Riskon in the News

August 6 2002 USA TODAY Careers
"A survival guide for the recently fired"
y Sacha Cohen, special for the Network

In May, Beth Mitchell was fired.

"HR called me down to the office, and my boss was there. She had to break the news to me and she was given very specific guidelines about what she could or couldn't say. They gave me an hour to pack and I wasn't allowed to say goodbye to anyone," she says. Mitchell had been with the company, a large scientific organization in Washington, D.C., for seven years and was three years from retirement. She never saw it coming.

The company's explanation for terminating Mitchell: It was eliminating her position. But the firing left her in a state of shock. Mitchell, still shaken by the experience, is on her way to recovering. She credits exercise and time with friends as her best coping tools.

Money matters  
Worried about staying afloat? Use these tips from Rudy Cavazos of Money Management International:

  • Assess your situation. Determine how much take-home income you can count on; your set monthly payments such as housing, autos and insurance; and variable expenses like food, utilities and gasoline.

  • Ask your family for help reviewing where the money goes and determining what can be trimmed, like cell phones or eating out.

  • Communicate with creditors. Before you fall behind on bills, apprise your creditors of the situation; they may have programs to help.

  • Stop charging and overextending yourself. If the income interruption is only temporary, a small loan may be appropriate.

  • Plan ahead. Emergency savings, good spending habits and manageable debts can provide you with the financial resources to survive a period of reduced income.

Step back

"The first 24 hours after being laid-off are critical," says Bernadette Kenny, executive vice president of global career services firm Lee Hecht Harrison. "What you say or do immediately after being terminated can follow you throughout the job hunt and even affect your references. You have to keep your cool," she says.

"Give yourself time to get away," says Barry Honig, president of Riskon, an executive search and consulting firm. "Take a week off. Don't panic. Step back. Review your resume and your personal and professional profile."

The emotional fallout from being fired can run the gamut from self-pity to sadness to anger to frustration and back again. "Give yourself some time to feel sorry for yourself, afraid, angry, defiant. All these emotions are entirely understandable after being fired," says business coach Joyce K. Reynolds.

"The first week I was adamant about walking every morning, and I set goals for myself of things I wanted to get done such as doctors appointments and story ideas (she's a writer)," Mitchell says. She also took a short vacation with her husband and friends. "I just needed to be away," Mitchell says. "I just needed to be away."

A fresh start

Once you've had time to collect yourself, you can begin a new job search. First, take a hard look at your skills and accomplishments. Determine what industries and companies are a good fit for you, and how you'll target your skills accordingly.

"The most important - and most difficult - part of this process is opening yourself up to feedback and exploration," says Jacki Keagy of Personnel Decisions International, a management and human resources consulting firm. "You need to truly feel that you have something valuable to offer. Because, let's face it, if you don't believe you're a viable candidate, you certainly won't convince anyone else."

If you were fired because your work wasn't up to par, determine what you need to change and how you can improve.

One of the toughest questions you'll face is, "Why are you no longer at Company XYZ?" The issue will almost certainly come up, so be prepared. Frame your response positively, Keagy says. "For example, 'It was mutually agreed that it was time for me to move on' or 'I wanted my career to move in a different direction' or, in the case of new management, 'A new president came in and wanted to build her own team.'"

Legally speaking

You may have the right to severance or monetary rewards if you have been wrongfully terminated. Contact an employment attorney as soon as possible, says Pat Branco, president and founder of Management & Training Solutions.

Unfair termination includes being fired when it relates to age, gender, race or religion. Acceptable termination includes layoffs of large groups due to mergers, being fired after one or more warnings about poor job performance and department closings. Being fired is one of the most traumatic events you can go through. But by understanding and working through your emotions, taking care of yourself and setting your sights on new career goals, you will get through it.