How to Get Fired (And How to Get Over It)

Being fired does a number on your ego, but there are things you can do to make it better

01.04.17

Be really, really good at your job. Not just getting shit done, avoiding the messy flirt with your coworker at the holiday party, laughing when the boss makes a bad joke: I mean redefining expectations good, smashing goals good, I-run-this-motherfucker good. It makes you invincible. It makes you gold.

That’s what you believe.

So when your new boss — the one you’ve been eyeing warily for months, the one who bullies and undercuts, the one who wrote you three emails the day you were 17 minutes “late” because it was Valentine’s Day so you bought flowers and baked a cake for the interns and glued tiny paper hearts to toothpicks because everyone was slowly drowning and you thought maybe, just maybe, today could be made better — schedules a meeting for the end of the day one Friday, you think: but I couldn’t possibly be getting fired.

But you are! Oh god, you are, you flesh-and-blood girl, you tender-hearted thing, you privileged wisp of a panicky try-hard. You did everything right: good schools, good grades, those unpaid internships. You’re working at a poetry nonprofit for pete’s sake, you literally just got fired from SAVING POETRY.

Being fired does a number on your ego, and left me with a buzzy case of work-related anxiety and a pervasive sense of shame that took a long time to shake. My misery is your gain, I guess? So: let me tell you how to get fired.

Help me, I just got fired.

Pop quiz time! Depending on how and why you’re being let go, you may have very little time before you’re asked to leave (or escorted out). This is especially true if you did (or they think you did) something egregious that violated your contract. The following questions are ones you should learn and internalize now.

+ Ask why. They aren’t obligated to give you cause (unless you are in a union), but try to get as much information as possible because it will govern next steps. Are you being fired for cause? Let go because of downsizing? Managed out because of restructuring? This matters. Demand clarity.

+ You could, depending on the relationship you have with your organization, ask if you could officially “resign” rather than being fired. It’s a sticky wicket: you’ll have less to explain in future interviews, but may screw yourself out of severance or unemployment.

+ Make sure to get the details on compensation for unused vacation or sick days, as well as what will happen to any retirement fund you may have with the company. Same goes for equity. Also, ask if they will continue to provide healthcare coverage for any period of time.

+ Finally, backup any vital electronic files — work you could include in your portfolio, for example, or any emails that provide documentation of your treatment and efforts you made to ameliorate the situation if you’re being let go for cause (really, this is something you should start doing as soon as you sense the tides turning), and save and/or delete any personal files or emails the company could access.

But I want to stay! Is it okay to ask if there would ever be an opportunity to return?

This depends on circumstance. If it’s an issue of restructuring, possibly. But tbh, that’s something HR should have brought up. If they wanted to keep you around, they probably would have found a way to do so, or at least furnished you with some options. So while yes, it’s appropriate to ask whether there are opportunities elsewhere in the company, do you really want to stay where you aren’t wanted?

Can I collect severance or unemployment?

Severance packages have become less popular since the recession, and are generally reserved for executive roles, but you should still ask — especially if you’re being let go for reasons beyond your control. Packages are based on how long you’ve been with the company, and generally include continuation of benefits over some established period of time. There are some strings attached here: this will limit your unemployment opportunities, and you may have to sign an NDA that prohibits you from bad-mouthing the company or discussing your experience in detail.

As for unemployment, laws vary from state to state. The best thing to do is actually call your state unemployment office and talk through your particular situation. If you were fired for cause, you may not be eligible, but don’t presume anything. Pick up the phone and figure out what your rights are. You do need to be actively job hunting while collecting unemployment, and if you turn down a job comparable in salary to your previous one, your benefits could be affected.

THIS ISN’T FAIR.

I know, pop tart. Do you have a case for wrongful termination? You can’t be fired for your age or gender or race or physical ability; you can’t be fired for making a complaint about abusive behavior or unethical conduct. But most jobs are classified as “employed at will,” meaning the company has no legal obligation to employ you and can decide not to employ you at any time. Still, if you do think you have a legal case, you can try taking it to HR; failing that, contact your state labor bureau.

