Getting fired is one of the worst things that can happen to you. Sadly, in the times we live in the odds are pretty good, even in a healthy economy, that you’ll get laid off several times during your career. When you work in technology startups or in small, high risk companies the odds increase exponentially so it’s best to have a plan once it happens, keep your head screwed on and roll with the punches. As someone who’s worked in startups and in tech in particular, I’ve been let go a couple of times. Here are madmork’s 15 Golden Rules for surviving getting fired:
Rule #1: Talk to a lawyer. Situations are different and the laws in some countries and even states with the US (Montana for example) vary. In my experience, particularly when you’re a manager and up and have a work contract, it’s worth spending a couple of hundred dollars to get the facts. Spending an hour with an attorney, particularly if you think there are grounds for wrongful dismissal, is usually worth it. If anything, you’ll have all the facts and if the company is going to play hardball they will behave very differently if they know you have counsel and know your rights. Never sign anything until you’ve had a chance to have it legally. This is especially true if you have a work contract with the company and have a severance agreement
Rule #2: Always keep it friendly. We’re human. Odds are you’re upset, furious or you feel blindsided. The best thing you can do take 24 hours to decompress after things happen. Avoid writing emails, going on social media or doing anything you’d regret. One tip is to write a really nasty email and send it to yourself. The process of writing everything down and ranting is important but you never want to put anything in writing that you might regret. Also, keep in mind that the world is small and, especially if you were not fired for performance or negligence, you may want a recommendation from your employer. Try to stay cool.
Rule #3: Get feedback. This may sound masochistic but as I said in one of my previous posts, “Succeed or Learn: There is no failure”. Embrace getting fired as a chance for growth and self reflection. Nietzche once said that “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” If you approach this event with a growth mindset you’ll emerge better as result. If the company won’t discuss it then maybe reach back out in a few months and have a beer or coffee with your manager or someone else in the company to get feedback. Be aware that often, as cowardly as it sounds, a company won’t be willing to give you specific feedback. This is usually for legal reasons since they might fear a lawsuit or that you might use this information against them somehow. They might also have a complete lack of emotional empathy - which is all too often the case as well. Try to learn what you can and move on.
Rule #4. Get your asks in ASAP. If you’re company downsized or let you go for non performance reasons they might feel bad or guilty. That’s a good time to get in any asks you might have. Things you can try to negotiate, depending on the circumstances:
Health Insurance: Some companies might be willing to cover your health insurance for 3-6 months. It’s worth the ask since those costs can rapidly add up
Your laptop: You’ll need one and you don’t want to have to pay for it. It’s a small price to pay for many companies
References: If you’re parting on good terms get a written reference. This will be helpful in your job search process
Agree to the official reasons for leaving (if you’re in a senior enough role): Work with your manager and HR to craft a story on why you’re leaving. This should be the official reason internally and should also be the message that anyone externally gets when they contact the company. This really varies from company to company to be honest. In many cases, the company may simply communicate externally that you worked there and nothing more.
Ask for a copy of your HR file: You have a right to see this and keep a copy. If it matters to you get a copy
Rule #5. Exit like a pro: I’m not going to go through the details of the do’s and dont’s on how to make your exit but there’s a good article here from O’Reilly that captures these points in more detail. You want to make the transition as smooth as possible for yourself as well as for the company. You’re also going to want to be as professional as possible to get a good reference so avoid overreacting or badmouthing the company or your manager. Keep your head on and be as professional as you can be.
Rule #6. Take Time to Mourn: Getting laid off is painful. It’s normal to feel angry, sad, frustrated and confused. Give yourself time to think it through and vent. That said put a time limit on it and give yourself a date by which you start the process to move on. Typically 1-2 weeks is pretty normal but you want to get moving again as soon as possible.
Rule #7. Share: You might feel ashamed about your situation and want to keep it inside. That’s perfectly understandable but not helpful. As a rule, avoid sharing and talking with your co-workers. Given your situation, you might end up saying something you’ll regret later or putting your co-workers in an awkward position. Talk to your partner, close friends or a therapist or coach. Open up, vent and rant and let them know how you feel. People that care about you will be sympathetic and chances are that they may have been through a similar experience. Sharing is a natural part of mourning and will help you get it all out and recover.
Rule #8. Love yourself: You might be feeling very vulnerable and down right now but keep in mind that your physical and mental state will really affect your overall mood and outlook on life. Now more than ever, it’s critical to get sleep, eat well, hydrate and exercise. You should also avoid anything that might get you down or frustrate you unnecessarily. Alcohol, for example, is a depressant so be very careful about how much you drink. Staying up half the night binge watching Netflix or playing video games will sap your energy and make you feel lifeless and negative the next day. Take care of yourself and do things that make you feel good. Part of loving yourself is exercise. Exercise will make you feel better physically, give you purpose and even help you look better. I cycle 10 miles each morning and it’s amazing how much more positive I feel before I start working each day.
