Losing a job is not the end of your career. Here’s what to do if the worst happens.

Share story

Getting fired is one of life’s most traumatic experiences. Whether or not you saw it coming, it’s bound to be scary, depressing and despair-inducing.

But the fact is that most of us get fired at least once in our careers and we manage to bounce back. You can, too.

First, give yourself time to recover. How long you take to mourn your loss depends on you. If you’re the type of person who is slow to adjust to new situations, give yourself the space you need. If you derive solace from taking action, then by all means get back up on that horse. Either way, do spend some time reflecting on why you were fired. Was it a personality clash? Were you just out of your depth? Learn what you can learn, and move on.

Find one or two trusted confidantes to vent to. You are likely to be emotional after a job loss. Bottling up strong feelings is bad for you, but you don’t want to emote all over the place either. This especially includes online. If you can, schedule a few sessions with a therapist. Or talk with a clergy person, older relative or mentor. With everyone else, strive to project a strong, professional image.

Work out how you will describe what happened to potential employers, your network, your friends and your extended family. Try not to sound bitter or angry. Make what you say short, factual and as positive as possible. Talk about changes in management or direction, if that applies. Emphasize how ready you are to move on, describe what you have learned or discuss how excited you are to pursue a new career path.

Get your references in order. Now is the time to touch base with former colleagues and teachers, explain your situation, and ask if they will serve as references. You should also contact your old boss (yes, the one who fired you) and ask if he or she would be willing to talk with potential employers about your most positive qualities. You’ll be surprised at how many people will say yes to this. At the very least, ask for a “neutral” reference.

Then make a plan for finding or creating a new job. And work on it every single day.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at wg@karenburnsworkinggirl.com.