Do I cry?

You do not cry. If you think you are going to cry, ask if you can have a moment to process and collect some questions about next steps.

You will be gracious, polite, understanding. Thank them for the opportunity, even as you want to claw their shitty little faces to shreds. It’s unlikely you’ll ever call on the person who fired you for a reference, but someone else in the company may be a valuable resource and the way you handle your exit can determine how helpful they will be going forward.

What do I say in my next interview?

There is a wide, beautiful gulf between what is factual and what is honest, and you get to figure out how best to represent yourself within that space. When prospective employers asked why I left my last job, I said I no longer wanted to work in the nonprofit sector. This was true! Since I wasn’t fired for performance, and was officially “let go” on a legality, I was not obligated to disclose anything else. I had a wonderful reference from my previous supervisor at that job. (This all goes back to the importance of making connections where and how you can: I had a strong reference because I worked hard and established a positive rapport with someone I admired deeply. That she had left the company before I did and was not the person who let me go was, well, kinda irrelevant.)

To be clear, I do not recommend lying. If you did get fired for being shit at your job, that’s something you need to reconcile and figure out how to weave into your narrative. Maybe you were drowning in the misery of a bad career choice, you learned a lot about where your strengths lie and now you’re excited to throw yourself into something about which you’re truly passionate. Maybe you were a small fish in a big sea of jerks; now, you’ve realized you work best in collaborative settings where you really have a chance to connect and participate. Every cloud has a silver lining, etc.

What do I do now?

You keep going. In the months that followed my firing, I learned a lot about how truly miserable I had been. I discovered I had lost a lot of the passion I’d had for my career. I realized I hadn’t stood up for myself: rather than trying to placate and grovel my way towards gaining my new boss’s respect, I should have asserted my strengths and been more clear in what I was bringing to the table. I should have taken less shit. In the end, being fired was a gift (I know, sorry, I know). In my next job, I was given far more money and far more agency. And, most importantly, I was able to identify when it was time to go, rather than clinging to the ship as it sunk.

We put a lot of stock in things that are, to some degree, beyond our control: our relationship statuses, our careers, the shape of our bodies, our propensity for adult acne. Much of the work of life is learning how not to let any one thing define you. Even if you go through life doing your best work at all times, some things simply will not go your way. In the moment, losing my job felt like a confirmation of the dark voices that told me I had nothing to offer; five years later, I’m finally coming to terms with the fact all it confirmed was that that job wasn’t the job for me.

Been fired? Getting fired? Share your story, please!

Photo by Krista Anna Lewis; J.Crew sweater, Figue necklace.

Get more Brain Massage ?
  • Emilie Gagnon

    Being fired was the best career move that happened to me! Although tough at first, it gave me a window where I could reset – something that I was not letting myself do on my own. Very well written text about a reality so many people fear but is so common!

  • Mary Beth

    What a wonderfully written piece. I was technically “laid off” from my job due to downsizing, but technicalities don’t help your self-confidence (why’d I get the ax? I worked so hard!). My biggest learning was that in the immediate time after you get fired/laid off, take time to process instead of burying the emotions. Do your best to come to terms with it and THEN start looking for your next employment opportunities. No one wants to interview a lost soul who applied wine-drunk to the job posting (I know from experience). Get your ish together then get back out there!

  • I have just decided not to finish my PhD in genetics and in a way it is just like being fired. There is no more money to pay for my salary and my supervisors are not interested in finding a way to keep me on, so I decided it was time to move on. The last three weeks I have been processing the feeling of failure and slowly realising that I now have the possibility to redefine myself. I am not completely sure what I am going to do, but I am lucky enough to have a husband and mother who take care of me while I figure things out. My next step is to find out what my story will be. What did I learn from this experience? I am not sure yet.

