Recovering From Being Fired

There’s one interview I’ll never forget. I was hiring for a business services associate position. All the candidates we saw were polished, professional, and educated, and they were easy to talk to. The last interview of the day was with a woman in her 40s who looked great on paper and better in person. After the preliminaries, I asked what is usually a softball question: why are you looking for a new opportunity?

She sat for a few seconds, looking stricken. Then she burst into tears. We offered some tissues and made soothing noises while she regained her composure. It took a few minutes. Finally, she was able to tell us that this was her first interview after being fired from a job she loved. I don’t recall the circumstances, if she shared them, just that she’d “made a mistake.” The trauma was so fresh that she was unable to continue the discussion.

She’s stayed with me for many years. Being fired can be the worst experience of someone’s life. If it has happened to you, here are some steps you can take to forgive yourself and move on.

Being fired, especially if it’s a surprise (you’d be amazed at how often it’s not) triggers all kinds of primitive emotions. Belonging to a group is one of the most essential human needs, according to Abraham Maslow, right above feeling safe and below self -esteem, both of which can be shattered by the same event. Losing your job can mean losing your identity and your ability to provide for yourself and your family. It can trigger deep-seated feelings of inadequacy, failure, and guilt. Many workers feel that the reason or process wasn’t fair, which can also induce rage and humiliation.

That’s a lot to get over before you have to start interviewing again.

In a Fox Business article, Nicholette Leanza, M.Ed, LPCC-S, a psychotherapist at LifeStance Health in Beechwood, Ohio, shared three things people can do following a job termination to build their confidence: reflect, recognize and reset. 

Reflection is the process of processing, taking a deep and honest look at what happened and why. It might be hard to push aside feelings of anger and humiliation, but it’s important to be able to see the situation objectively. That means also trying to see it from the company’s point of view. Once you can consider how you contributed to the situation, you’re in a position to learn from the experience and move on.

Leanza says that the next step is recognizing your own self-worth – and that it’s not tied to a job or title. You are still a valuable and talented human being, even after being fired. Someone wise once told me after a trauma, “this is a chapter, not the whole book.” Believe that there will come a time that you’ll have learned the lesson this event has taught you and will be able to move on to something else. You may even move on to a better place.

The final step, after forgiving yourself and learning the lesson, is being able to reframe the experience so you can share it without reliving the trauma all over again. Like it or not, you’ll have to tell the story often enough to be able to do so calmly and briefly.

Here’s a template I developed when working with people who had been through terrible times in their lives.

There is a formula for success in telling a difficult back story.  One thing everyone agrees on is that you must be honest about what happened. Don’t misrepresent the truth; it can come back to haunt you later, making things worse if your new company hears a different story than the one you told.

Keep it short.  Practice telling your story until you can include only the essential facts (and control your emotions.)  No long lead up, no messy and excruciating details, and no rambling excuses or blaming others –  just the facts.  “I made an error in judgment and then lied to cover up my mistakes. My employer lost trust in me and let me go.”  Make it as brief as you can.  Follow it up with “It’s painful to discuss it, but I know you’d want to know. I will answer any questions you feel you need to ask.”

The second part of the formula is to talk about what you have learned from the experience and how you plan to make sure it never happens again.

“This was a one-time event, and it resulted in breaking trust with my manager, whom I respected and liked. Because of it, I have taken a long, hard look at myself, and I know it will never happen again. I would be willing to have you check in on my work more often and ask for more information during my probationary period until you’re comfortable with me and feel you can trust me.”

Here are some things that will not help you when you tell your story:

  • How it wasn’t your fault
  • How evil, wrong and unfair the other parties were
  • Talking about other issues that won’t affect your employment – stick to what matters right now. (Don’t bring up your divorce, money problems, or other painful issues in your life.)

Here are some things that will help your case:

  • Taking responsibility and expressing regret: “I know it was a foolish move, and I feel very bad about the effect it had on my career.”
  • Demonstrating remorse.  Let the employer know that you learned a lesson and intend to change based on the experience you had.
  • Talking about what will happen if you get a second chance: “I am working hard to convince the right company to give me a chance to start fresh.  I plan to make that chance count and prove just how much I can contribute to a new team.”

Being fired is awful, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s just the end of this particular chapter. You can turn the page.

Published by candacemoody

Candace’s background includes Human Resources, recruiting, training and assessment. She spent several years with a national staffing company, serving employers on both coasts. Her writing on business, career and employment issues has appeared in the Florida Times Union, the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and 904 Magazine, as well as several national publications and websites. Candace is often quoted in the media on local labor market and employment issues.

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