What to do immediately after being fired

Last updated: June 25, 2024
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Rochelly Fajardo
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Getting fired can be unexpected, and, if you're an at-will employee, your boss doesn't usually need to justify their decision.

In fact, there are only a few illegal reasons for firing someone. These include discrimination, breaking an employment contract, or retaliation.

In the US, there are around sixty million at-will employees, and two million of these are fired each year.

While most employers don't let good workers go without cause, getting fired isn't uncommon. If you do find yourself in this situation, you may be wondering what to do next.

To help you get started, we’ve put together this simple guide. We’ll explain what ‘at-will employment’ really means, tell you what to do immediately after being fired, and offer tips on getting back into the job market.

Why do people get fired?

People get fired for all kinds of reasons, ranging from minor infractions to serious problems. For example, you could get fired for performance issues, being late for work, or a failed drug test.

Sometimes people lie on their job applications and eventually get caught out. A white lie on your resume may seem innocent, but it can lead to dismissal.

People can get fired for breaking the law or being disrespectful in the workplace. For example, they could be let go for damaging company property or bullying other team members.

Your goals might not align with the vision of the company, or you might not have the same work style as the other employees. Alternatively, your lack of skills could be letting you down.

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People can even get fired without an explanation. No matter what the reason is, getting fired doesn’t have to be the end. You can move on and find a job that’s a better fit for your talents.

What is at-will employment?

At-will employment is common in the US. It’s an agreement that says an employer can let go of an employee without a valid reason. They can fire someone for something minor, and they don’t need to explain their decision.

This means an employee has to accept the circumstances, and they can’t make a claim for losses if they’re fired. If you’re hired on an at-will basis, you can also quit your job without an explanation.

There are limits to this rule. Wrongful termination laws protect workers if they’re fired for an illegal reason.

The employer cannot fire someone due to discrimination. For example, they can’t let someone go because of their race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, or pregnancy status.

They also can’t fire you in retaliation for things such as reporting misconduct in the workplace or being a whistleblower.

Employers are not also allowed to break the terms of any employment contract you have. If you’re unsure if your termination breaches your contract, you can consult with a law firm that specializes in employee rights.

What should you do after being fired?

If you've been fired, you've come to the right place. First, take a look at these mistakes to avoid after being laid off.

Then, read on for our top tips for what to do next:

1. Find out why you were fired

If you know why you were fired, it'll help you reflect and get closure.

Most companies will give you a formal employment termination letter. The letter will tell you why you were fired and when your last day of work will be.

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Plus, it'll outline any unused benefits and when you can expect your last paycheck.

If there was a valid reason why you were fired, you can learn from the experience. For example, if you were let go because you were always late, you can work on your time management skills, or if you don't have the right computer skills, you can enroll in a course.

2. Negotiate your exit

You may have an exit interview with the Human Resources (HR) manager where you can discuss your departure.

Even if you've been fired, try to leave on good terms because you could need a reference in the future.

Before the meeting, do your research to see what you are entitled to. If the company has an employee handbook, it'll usually include information about terminations.

You may have to negotiate a severance package, and you could get an extension of your health benefits. Depending on why you were let go, the company may ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

If you're unsure about your rights or you need advice, you can speak to an employment attorney. You can find useful information on the Labor Laws and Issues section of the government website.

3. See if you can get unemployment benefits

When you lose your job, you can be stuck without an income. Depending on why you were fired, you could be entitled to unemployment insurance.

The rules for unemployment benefits can vary between states, but generally, if you were let go for a minor reason, such as a lack of skills, poor performance, or because the company had to downsize, you could be eligible.

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If you were fired due to misconduct or for failing a drug test, you might not be able to get unemployment benefits straight away.

If you're experiencing financial hardship, temporary payments may also be available.

Learn more about unemployment help on the US government website.

4. Be kind to yourself

These can be tough times, and it's important to look after yourself. Use this opportunity to reflect on your personal experience and think about your short and long-term career goals.

Surround yourself with people who support you, and take some time off. For example, you could have dinner with a friend, watch a movie, or have a pamper night at home.

You'll need a positive attitude to get a new job. Remember, getting fired isn't uncommon, and it's something you can learn from.