    • freudianslippers

      From one academic to another, so much love and support while you figure this out! It has taken me twice as long as it was supposed to to finish my MA, partly because of lack of support from my department.. I can’t imagine how hard letting go of your PhD work is going to be, but I also know freedom from the chains of academia can be really liberating! Good luck!

  • amanda rae shore

    This is such a helpful and informative article. Currently on EI after being let go when a start-up started-down, and it’s been a roller coaster but also a blessing to be able to focus on freelance writing, ghostwriting, and curating exhibitions. Thanks for the hope and info MR! xoxo

    • looooove that you’re focusing on what lifts you up!

  • Sabletoothtigre

    The few times I’ve been fired, it was from jobs I didn’t really like and by bosses who not only I did I not like, I realized they weren’t even decent people. So, ego twinge, sure, but it was actually always met with a sort of relief and release because I was too chicken shit to let go of a source of income that made me truly miserable (and mostly went to buying tons of frivolous stuff to make me feel like it was worth it).

    Actually, every time I’ve been fired (it’s only been a handful times, jeez) it was an invaluable lesson of the shit I won’t take in my next job, how to better work to my strengths, and probably most importantly — whittle down what it is I really want to do and why.

    Getting fired is great for growth. I recommend everyone do it!

  • Alyssa Neilson

    I got fired from my first job out of college (after a measly 4 months). Was extremely unhappy anyway — embarrassingly underpaid. No benefits on top of that. Company was like a sorority of friends who’s parents all summered together in Montauk. I was let go due to ‘not being a good fit.’ Within 3 months, I was almost doubled in salary (with a 401K) in the field of my actual choosing. Sometimes you just really have to keep going (and file for unemployment!!)

  • Teone Nutt

    Great article, and some of the statements ring true even if you’re still in a job that you’re not keen on. My favourite bit of this though was finding a cricket idiom on an American fashion blog.. thanks for that little ray of sunshine!

  • Allison

    Love this advice. I am amazed at the grace one can show while getting fired – it just affirms to the company what an asset they are losing. Their loss; your opportunity for an amazing, fresh start!

  • Becca Huang

    Thanks for writing this, I love this whole site btw, amazing concept, keep it going! X

    Love from Taipei

  • Elisabeth Balachova

    I was let go from my job due to restructuring. I hated being there and was on the hunt for a new job, so it seemed ironic. Although I didn’t want to be there anymore, it was still a shitty experience. But it forced me to take risks. I was offered other positions because they valued my work ethic, but I took it as a sign from the Universe to officially leave. I wanted to enter into the fashion industry so desperately and this was my moment to try harder. I started a blog, volunteered during NYFW, and started interning at a start-up fashion brand. But….. I was let go from that internship as well. I was let go from two different jobs within 5 months. My ego took a big hit. I felt I finally had my foot in the door but was shoved out. Life seemed so unfair. I knew I was a hard worker and intelligent, my peers constantly give me praises, but I started to feel incredibly insecure and lost passion. I continued the job hunt once more, which is difficult to do when you start to doubt yourself and your abilities (it also stings when you’re constantly receiving rejection emails). Currently, I am in the process of getting my Real Estate license because I realized what I truly wanted was to be my own boss. That’s why I was never happy in any position or no job post excited me. It’s been a long and hard journey, but I am now able to look back and laugh at how absurd those 5 months were. Perhaps in the future, I will write a book about it. To show that life doesn’t end when things don’t go your way.

  • Agostinho Zinga

    This is great Meghan, really enjoyed reading it!

    The thing that sucks the most about getting fired is the loss of perceived identity. We spend so long and work so hard trying to get into this fucking crazy industry we end up losing a part of ourselves in the process and instead adopt this faux identity which is largely shaped by our email signature ‘Jane Smith – Associate Editor’

    When that hammer blow of a firing happens it shatters the image we created for ourselves into tiny little pieces and we quickly spiral into a black hole of despair. The loss of earnings sucks too, especially when you have absolutely no savings of any kind and no option to call upon friends or family to bail you out.

