Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Working Life: Getting fired or laid off:
How to get survive and get back in the game

The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of “The Working Life,” we discussed how to survive and thrive in the aftermath of losing your job. Whether you were fired or laid off--–there are ways to smooth the transition and get you moving forward more quickly.

It comes like a kick in the stomach. You may have seen it coming. You may have heard rumors or it may be a bolt from the blue. Either way, you’ve just been told you are fired or laid off. What do you do?

First of all, if you see a lay off or termination coming, take the time to prepare yourself and make a list of what is in your pay and benefits package, so you can ask about it. The person doing the firing is probably as nervous and scared as you are, so being prepared is key.

Obviously, if the termination comes as a surprise you will not have the opportunity to do this, so it is critical that you remain calm. In the drama of the moment, you may forget to ask relevant questions, so it is perfectly okay to ask for a few moments to collect yourself. You must stay calm and focused and as professional as possible. The goal here is to preserve the relationship you have with the organization or the manager and if you remain calm you’ll get more information that will help you.

The first thing to find out is why. Ask for specific reasons for your termination or lay off. If it is a lay off, is there a prospective rehire date? If the termination is for performance, ask why. Can you get a letter of reference? Will they help you find another job? Can you meet with the HR department? What will they do for you? This where being calm is critical.

Second, establish some ground rules about the language to be used to describe your termination. Later, when finding a new job, you need to know what you can say about the termination. Will you be able to say it simply wasn’t a good fit, that your department was downsized? Work out the language now with your employer so that when you tell people later you have solid phraseology, something more positive than, “I was fired.”

Next, you need to find out about the company’s severance package. Will you be paid for your unused holiday, vacation, sick or comp time? What about other things that may have been in your pay package, like relocation, mileage or educational expenses? Can you keep your health insurance? Can you take your Rolodex? How about your 401K or other retirement packages? Again, it is hard to remember these things when you are in a tense and upsetting situation, but if you know what is in your package you may be able to ask the right questions.

It is important that, no matter what, you put your best and most professional face forward at this moment. Chances are if you’re fired, you are leaving that day, if not right away. Does it behoove you to rant and rave and say nasty things about your boss as you’re packing up your desk, or should you calmly and quietly get your things and go? You don’t have to put on a happy face, but it is not okay to behave badly. Remember, everyone at your workplace is a potential contact, network or referral source for you. People will remember how you handle this situation, and you want them to remember that you handled it with grace and maturity. You want to preserve the relationship.

Taking the package

Some firms offer terminated employees a severance package and some ask them to sign a non-compete agreement. This depends on your company. A non-compete agreement is usually spelled out when an employees is hired and may not be able to be renogtiated at termination.

If a non-compete is offered at termination I would never sign it until I had a chance to look it over, possibly with an employment attorney. I also would not sign it unless it was tied to a severance package. Ask for a few days to review the document and any package with it. This can be a negotiation tactic on your part, so be professional and take your time to do it right.

Now what?
Financial experts say we should all have three to six months of living expenses salted away, so hopefully your finances will be secure for the short-term. You’re going to be upset, so go ahead and take three days to wallow in your misery. But just three. After that, get up and get started. Your new job is to get a new job. Get up everyday as if you are going to work: shower and dress, and sit at your desk to plan and execute your strategy. Don’t turn the TV on or play on the computer. Start looking immediately for a new job.

If your old firm offers career placement or counseling services, set up an appointment right away. Contact friends and colleagues right away. Make sure you get your story straight and that they hear it from you. This doesn’t mean you should lie, but get your spin together. Stay friendly with co-workers and colleagues (this is why leaving gracefully is key). The most important thing is that you stay positive and focused. The worst thing you can do is spiral downward into catastrophic thinking and feeling sorry for yourself. Don’t gossip with former co-workers. Don’t badmouth your boss or company. You’ve got to think positive and act professionally.

Build your network. Make a list of contacts. Redo your resume. Try to be as positive and productive as possible. Use this as opportunity to build your career or to make the changes you’ve been meaning to make. Consider professional temp work—it has always been a great way to land a job and, as everyone knows, it is easier to find a job when you are employed than unemployed.

The most important things to remember are to leave with professionalism and grace. Keep a good relationship with your former employer and co-workers and keep a positive attitude. Wallowing in self-pity will not land you your next job. But keeping your spirits up, your network alive and your mind open will almost certainly help.

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