I’ve been terminated. What do I say?
Fired. Laid off. Let go. Downsized. Right-sized. These are all euphemisms for unemployment. No matter what you call it, it means you’re out of a job.
My clients have worked for the same company or industry for decades. It’s a shock to be terminated, especially when you didn’t see it coming, and to not be included in the process… well, it’s feels like a sucker punch.
Clients ask me, “Maureen, how long will it take to find another job?” Like everything else, I say “it depends.”
For every $10K in compensation you are seeking, expect to invest 4 weeks of active search. If you are earning $200k per year, it will take you 20 months. Of course so much depends on your value proposition, your targeted market and your flexibility.
I didn’t see it coming.
An entire career of impeccable results and accomplishments are at risk. You are a go-to guy (or girl)—an industry sage. Understand that this is not your fault.
Revenues are down.
Expenses are up.
You didn’t see it coming. You’ve been distracted by an enterprise-wide project that has kept your head down and your team busy.
Unless you have a bird’s eye view of the books, you may not know. You also may not know what the Board had in mind (see the bonus tip at the end of this article for communicating your employment status); you may never know and it’s important to understand that this is less about you than it is about the company. Really it is.
Be easy on yourself. Do not make major decisions within the first couple of weeks. Know that there are 4.9 million job terminations per month in the US alone. In Canada, the number is slightly under 1 million (however, note the difference in total population). It may feel as though you’re alone in this experience, but you really are not. It’s more common than you may realize.
You will have support from your outplacement firm. If not, you can lean on an outplacement provider to help you with this transition.
Terminations happen. Resiliency is desirable. It is difficult to feel vulnerable. Richard St. John claims that success is a continuous journey with his 8 simple but powerful principles. See this short video:
In your dismissal meeting, you will likely be given information about any benefits you will receive. For example, you may receive a severance package — although you aren’t guaranteed it, unless your employment contract specifies it. Fewer and fewer companies are offering so-called “golden parachutes” for departing employees; most are reserved for top-level executives.
What to ask for:
- Check your employment contract and consult with a lawyer if you are unsure about the terms in the contract.
- Ask about severance and outplacement assistance. Now is the time to negotiate, but don’t be pressured to sign anything if you’re not ready. Find out what’s available to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for severance.
- Ask how references will be handled. What will a prospective employer be told if they contact the company? Will your boss provide you with a letter of recommendation?
It can feel difficult to do, but ensure you leave on good terms.
Get your story straight
One of the most important questions you can prepare for is, “Why did you leave your last job?”. Your answer to this question can mean the difference between being offered your next job, or not. Don’t be defensive in your answer. Don’t badmouth your previous employer. Both of these are huge turnoffs for an interviewer. It can be difficult not to carry the hurt and disappointment of being fired into your search for a new job, but negativity won’t get you far.
Ensure the reason you give for leaving agrees with what your previous employer will say in a reference check. (If you didn’t clarify this during the termination meeting, now is the time to follow up with your previous supervisor or the company’s human resources department and find out.)
Taking action builds clarity
Also, do not wait to begin your job search. The longer you are unemployed, the harder it is to find a new job. Some executives feel they need a “break” before starting the job search. However, taking a vacation is the last thing you should be doing.
If you lose your job unexpectedly (with little or no warning), it can be particularly difficult to move forward quickly with a new job search. You may still be mourning the loss of your old job.
Take action immediately and start the process of looking for work as though it is a job itself. Understandably you may not want to talk to hiring decision-makers immediately. Prepare yourself for future conversations by getting your executive portfolio together.
These may include:
- Updating your LinkedIn profile.
- Conducting corporate research to identify your targeted companies to contact.
- Working with your résumé writer to update your résumé and cover letter.
Putting your résumé together can also provide a boost to your self-esteem as you work to gather your accomplishments.
The “Benefit” of Being Fired
It has been my personal experience that executives land very nicely — most times in a better place from where they came. The upside of being terminated lies in the freedom and time you will have to explore your options. However, do not wait to begin your job search. The average time for executives to find a new opportunity is 240 days.
Here is a script you can use for telling friends and family there has been a change in your employment status.
“My company experienced a round of layoffs last week and I was impacted. I am moving forward with a targeted job search strategy and am looking forward to my next opportunity.” Do not over-explain.
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