Rule #9. Get away: If you’re able to financially or otherwise, rent an Airbnb some place and just get away and get a change of scenery. One of the hardest things I found is simply waking up the next day and not having to go to work. Even if you get a place just 30 minutes away, the change of scenery will do you good. If you can head to someplace natural like the beach or forest that will do wonders as well. Getting out and clearing your head will help you think things through so you don’t dwell as much on your current situation.
Rule #10. Read: There are so many good books and blogs out there. Take this as an opportunity to further your own knowledge and learn new things. Visit Goodreads and check out the books your friends or people in your social circles are reading. Do you have a book you’ve been dying to read? Now is the time. Reading is a cheap, healthy distraction for the mind and you might learn a few things in the process.
Rule #11. Get into a routine: One of the hardest things about getting laid off is the loss of your routine. As human beings we’re creatures of habit so whether you’re a junior programmer or CEO, losing your routine will confuse you and make things feel a bit pointless. Establish a new routine as soon as possible and put it into your calendar the way you would a normal job. Focus on things you need to do to stay busy and positive. For example, get up at the same time you used to, exercise, get out and meet people for coffee, attend industry events, set time aside to read / research, meditate or invest some time in non profit work. The key is to stay busy to keep your yourself busy.
Rule #12. Keep a journal: One of the first things I did after losing my job a few years ago was to start off each day with what I call “Morning Pages.” Each day I spend 20-30 minutes just free writing about whatever comes to mind. This can be work related or even personal. An added touch here is starting each entry with “5 Things I’m grateful for”. I usually talk about 5 things that went well the previous day. That could be having a great workout, meeting up with a friend for coffee, finishing a personal project you’ve been working on or registering for an online course. We all have things to be grateful (our family, friends, health) and if you show a bit of appreciation each day it will help you start off your day on the right foot.
Rule #13. Self Assess: I’ve never learned more about myself than when things haven’t worked out. Getting fired is a great opportunity for self assessment. Take advantage of the time you have to understand where you can improve either personally or professionally. In my post Finding Happiness I detail the steps you can take to really go deep and get to know yourself. For example, you can take a self assessment test online like the enneagram or get feedback from people who might know some the things that are holding you back. You’ve now got the time; dig deep and see what you find.
Rule #14. Treat job search like a full time job: Eventually, once you’re past mourning, you’ll start to focus on your next adventure. Make no mistake, this is a full time job. I have a detailed post on 3 Steps to Finding your Ideal Job, but the important thing here is to organize yourself for success. Set yourself clear, measurable, achievable goals and give yourself realistic deadlines. Personally, each day I send my coach a text message with the 3-4 key things I have to get done that day. In the evening I send him another message to let him know how I did. That helps me focus on what matters most and also makes me accountable to not only myself but to someone else who wants to see me succeed.
Rule #15. Learn New Skills. I’m always amazed with what I learn online. When I left Google in 2013 I decided to pick up yoga (which I highly recommend by the way). I didn’t get a teacher or sign up for a class but went online and found a great channel called Yoga With Adriene. I added this to my morning routine and have been doing yoga nearly every day. The point is that you now have all this extra time and there is only so much time you can spend on job search. Use this opportunity to learn a new skill or sharpen an old one. You can take a class at a nearby community college or university or you could simply find online courses on Coursera, Udemy and Udacity. Not only will you feel you have a purpose and are growing, but you might build new skills that will make you more marketable for that next job.
Rule #16. Get out and network. I’ve left the most important one for last but getting out and spending time with other people is essential to staying active, networking and keeping positive. If you can combine this with some of your new activities like a new exercise class or taking a night course then you can get a double win. As human beings, we’re social creatures. Get out, network, meet people, ask them questions and learn from them. It will keep your mind off your own problems and you may even learn new things and discover new opportunities.
That’s it! Losing your job is never fun and getting laid off will test every fiber of your being and really test your self confidence. However, I’ve found that these things always have a silver lining and that if you can get to know yourself better, stay busy, learn and surround yourself with others you can emerge a better, happier and more self confident person in the end. Remember that you’re NEVER alone in this process. Many of us have been through it. If you follow these rules you’ll come out ahead and in years to come you’ll remember this time as one that made you a better person and a better professional.
As always, if you enjoyed this post I always appreciate a like, share or comment. I hope this helps you and you consider subscribing to my blog. I also would love to hear your stories on Facebook and have a number of videos on my YouTube channel that I hope you’ll find useful. Until next time,