Have You Been Fired From Your Job? Here’s What To Do Next

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 25, 2020

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Getting fired can be unpleasant and upsetting. But getting fired from your job is more common than you may think. Like anything else in life, there are a few things you should consider doing or at least be aware of when you do get fired from a job. These things can help you recover from the loss of your job and successfully put yourself back in the job market.

Losing your job can be extremely stressful, and you may be inclined to make some impulsive moves. The most important thing to do when you lose your job is to take a deep breath, take care of yourself, and line up a few things so that you can move forward.

What to Do in the Days After You’ve Been Fired

You’ll likely feel a little off in the days immediately following your termination. It can be a strange feeling to suddenly not have a place to go for the majority of your day. You may also feel a sense of loss or fear in understanding where you’re going to go from here. To help yourself from getting bogged down in negative emotions, it’s important to have a plan.

On the day or days following your termination, you should consider writing a list of things to ask your employer about getting fired, which can include questions around health benefits, severance pay, rollover paid time off pay, and more. Understand when your last paycheck will come and how you can expect to receive it. Ensure you understand when your health benefits end, especially if you cover any dependents in your household.

Things Not to Say (or Do) If You’re Fired

Getting fired can be a touchy subject. Sometimes you may not agree with your termination and feel frustrated or angry at the action. It’s essential to take a step back and let your emotions play out at home or in a private space so that you can collect yourself to ensure you handle things appropriately.

Situations may vary, but it’s important not to leave the premises without collecting documents from your work computer. Don’t disparage your team, manager, or colleagues during the conversation of termination. This may be a difficult task to manage, but it’s an important one. Even if you believe someone is to blame for losing your job, it’s crucial not to outright state this during your meeting. Of course, if you do suspect you are being fired due to discrimination, ensure you collect the evidence to fight this at a later date if you should choose.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Understand what brought your employer to this decision and understand if any other options might be on the table for you to stay at the company, especially if you enjoy working there. If that’s not possible, ask if you can get a letter of reference that doesn’t mention your firing.

Another thing that may be tempting is to contact your friends, family, and colleagues immediately. Take some time to cool off before you make any announcements and ensure the way you phrase your termination is how you want to be perceived by other professionals, not just in your network but in your industry. Avoid being critical of your employer, including on review sites such as Glassdoor. Instead, vent to close friends or family that can help you process the news.

Most importantly, don’t lose faith in yourself, your skills, or your abilities. Being fired doesn’t mean you are bad at your job; it’s an individual decision by one company. Your skills and abilities can be put to use at a different company that’s a better fit for you and your interests. It’s possible the job wasn’t in the right field, or the management structure didn’t work to help you succeed. Whatever the case, dust yourself off, and don’t let your job loss define you or the future of your career.

Does My Employer Have to Provide Notice of Termination?

Unfortunately, it’s not entirely common for employers to give their employees advanced notice of termination, except in certain cases. There are no federal regulations requiring companies to give their employees advanced notice, unless it is explicitly stated in your employee contract, a collective bargaining agreement, or the WARN Act.

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Can You Collect Unemployment?

Unemployment is a benefit set by the state you live in and is in place to aid you if and when you lose your job. Your reason for termination will impact your eligibility for unemployment. If you are terminated for serious misconduct, you will likely not receive benefits. However, you may be eligible if you were terminated for the following reasons:

  • Poor performance. If you were fired because you weren’t meeting a certain metric or your employer insists your performance was deemed poor, you might be eligible for unemployment benefits.

  • Lack of skills. This reason for termination reflects on the company that may have hired you without entirely understanding your skillset. Lack of skills can typically allow you to receive unemployment benefits.

  • Company downsizing or budget cuts. When a company needs to downsize or make some difficult financial decisions, they may cut jobs in the process. This will likely make you eligible to receive unemployment until you find a new job.

  • Other reasons you were not suitable for the job. If the reasoning behind the company’s termination has to do with anything around your job performance, you will probably have a good chance of receiving unemployment.

Of course, this is not a tried and true list for all. Check your state’s unemployment website and understand what makes you eligible or ineligible for benefits. If you were terminated for fraud, embezzlement, theft, or any misconduct that damaged the company, you will not qualify for unemployment.

Once you understand if you are eligible, try to apply as soon as you possibly can. The application can often take a few weeks to process and even longer to actually receive benefits in your bank account. Your state unemployment website should have step by step instructions on how to apply for benefits.

Employee Rights

Regardless of your reason for termination, you need to understand your rights. Rights for each individual employee will vary based on where you live, whether you were a full-time, part-time, or contract employee, or how your company handles firing. There are a few different places to check on your rights.

  • Contract rights. Employees who have signed a contract agreement with their employees or employees who are participants in a union are covered under those specific stipulations outlined in the contract. Typically there is a termination section that outlines your rights should you be fired.

  • Company policy. If your organization is planning heavy layoffs, they may already have severance pay policies in place or other continuation plans that might help you when you are no longer unemployed. Understand what this looks when you are laid off.

  • Statutory rights. These rights are provided under federal or state law. This includes unemployment insurance, anti-discrimination laws, and anti-retaliation laws.

If you’re having trouble understanding what your contract means or uncertain what your rights might be, reach out to your human resources (HR) department. Their job is to help all employees, even terminated ones, understand the process so that they can be protected once they are no longer employed.

How to Answer the Interview Question, “Why Were You Fired?”

Once you’re past the initial pain of losing your job, you will, of course, start applying for new jobs. You might be anxious about the dreaded question, “Why were you fired?” We know that being let go from your job isn’t the worst thing in the world, but this question or others like it can certainly feel embarrassing when you’re in an interview.

First, consider what the hiring manager or recruiter is trying to understand. Most importantly, that you weren’t fired for some misconduct that severely hurt your last employer. They’ll also look to ensure that whatever issue was at hand, that you have overcome it, and are ready to move forward.

The best advice is to keep your answer short and concise. Offering too many details might work against you. So, it’s best to state the reason you were fired, articulate how you’ve overcome that challenge, and move the conversation forward to a new topic or the next question. Do not try to lie about this, as the potential employer could contact your old company during a reference check.

Job Termination Questions and Answers

Examples of how to answer these difficult questions can help give you a jumping-off point when you’re in an interview.

  • Skills not up to par. “Unfortunately, after spending some time in my last role, my manager and I discovered that their need was a lot more complicated than initially perceived. My skillset just didn’t match what was needed to do the job effectively. After some time, we both agreed it was best to part ways.”

  • Company restructure. “Due to a large company-wide restructure, my position was outsourced to contract workers. My manager was pleased with my skillset and accomplishments within the company, but it was more cost-effective for them to go in a different direction.”

  • Attendance issues. “At the time of my employment, unfortunately, I had a lot of personal circumstances that took my attention away from work and being on time. However, I have been able to move past these issues and have a stable life and a better work ethic. I’ve been able to find a better balance between work and personal life, which has been necessary for my success.”

  • Job wasn’t a good fit. “After searching for months for a job, I came across my previous employer and took the job without doing much research. Unfortunately, I found that my manager and I had massively differing opinions on how things should be done, and it wasn’t a great fit. Now, when looking for opportunities, I am sure to do thorough research and talk to existing employees to ensure it would be a good fit for me.”

  • Coworker conflicts. “There were some issues with an employee at my last company, and regretfully, I handled them poorly. However, after being let go, I realized that the team environment wasn’t a good fit for my career path. I can now explore jobs that better meet my needs, interests, and abilities.”

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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