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9 Productive Ways to Make the Most Out of Getting Fired

Updated: Jan. 31, 2024

If you suspect you may be getting laid off, or the moment has arrived, you can still use the situation to leave your company on the best terms possible and even help land your next job.

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Ask for a reference

No, it’s not crazy. Getting some sort of reference before getting fired will help to diffuse any worries you may have about explaining your exit to prospective future employers. In fact, your chances of walking out with a decent reference are better than you might think. 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, such as harassing a colleague, your employers will be loath to say anything negative about you in a reference. Just make sure the company follows through and 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. Here are 10 more things you should always do on your last day of work.

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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 contacted by a prospective employer.

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Quit before getting 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 that your performance has been suffering recently, but you could be avoiding the truth: that deep down inside, you know you’re slacking because 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, sometimes even before getting fired.

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Look for a new job before resigning

The best time to look for a new job is when you already have one. You’ll retain the security of a regular salary coming in and still have access to useful connections in the working world instead of making phone calls from the isolation of your kitchen table.  Don’t feel guilty about looking while you’re working. You may even do your current job better as a result, fueled with new energy because you’ve finally made a constructive decision about your future. Decide what you’re really looking for, and then send out a batch of resumes. Wait until you’ve had favorable responses and the prospect of a job offer before breaking the news. Be honest with prospective employers about your current situation. Your current boss may be hurt or even angry, but if your poor performance and attitude have been noticed, she may also be relieved that the situation is moving towards a solution that won’t include a messy dismissal.

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Ask for a promotion

Here’s a variation on your preemptive dodge-the-ax strategy. If 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. 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. 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. You may end up not resigning after all. 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. Remember, these are the 9 things you should never say to your boss.

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Is legal action the answer?

It depends on two key issues, why you are getting fired and how you are fired. A person who does something obviously wrong, like embezzlement, may not have much to complain about if they are sacked. 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 didn’t 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.

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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. Prospective employers are not interested in being your judge and jury or rescuing your career. They just want to see if there’s a problem or not with your attitude and approach to your work. So here’s how to handle that tricky interview question: 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 getting fired. Rehearse this little speech over and over again. 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 a 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. Find out how to answer other tricky interview questions.

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Don’t plead your case

When discussing the unfortunate way your previous job ended with an interviewer—or anyone, really—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 importantly, 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.

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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, like asking for a handout, when you’re not actually destitute. Get past that mental block and use this time to mentally recover from getting fired. 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. Besides, 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. Next, read about the things HR isn’t telling you.