Career Path

You Were Laid Off or Fired. Now What?

Candidates can overcome being let go or fired by showing how the experience has helped them learn and grow.

4 min read

If the best time to look for a job is when you have one, then the worst time to look for a job is right after losing one—particularly if it was lost as a result of being fired. And in today’s algorithm-enabled application process, simply mentioning the words “fired” or “let go” on your resume could kill your chances for an interview.

Yet getting fired is so common that everyone from legendary former Vogue editor Anna Wintour to college career counselors suggest that it could actually be a good experience. There’s a good chance the reason you are reading this post is because you were recently fired or laid off—and you wouldn’t be alone. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 1.6 million people lost their jobs due to layoffs and involuntary separations in July 2018. This comes despite record low unemployment rates and a job market featuring more openings than candidates to fill them.

Experts suggest, somewhat ironically, that the environment has never been more forgiving toward fired and laid-off workers. “Labor laws make it such that most companies today are just going to confirm that a candidate worked for them as part of any background check,” says Rick Gillis, author of the management and career-focused books Promote! and Job! “So candidates can mitigate their potential employer’s concerns by developing a compelling narrative that tells their side of the story.”

"The environment has never been more forgiving toward fired and laid-off workers."

For starters, firings and layoffs are like fingerprints, meaning each one is different. They could be as innocuous as a corporate reorganization or as serious as a criminal offense. They could be because of an issue with management or because of an issue with performance. Assuming no laws were broken or crimes committed, experts advise candidates to answer questions about being fired or laid off much in the same way they would frame responses to why they are leaving their current job or discussing weaknesses.

“It’s really important that candidates manage emotions first and put any anger in check, because if it is lurking inside it will come out and the interview could quickly devolve into a therapy session,” says Phyllis Mufson, a Sarasota, Florida-based career coach. “You have to be real about it, but you also have to be future-oriented. Don’t be defensive. Focus on what you’ve done since then, how you’ve overcome any issues, and how this situation will be different.”

Indeed, before dealing with outsiders, career pros say it’s important for people to be aware of the emotional impact that firing has on them. Some of the best ways to process a firing or layoff include talking with friends and family, exercising (which is a stress reliever and boosts endorphins), and being compassionate with yourself. It’s easy to feel self-critical at a time like this, so trying to focus on stopping those demoralizing thoughts is paramount. A good mantra to remember is that we aren’t always in control of what happens to us, but we are in control of how we handle what happens.

Once you have started to process your firing or layoff internally, you can be open and transparent about what happened, what you learned, and how it helped you grow with outsiders. Among the skills and traits most valued by employers today are emotional intelligence, a tolerance for risk, and an ability to adapt. Interviewers want to know that prospective employees are self-aware, fit with the company culture, and can remain focused and positive in the face of challenges. As Mufson notes, adept candidates can use the experience of being fired to showcase all of these traits and more.

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