5. Refresh your resume

Next, you should look over your resume and cover letter. Is it time for a refresh? You may have skills and experience that you need to update, and you should check your contact details.

You can include your previous position in your list of employment history, but you don't need to mention you were fired unless you're asked.

If your resume needs a shake-up, you can use our free resume builder. By uploading a few details to your Jobcase profile, you can create a professional resume in PDF format.

You should customize your resume for each job you apply for. To increase your chances of a job interview, you can focus on the skills and experience mentioned in the job description.

Depending on the job, you may also need a cover letter. Check out these cover letter templates and examples.

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6. Get networking

If you've lost confidence or are having trouble finding a new job, reach out to your network. Your professional network is made up of connections who are supportive of your career.

For example, you may have friends, family members, coworkers, previous managers, and teachers in your professional network. You can check in with them in person or online.

Is there someone in a similar career field who could give you a letter of recommendation? A positive reference can help you stand out from other candidates.

Your connections could know someone who is hiring, or they could give you career advice.

7. Consider your next move

When you're out of work, you can think about what you want to do next. Do you want to look for another job in the same industry, or is it time for a change? There are a variety of industries that you can transition to if you have the relevant skills.

What does your dream job look like? For example, does it come with health insurance? What type of company culture are you looking for?

Was your previous job a stepping stone on your career path? Or are you ready to go back to college for a fresh start?

If you aren't sure what's right for you, take our career quiz for ideas.

You can meet with a career coach to get advice and to work out what types of jobs to apply for.

8. Apply for jobs

Once you know what type of job you want, you can start applying. After losing your job, you may be nervous about the application process. The more you apply, the easier it'll get.

You can start your job search right here. Head over to our job board to browse jobs in your area.

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Search by job type or company name. And, if you want to work from home, select "remote work only."

9. Get a side gig

You might not find a new job overnight, or you may want to build your skills or have time to think about your options before jumping back into the workforce.

A side gig can give you extra income and experience while you are looking for work. There are different options to choose from depending on your situation.

For example, if you've been to college, you could offer virtual tutoring services. If you know how to play the piano, you could advertise piano lessons.

Alternatively, you could sign up to work as a delivery driver for a company such as Lyft or Uber Eats.

10. Plan your response

You should always be honest when applying for a new job. Employers can verify your information, so it's important to be upfront.

You don't need to explain why you were fired at the written application stage. Make sure you include the details of your work duties in your resume, so you don't have a gap in employment.

However, the hiring manager may ask why you left your last job during the interview process. Keep your answer brief, and avoid using the word "fired." Instead, try "let go" or "the job ended."

Take responsibility, and don't badmouth your previous employer. For example, you could say your skills weren't a good fit, and you can explain what you've learned from the experience.

Read this article about how to explain termination in a job interview.

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What to do after being fired FAQS

What else do you need to know? Check out these FAQS:

Q. Is it better to be fired or quit?

A. The answer can depend on the outcome you're looking for. If you've already found a new job, leaving by choice will look better to your future employer.

If you are hoping to get unemployment benefits, they'll want to know about your layoff details. You could have a better chance if you've been fired for something minor.

Q. Can I get my job back after being fired?

A. If you want your old job back, it'll depend on the company policy and why you were fired. If the employer hired you for an illegal reason or they broke the employment agreement, you may be entitled to a rehire.

If you've made changes since you parted ways, they may consider giving you another chance. For example, you may have been fired because of a failed drug test and have since been through rehabilitation.

If you were lacking specific skills and you've taken a course, it could be enough to impress the hiring manager.

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What to do after being fired

If you’ve lost your job, knowing what to do next can be a challenge. First, you should find out why you were fired. When you have all the facts, you can avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Negotiate your exit, and make sure you get everything you’re entitled to. Don’t forget to see if you’re eligible for unemployment benefits.

Be kind to yourself, and use the time to refresh your resume and consider your next move. The people around you may be able to give you a reference or introduce you to someone who is hiring.

Start applying for jobs, and get a side gig if you need extra cash to get you through.

Don’t forget to plan your response. You could be asked why you were fired in the job interview, so it’s important to be prepared for that question.

Ready to start your job search? Our job board is the best place to start. And, if you visit our resource center, you’ll find more articles like this one.

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