What Should You Do If You Suddenly Lose Your Job?

Earlier this week at a local news radio station, eight people—including a couple I know well—lost their jobs unexpectedly. Admittedly, they are in an industry that is susceptible to economic swings. But it’s still a shock, and it brought to mind the question: What should you do if suddenly lose your job? Here are my thoughts. — GW

Your job plays many roles. It provides a sense of identity and status. It provides a structured framework around which you organize your time. It provides the basis for many of your person financial decisions, like buying a house. It also provides a way of meeting new people.

If you lose your job, especially if it is unexpected, you lose that predictability and stability.

This impact can be disruptive and disorienting. In fact, many equate it to the stress one feels when experiencing the death of a loved one or divorce.

Understandably, it’s completely natural to go through a range of emotions over time from anger and disappointment to excitement and relief.

This range of emotions might cause you to do and say things you will later regret. If you are ever faced with this situation, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Always try to leave on a high note. If you badmouth the company or your boss, it will only reinforce their belief that they made the right choice to fire you. You should remain professional and classy and in doing so ensure your boss remains supportive even after you leave the company.

Without getting defensive, try to get an explanation of why you were fired. Some employers refuse to tell you, which can be highly frustrating. But if they open up, it will help you come to terms with the dismissal and give you good advice on what to do (or not to do) in future jobs. It will also help you determine if your termination is justified.

Obtain specific details about a severance package. A severance package includes important items like notice period, amount of lump-sum compensation, how your benefits and pension are affected, and so on. You should always get this in writing and in some cases, it is wise to have it reviewed by a lawyer to determine if it is fair.

Find out who you can list as references when applying for new jobs. Most prospective employers will want to check with somebody from your last employer. And just because they fired you, it doesn’t automatically mean they will not provide a fair reference. Once things settle down, have this conversation with them so you know what to expect.

Ask how the news will be communicated to other employees. You will want to leave with your reputation and friendship with colleagues intact. Ideally details of your departure are communicated to others promptly, accurately and professionally.

Move on mentally. Being fired is usually easier to accept if it was for economic reasons, such as cost cutting. But if you were fired for performance reasons (especially if you disagree with their rationale) there is a tendency to look back and stay angry. While anger is a valid emotion during this time, the employer is not going to change their mind. It serves no purpose to focus on the past. It’s time to move on with your career and life.