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So You Were Fired

Excerpted from "Career Building: Your Total Handbook for Finding a Job and Making It Work"
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Here's the bottom line: You have to get a job, you have to go to work and someday, you'll probably have to change jobs. "CAREER BUILDING: Your Total Handbook for Finding a Job and Making It Work" (Collins Business) is a one-stop guide for navigating all those times in your career.

It can happen to anyone at anytime. A softened economy forces your employer to make cuts; your company merges with another and staffing changes; your department is restructured; a new boss cleans house; or you simply didn't perform to your manager's expectations. Whatever the reason, anytime is now. Here's what you can do to stay afloat:

Q: Is it better to pre-empt a firing by resigning instead?

A: In most cases, no. Out of pride, many people fall into this trap and wind up waiving claim to severance pay, benefits, earned bonuses and commissions and unemployment compensation. With so many victims of downsizings and reorganizations, being "let go" doesn't carry the stigma it once did -- in fact most prospective employers won't even bat an eye!

Q: Should I try to negotiate a better severance package?

A: By all means, yes. According to the National Employee Rights Institute (NERI), employees have more bargaining power than they realize. Don't be pressured into signing anything on the spot. Tell your employer you need to review the proposed agreement with your legal and financial advisers. Then, check the company policy manual to find out what is standard practice for employees in your situation. If you can, talk to others whom the company has terminated. You can argue your case on merits such as length of service, specific accomplishments and amount of time required to find comparable employment in today's labor market. Be sure to document your achievements, and if your family has special needs (due to illness or disability) you may want to let your company know the hardships this termination may cause.

Remember, money is not the only thing at stake. Consider how long you will continue to be covered under company health and life insurance and the status of any earned -- or close to being earned -- bonuses, commissions, vacation time and vesting in 401(k), pension and profit sharing accounts. You also may want outplacement services or an agreed-upon letter of reference. Also think about getting your severance payment as salary continuation rather than a lump sum agreement. Salary continuation often allows for a continuation of disability benefits and also lets you answer yes when asked if you're still employed.

Q: What's the best course of action for finding a new job?

A: Take a day or so to process what has happened and vent to your spouse or best friend. Then, after shoring yourself up by reviewing your strengths and accomplishments, start calling people in your network who can be helpful to you, including former co-workers, suppliers and customers. Letting a colleague, vendor or client know that you'll no longer be working with them is not only a courtesy, but can prove a valuable source of leads. Then, work on your résumé and start an all-points attack that, in addition to networking, includes contacting recruiters, conducting industry research, cold calling target companies and searching online job listings.

Q: How should I respond to those who ask why I left my last position?

A: Keep it brief. Be calm and objective; never assign blame. End your explanation on a positive note by emphasizing your main accomplishments and what the experience has taught you.

Q: How can I keep my spirits up?

A: Recognize that you will likely experience the five steps of dealing with loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. Don't be too hard on yourself if you get down now and then.

On the other hand, try not to dwell on anger or bitterness; instead channel that energy into your search. Take care of your physical and emotional health by exercising, eating well and surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people. And make sure you start each day with a plan. A sense of purpose and accomplishment will go a long way in making you feel better and landing you that new job.

From the editors of, CAREER BUILDING is filled with the statistics, tips and priceless information on job-hunting and working in the digital age, including good and bad résumé samples, using social networking, searching online, résumé "keywords" and e-mail mistakes to avoid. In today's unstable economic climate, CAREER BUILDING is the guide you can't afford to go without.

Last Updated: 30/03/2009 - 4:52 PM

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