If you suspect you may be laid off, or the moment has arrived, follow these guidelines for making the most of the situation.
1. Ask for a reference
How crazy is it to ask somebody who has just fired you to provide a reference for your next job? Under the circumstances, what are your chances of getting a positive one? Well, it’s certainly not crazy and the chances of walking out with a decent reference are better than you might think. In fact, it’s always worth trying to negotiate some sort of reference before you empty out your desk or locker and leave. Securing some sort of reference will help to diffuse any worries you may have about explaining your exit to prospective future employers.
And here’s the good news. These days, employers are so worried about possible legal issues that can result from giving a poor reference that you’ll find they’re generally very limited on detail. They will often just confirm your job title and dates of employment – and only occasionally give details of reasons for leaving. So unless you’ve been fired for gross misconduct – in other words, you’ve done something really bad, such as harassing a colleague – your employers will be loath to say anything negative about you in a reference.
Many companies are happy to say they will provide a good reference in order to get you to sign on the dotted line of a severance package that suits them. Then the reference is soon forgotten about.
But, be wary of references containing “back-handed compliments.” Employers are adept at reading between the lines, and are sure to pick up on any hint of a scandal. Vet your references carefully.
2. Approach a friendly manager
If the company itself won’t provide a reference, seek out a supervisor, a manager in another department with whom you worked regularly and well, or a respected veteran. Even if that person cannot go on record with a formal letter on your behalf, he or she may agree to be listed as a reference and may be happy to speak well of you if telephoned by a prospective employer.
3. Quit before you’re fired
You may remember the old cliché: “You can’t fire me, because I quit!” This line is usually heard in films, when a character says it to save their pride. But in real life, resigning before it gets to an unpleasant dismissal does make more sense if you’re truly dissatisfied with your job. Your boss may have noticed something you haven’t – that your performance has been suffering recently. The real forbidden knowledge in this case may be something you’re keeping from yourself – that deep down inside, you know you’re slacking because, frankly, you hate your job. You may even subconsciously want to be fired. If that’s the case, the solution is to start looking for another job right away. Don’t just resign; the best time to look for a new job is when you already have one. You will then retain the security of a regular salary coming in, and still be out there in the working world with all its energy and useful connections, instead of making phone calls from the isolation of your kitchen table. Don’t feel guilty about looking while you’re working; in fact, it’s likely that you’ll be doing your current job far better, fueled with new energy because you have finally made a constructive decision about your future. Be honest with prospective employers about your current situation. And do tell your current boss about your plans, too – but not straight away. First decide what you’re really looking for. Then send out a batch of resumes and wait until you’ve had favorable responses and the prospect of a job offer before breaking the news. Your boss may be hurt or even angry, but if your poor performance and attitude have been noticed, he or she may also be relieved that the situation is moving towards a solution that won’t include a messy dismissal.
4. Ask for a promotion
Here’s a variation on your preemptive dodge-the-axe strategy. After you’ve done some soul-searching, you decide that you’re so dissatisfied with your job that resigning is the best solution. Your next move is to march straight into the boss’s office – not to say you’re leaving, but to air your grievances. Say how you feel, state clearly what you want and ask what plans, if any, the company really has for your future in the company. What have you got to lose?
You may wonder why you should bother to take this approach, if you’re thinking of leaving anyway. Well, it’s because that’s the best time to do it. Voicing your desires provides a context when you do give notice and may even help to make what you’re seeking much clearer in your own mind, as you look for a new job. But be aware that your employer may be sympathetic to your problems and offer to help to improve your conditions of employment. You may end up not resigning after all. Sometimes an employer has no idea that you have any difficulties with your job and, if your work is satisfactory and valued, may make an effort to accommodate your concerns. And if you’re not valued enough for them to do that, then you’ll know that your decision to leave was certainly the right one.
5. Is legal action the answer?
Do you have any legal redress if you are dismissed from your job? The answer depends on two key issues – why you were fired and how you were fired.
Firstly, why did you lose your job? A person who does something obviously wrong – such as embezzlement – may not have much to complain about if they are sacked. On the other hand, some reasons for dismissal are clearly unlawful – such as racism – and legal action can be taken. But what of those who are fired because they made a few mistakes too many? Or simply because they did not fit the “company culture.” Can they seek redress? The second issue governs how people can be dismissed. Depending on the situation, there may be a requirement to give a certain number of warnings before dismissal can take place. If you are a union member, ask them for advice as to your rights. Alternatively, seek advice from a lawyer experienced in employment law.
6. Turn getting fired into an asset
The moment of truth has arrived – when an interviewer asks you why you left your previous job. Don’t panic. You can handle it if you know what the people interviewing you are really thinking. Prospective employers are not interested in being your judge and jury, nor are they interested in rescuing your career. All they’re trying to ascertain is if there’s a problem or not with your attitude and approach to your work.
Don’t plead your case. Don’t try to defend yourself with detailed complaints about what “they” did to you. Don’t be morose or express anger or bitterness over the situation. And, most important of all, don’t badmouth anybody. All that you will accomplish with such defensive behavior is to convince your would-be employer that the business of your dismissal is still festering. They may be worried that this may affect the way you handle all future business dealings.
Instead, compose a carefully considered response, well in advance of your interview. Spend some time putting together three or four sentences that sum up how you have dealt with, understood and moved on from your dismissal. Rehearse this little speech over and over again, until it begins to sound believable and will leave the interviewer wondering how you could have possibly stayed on in your job under the circumstances you describe. Close with something like this: “It was one of those unfortunate situations that was bound to end in a parting of company, and they took action before I did. I realize now that I should have expressed my own concerns about the job, instead of letting things fester, but I’ve learned from the experience.” If you put this type of positive spin on the situation, a prospective employer will usually accept it and may even be impressed by your ability to handle problems and to learn something from them.
7. Ashamed? Get over it
You might never have imagined that someone as skilled and talented as you could possibly be without paid employment for an extended period of time. What’s more, the idea of filing for unemployment benefits makes you feel uneasy. It’s as if you’re asking for a handout, when you’re not actually destitute. Get past that mental block. If your car or your home got damaged, you would happily accept money from your insurance company to cover any necessary repairs and other problems that arise. Unemployment benefits are just another form of insurance. Anyway, you’ve been contributing your hard-earned cash – year after year, while you were gainfully employed – to the funds from which any benefits you receive are drawn. So don’t feel embarrassed about accepting what’s on offer. Take it with a clean conscience – after all, you’ve worked hard for it.