap in employment when it ultimately comes up.
Uhrig recommends being proactive about addressing the elephant in the room. While you probably shouldn’t bring up being fired the moment you walk in the door, there will likely be a chance to discuss it sometime in your initial interview.
He says the most important thing is to be honest about what happened because hiring managers will almost definitely know you’re lying if you give untruthful answers like, “It was a mutual decision.”
Once you’ve succinctly described why things didn’t work out last job, you can pivot to what you accomplished there and what you will accomplish for a new employer in the future.
If all goes well, you’ll be back up on that horse in no time.
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