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You Just Got Fired. Now What?

You Just Got Fired. Now What?

By Denene Brox

"The experience of being fired from a job is high on the list of stressful life events that can happen to anyone over the course of their employment," says Dr. Melodie Schaefer, executive director of The Chicago School, Southern California Counseling Centers. 

So how do you manage the stress of being fired and get on the road to your next job? Here are some steps.

Don't Burn Bridges

Although you're not leaving the company under the best circumstances, how you leave can affect your success down the line.

"It can be awkward for colleagues to say goodbye to a fired employee, so don't bother going from cubicle to cubicle to announce your departure," says Jeffery Cohen, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Recession-Proof Careers. "Simply call your closest friends at work that evening to explain the news. They'll understand your desire to be discreet, given the circumstances."

After being fired, it's not uncommon to feel anger toward the company and certain employees.

"Never bad-mouth a former employee or employer online, offline or via social media," Cohen says. "You never know when you'll need a reference. That small sense of satisfaction from dissing a former company will ultimately be outweighed if it costs you a future job."

Manage Your Emotions

While you may feel that your future is uncertain, it's important to realize that getting fired is not the end of your career.

But keeping your emotions in check can be hard, which is why Schaefer recommends good self-care by exercising and journaling to relieve stress after being fired.

One aspect of getting fired that can weigh heavily on your mind is how to relay the bad news to your friends and family, for fear of their reactions and judgments. Schaefer says that remaining forward-thinking is vital when talking about your termination.

"Say, 'I'd rather not have to dwell on the past and would really appreciate your input in helping me think about my next steps, now that I have a chance to consider making a change,'" she advises.

Pick Your Battles

While it's common to feel anger toward your former employer, taking legal action is viable only in certain cases.

Paul Lopez, an employment attorney with the firm Tripp Scott, says he regularly receives calls from people seeking legal advice after being fired.

"A lot of people are fired simply because they didn't get along with their boss, and you can't sue a company because your boss was a jerk," Lopez says.

However, certain circumstances can warrant legal action -- such as civil-rights violations.

"No one can be fired because of their sex, race, age, disability or national origin," says Lopez. "If there's a manager who has a prejudice against someone in those protected classes and fires them -- that's actionable."

Dennis Nason, CEO of Nason & Nason, an executive recruitment firm, adds, "If you're thinking about suing your previous employer, unless you have a very strong case, it's not going to get you anywhere. My advice is to move on."

Start Over

Once you've allowed some time to mend emotionally and have gotten over the anger of being fired, it's time to set sail on a new course.

"Make a bad time a good opportunity," says Nason. "Ask yourself if you were in the right position, or if you need to rethink your career."

Career coach Ann Mehl suggests finding a coach or a friend to help you outline your past accomplishments and rebrand yourself in the job market.

"Stress what you learned from the past experience and frame your answers so that you let interviewers know that you see this new opportunity as a means to achieving your ultimate career objectives," Mehl says.

When you go in for interviews, have a good grasp of the facts about why you were fired, advises Nason. When asked why you left your last job, your answer should be true, concise and as positive as possible.

"Don't lead your resume, cover letter or interviews with bad news," says Nason. "They'll get around to asking why you left your last job. Tell the truth in a brief 10 to 20 seconds."

The key in interviews to explaining why you got fired is to make it not about you, says Cohen. "Anything from 'the new boss wanted to bring in his own team' to 'the entire department was downsized' is better than admitting you lost your job due to your own performance."

Remember that getting fired is never as horrible as it seems at first, especially if you use the time to pursue a new chapter in your career.

[Denene Brox is a Kansas City-based freelance writer who regularly covers career and business topics.]

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