I’ve Been Fired! Now What?

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According to Business Week, the average employee has a one-in-three chance of getting fired. Here’s what you’ll need to know in the event that the ax falls on you!

Q: Is it better to pre-empt a firing by resigning instead?

A: In most cases, no. Out of pride, many people fall into this trap and wind up waiving claim to severance pay, benefits, earned bonuses and commissions, and unemployment compensation. With so many victims of downsizings and reorganizations, being “let go” doesn’t carry the stigma it once did — in fact, most prospective employers won’t even bat an eye!

Q. Should I try to negotiate a better severance package?

A: By all means, yes! According to the National Employee Rights Institute (NERI), employees have more bargaining power than they realize. Don’t be pressured into signing anything on the spot. Tell your employer you need to review the proposed agreement with your legal and financial advisers. Then, check the company policy manual to find out what is standard practice for employees in your situation. If you can, talk to others whom the company has terminated. You can argue your case on merits such as length of service, specific accomplishments, and amount of time required to find comparable employment in today’s labor market.

Be sure to document your achievements, and if your family has special needs (due to illness or disability), you may want to let your company know the hardships this termination may cause. Remember, money is not the only thing at stake. Consider how long you will continue to be covered under company health and life insurance and the status of any earned — or close to being earned — bonuses, commissions, vacation time and vesting in 401(k), pension and profit sharing accounts.

You also may want outplacement services or an agreed-upon letter of reference. Also, think about getting your severance payment like salary continuation rather than a lump sum agreement. Salary continuation often allows for a continuation of disability benefits and also lets you answer “yes” when asked if you’re still employed.

Q: What’s the best course of action for finding a new job?

A: Take a day or so to process what has happened and vent to your spouse or best friend. Then, after shoring yourself up by reviewing your strengths and accomplishments, start calling people in your network who can be helpful to you, including former co-workers, suppliers, and customers. Letting a colleague, vendor, or client know that you’ll no longer be working with them is not only a courtesy but can prove a valuable source of leads. Then, work on your résumé and start an all-points attack that, in addition to networking, includes contacting recruiters, conducting industry research, cold-calling target companies, and searching online job listings.

Q: How should I respond to those who ask why I left my last position?

A: Keep it brief. Be calm and objective; never assign blame. End your explanation on a positive no

Q: How can I keep my spirits up?

A: Recognize that you will likely experience the five steps of dealing with loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you get down now and then. On the other hand, try not to dwell on anger or bitterness; instead, channel that energy into your search. Take care of your physical and emotional health by exercising, eating well, and surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people. And make sure you start each day with a plan. A sense of purpose and accomplishment will go a long way in making you feel better and landing you that new job!

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