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Build Your Career Get Ahead

Got Fired? Here's What You Should Do Next

Got Fired? Here's What You Should Do Next
Credit: DeeaF/Shutterstock

No employee ever wants to hear the words "you're fired." You've got a career to continue, bills to pay and maybe even a family to support, and being let go or laid off can be truly devastating regardless of the reason behind it.

So what should you do if you've lost your job? Business News Daily asked business owners and HR professionals for their advice on dealing with being laid off. Before you even think about applying to new jobs, here are the first three things you should do if you've been fired, the experts say.

"The very first thing to do is ask if you can go to your desk and pick up your things," said Donna Ballman, employment attorney and author of "Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired" (Career Press, 2012). "Many people leave their belongings behind. Security or HR might have to accompany you, but do get your stuff. They aren't allowed to keep your belongings."

It gets a little bit trickier for things like your work computer, though. If it's company property, the business might not let you retrieve your files or delete information from your devices before you leave.

"They don't have to let you print or copy anything that's in their property," Ballman said, adding that you should never keep important personal information on devices owned by the company, just in case. This is especially important if you have been keeping records of serious issues like sexual harassment; if you keep these records on your work computer, you could lose them forever.

If you are able to access your devices and files, here's what Ballman says you should save and copy immediately:

  • Documentation of anything the company owes you (for example, commissions, bonuses and other contracts)
  • Proof of any deals still in the pipeline that you think you're still entitled to be paid for after you leave
  • Any evidence you might have of discrimination or harassment based on age, sex or gender, race, national origin, religion, or disability
  • Copies of all your employment and noncompete agreements
  • Performance reviews, evaluations, commendations, awards, write-ups, discipline records and recommendation letters

Ballman also said you should look for any other documents that you think could be useful to your lawyer or state unemployment-compensation agency. [How to Fire an Employee ... The Right Way ]

Once you've collected your things and gone home, you should focus on reflecting on your career moves and, most importantly, your mental health.

Rosalie Robinson, founder of human resources consulting company Consilium Human Capital, said that getting fired can cause most people to question their self-worth, doubt their capabilities and worry about their finances, so it's important to assess your frame of mind before you do anything else.

This might mean taking a substantial amount of time to recover, said Steve Spires, managing director business consulting company BPI Group.  

"I always advise people to do nothing at first, whether it's just for a few days or even for a few weeks," Spires said. "You need this time to take a step back and decide where you want to go as well as process the emotions that come with a job loss."

And not taking the proper time to recover before you try to move on with your career could actually hurt your chances of finding new employment.

"If your foundation is shaken, it will show up in everything you do, from calling prospective employers to the words [you use] in re-drafting your résumé," Robinson said. "You have to ensure your emotional foundation is sold before rebuilding."

Robinson suggested talking to a career coach or visiting your local Workforce Commission or Department of Labor, as these organizations can provide you with support. Another option, she noted, is to take advantage of your former employer's Employee Assistance Program if it is available to you. Resources like this can help you come to terms with losing your job before you launch back into the job search too quickly.

"Too often, people make the mistake of jumping into the job search before they're truly ready," Spires said. "You want to be focused in your search, and you don't want any negative emotions affiliated with the layoff to come through as you're networking or speaking with prospective employers."

Unless you have another job or run a side business, losing your job means losing your income. This means you need to know how much you have in savings and how long you can live off your savings while you search for new employment. Joni Daniels, principal of management training consulting practice Daniels & Associates, stressed the importance of creating a budget after losing your job.

"It's always best to have six-months' income as savings as a preventative measure," Daniels said. "Whether you have done this or not, it's good to see what your expenses are and where you might be able to cut back while you have no income or are not sure of when your income will resume."

Steve Gibson, director at online form-building service Jotform, also noted that a financial reality check is in order. 

"No one wants to lose money, [but you should] calculate how many months you can maintain your current standard of living without income," Gibson said. "If it's short, consider cutting back."

Gibson also said you should be sure to file for unemployment benefits and try to find other ways to save money where you can.

Brittney Helmrich
Brittney Helmrich

Brittney M. Helmrich graduated from Drew University in 2012 with a B.A. in History and Creative Writing. She joined the Business News Daily team in 2014 after working as the editor-in-chief of an online college life and advice publication for two years. Follow Brittney on Twitter at @brittneyplz, or contact her by email.