The Difference Between Getting Fired And Getting Laid Off

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 25, 2020

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The words “fired” or “layoff” alone is enough to send a chill up the spine of any employee. Severance from the company you’ve been working for brings up many difficulties, such as reentering the job-search and losing the stability of a reliable paycheck and health insurance. When you’re presented with this situation, you must carefully consider what you’re going to do next, starting with understanding the terms of your dismissal.

While many people think of being fired and laid off as the same thing, there are variations between the two when it comes to what you’re entitled to, what it means for you in the short term, and how you will later explain the situation in an interview for a new job.

The Difference Between Being Laid Off and Being Fired

Although being laid off and being fired have a similar result of leaving your position, there are very different reasons that lead to these situations.

  • Being laid off refers to when an employee is terminated at no fault of their own; instead, they are let go because of constraints the business is facing. This can be because the role you’re filling isn’t needed for the company’s success anymore, or they’re struggling financially and need to cut your position to save money.

  • Being fired means that you’re being released from your responsibilities as an employee because of a reason that is your fault. Usually, these kinds of terminations are due to poor recent performance, an inability to fulfill their job’s tasks, or other situations that involve the employee failing to meet the employer’s expectations.

Many people get quickly overwhelmed with the reality of unemployment and forget to consider the circumstance of their termination. This information can be crucial to handling the situation in the short term and later strategically discussing it with a potential employer in the future.

What Being Laid Off Means For You in the Short Term

Once the initial shock of being laid off wears off, it’s time to think about what your next moves are. Being laid off puts you in a more advantageous spot because you’re being let go from your job, but it’s not your fault. This means that you may be provided with more opportunities to help you out financially while searching for a new position and will have an easier time describing the termination to an employer in the future.

Being laid off comes with the stress of losing your paycheck. To ease this burden, ask your supervisor if the company offers any severance package. While businesses are not required to give the employees they lay off severance pay, they may have measures like these to protect laid-off workers from financial distress.

If you find that your company does not offer a severance package, applying for unemployment pay can be very helpful. Situations like layoffs are exactly what unemployment pay is for – helping a person financially through the transition of finding a new job.

Additionally, being laid off puts you in a strong position to ask for a letter of recommendation from your previous employer. They’re likely to give you a positive referral since letting you go wasn’t due to any fault of your own.

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What Being Fired Means For You in the Short Term

Being fired from a job carries different connotations for you in the short term than being laid off. By definition, getting fired means that you’re being let go from the company based on issues you’ve presented as an employee. Despite what those reasons for being fired are exactly, this can reflect poorly on you and cause difficulty in the short term.

Despite the tough circumstance that getting fired presents, you may not be completely on your own. Check back with your initial contract that you signed upon being hired. There may be details inside that entitle you to a severance package or other conditions that may help you financially, depending on the specific nature of your termination. Unemployment benefits may be more difficult to get in this situation.

Getting fired is stressful. It means that you need to go through a period of unemployment without a regular salary and get a new job with the burden of explaining why you were fired. However, taking the proper measures post-termination can make the transition smoother. You may even find that you like your new job better than your last.

How to Discuss Getting Laid Off in an Interview

Discussing the details of your departure from your last position is nerve-wracking no matter what the situation was. Having to get into the complex details of being laid-off only makes it more difficult.

If you’re worried about discussing getting laid off in an interview, review the following tips for how to succeed with this topic:

  1. Be concise. Being laid-off was a huge moment in your life and career, but an interviewer doesn’t have the time to get into all the specifics of the situation. While you should give them a complete response, keep your answer brief and relevant.

  2. Be honest. Honesty should be a key feature in any answer you give throughout an interview. Most potential employers won’t view being laid-off as a negative depiction of your performance; they just want more information about your professional history.

  3. Put it in perspective. Saying that you were laid off from your last job is a vague description that doesn’t tell the interviewer exactly what they’re looking to hear. Put the situation in perspective for them by giving them details of the circumstances leading up to your company deciding to make layoffs and how many employees were laid off in addition to you.

    This can help highlight the fact that you couldn’t have possibly performed any better to avoid being let go.

  4. Emphasize your accomplishments. Although the interviewer isn’t asking about your strengths and accomplishments when wondering about your layoff, you should always bring their attention back to why you’re an ideal employee. You still want to answer the question and give the interviewer a clear picture of what happened, but it’s also an opportunity to explain what you achieved in this position before being let go.

  5. Mention your references. If you’ve opted to use the employer who laid you off as a reference, you can mention this in the interview to show them that your former supervisor still speaks highly of you. While the interviewer isn’t going to think poorly of you for being laid off, it can strengthen their opinion of you even further to hear positive feedback from an employer who had to let you go.

How to Discuss Getting Fired in an Interview

Talking about getting fired from your last position is more difficult than getting laid off. The situation will present itself to an interviewer as your fault off the bat, and they’ll be curious to see how you discuss it. Getting fired from a job doesn’t count you out in the competition for landing a job, as long as you know how to present the discussion to an interviewer strategically.

Consider the tips below for how to discuss getting fired in an interview:

  1. Keep it positive. While being fired from a job is often regarded as a negative, try to spin the circumstance positively. Employers are attracted to optimistic candidates. Being able to discuss a difficult situation, like being fired, as an opportunity can make the interviewer view it more favorably.

  2. Be sincere. Many candidates become stumped about how they can possibly be honest in an interview when discussing the reasons why they got fired from their last job. However, sincerity is needed to connect with the interviewer effectively.

    The potential employer understands that everyone makes mistakes. They’re looking for candidates who can demonstrate what they learned from being fired and how they will use the experience to improve in the future

  3. Be brief. The interviewer will want a full answer when asking you, “why were you fired from your last job?” but that doesn’t mean you have to tell them every last troubling detail. Minimize your response the best you can without being dismissive. You don’t need to cover any drama that ensued from being fired or inappropriate aspects of the situation.

    Find the description of the scenario that tells the story most professionally.

  4. Don’t speak negatively about your former employer. While many situations that end in an employee getting fired usually results in some animosity on both sides, you don’t want to express this in a job interview. The hiring manager already knows that you were fired, a scenario that implies your fault. Throwing your past employer, supervisor, or co-workers under the bus will only reflect negatively on you since they aren’t there to defend themselves.

    An interviewer is looking for a candidate who demonstrates self-awareness and takes responsibility for their actions when answering why they got fired.

  5. Explain why you’re a good fit for this position. An interview is all about the pursuit of explaining to a hiring manager why you’re the perfect candidate to fill the position. Even when discussing why you were fired from your last job, this should be in the back of your mind.

    Once you’ve given an adequate description of the circumstances that led to you being fired, bring the conversation back to your skills and why you think you’d be a good fit for this position. A great way to do this is by explaining why you were let go, what you learned from it, and how you intend to use this insight to excel in your next position.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

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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