    Fundamentally it really hurts because deep down you really give a shit. I’d imagine getting fired from Starbucks would be less of an assault on ones ego than getting let go 2 weeks into a 4 month long internship at Refinery29. One job you do just for the money and other you do despite the lack of money.

    But on the other hand getting fired could also be the best thing ever. It forces you dissect and self reflect on the decisions you’ve made up until that point with clinical precision. In that moment of despair the last thing you want to do is fool yourself (although you’re the easiest to fool) what you need is the cold hard truth. And that could you just did a shitty job, step it up and get serious or it will happen again. Or if you’re one of the lucky few it could also be a great opportunity for you to pursue your ‘side-projects’ full-time and see where that takes you.

  • Verónica Villarroel

    You do not cry!! Hahahahaah Me too!

    Kisses,

    Verónica

    Blog: DECOR INSPO! http://www.it-moi.com ♥♥
    Youtube Channel: NEW VIDEO https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs4ylV9u2IlYDxRXcroi6jg

  • Anna Rosen

    JUST WENT THROUGH THIS! One really helpful thing regarding the “backup any vital electronic files” is CloudGopher if you’re working on a Google account like me. LIFE SAVER! 🙂

  • Ada Alti

    Every single word stated: true. True to the very last full stop. Something less than two months in, I’m still processing and dealing with the PTS my termination of employment left me with. The event itself wasn’t unexpected; the job & I were not made for each other and had lost myself during my time at this company. Had just moved to a new country and finding a new job was my way of proving to myself (and to all the motherfuckers?) that I can. I can survive, I can thrive, I can- generally. But when you go into a job out of fear for what may or may not come, the universe has its way of warning you; so a couple of weeks prior to my dismissal, kept bumping into articles titled “5 Signs That You’re Getting Fired” or “Why Everyone Must Get Fired At Least Once In Their Lives” and so on. But I wasn’t expecting for it to happen that Friday afternoon- exactly as Meghan said- and especially over something that was a blatant excuse. But hey, shit happens and baby startups are a bitch. What can ya do.

    In a complete Samantha Jones fashion, let a few tears go in the elevator and spent the next days getting back to my old, creative self & back on track. Getting there any minute now.

  • Marisol Cosio

    I was let go yesterday, after almost two years of hard work, the company is not doing great so I was part of the group that had to go due a massive restructure. I’m 41, so those negative and pessimistic voices in my head tend to get louder and say things like “you’re too old now to get a job” “who’s going to hire a 41 woman who just got fired?” Deep in my heart and even my head I know things are going to be ok and that things happen for a good reason, it happened to me 3 years ago after working for the same company for 15 years and I found this job, which I liked but didn’t love. It was fun sometimes but it didn’t make me excited or feel like I was doing what I was born to do so I guess this was, maybe, a wake up call, I’m not getting any younger and I deserve to have a job I really love, enjoy and makes me feel fulfilled and happy to be there. So, today I’m still feeling a bit jolted, a bit negative, a bit sad, anxious, scared, lost, ashamed, inadequate, a failure and so on but I’ve decided that I’m not going to let those negative feelings win, I’m going to get out of my bed in a bit, get my usual morning coffee, and start updating my resume knowing that this experience has definitely made my career far more interesting and robust (I know Leandra likes that word), I’m going to start contacting some head hunters and expect the best. So that’s the plan, thanks for sharing this article and this year will still be my year, I can feel it 😉

  • Casey

    I know someone who when they were fired threw a cocktail party, whiich I thought was a great way to hit the re-set button on her life.

  • Lyla

    I wish I had read this two years ago.

  • Maddy

    I was fired yesterday and thought of this article and how I read it months ago thinking it didn’t really relate to me and now I’m looking for some comfort!
    I quit my corporate life and started working in retail for a beautiful store I was passionate about but they said I was under performing and had a negative attitude! It was completely surprising and pretty heartbreaking as they put all the blame on me even though I only received positive feedback while working there! I can’t let their opinion define me though and I hope this is a blessing in disguise!