Things have gone from bad to worse at your job. Maybe the company’s showing signs of financial trouble or your boss has given you more than a couple stern warnings about your performance. If you have an inkling that your job might be in jeopardy, here’s how to prepare yourself.
Don’t wait to do this things when you get an inkling. Plan for the worst so you’re ready when it happens.
Get direct feedback and look for the signs
“In theory, you should be getting feedback along the way if you aren’t doing well,” said Kim Scott, the author of “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity.” “Solicit feedback well before you think there’s a problem. Either you’ll be reassured that things are not as bad as you think they are, or you’ll hopefully get some feedback you can use.”
Come up with a go-to question you ask with some frequency. Merely asking “do you have any feedback for me?” isn’t always going to help. Instead, put your manager on the spot and ask a more direct question like, “What can I do to make it easier to work with me?” Give your boss time to answer — at least six seconds of uncomfortable silence is usually enough — and don’t get defensive when they reply.
Of course, not all organizations are run so well. In some, getting feedback may be like pulling teeth. In others, they may not say explicitly that your job is in danger, so you’ll have to read between the lines.
Ideally, that will give you something to work with, and you may even be able to keep your job. If not, though, you’ll at least be able to say you gave it your all.
Document what your manager says, too.
Prepare for the worst now
If all signs point to a potential firing in the near future, it’s time to get your ducks in a row. “When you’re fired or laid off, it is very likely that you’ll be asked to leave right away,” said Alison Green, the author of the Ask a Manager website and book. “You may be allowed to go back to your desk to grab some personal items, but you’re probably going to be locked out of your computer.”
So start thinking now about the stuff you’ll want to have with you when you leave — contact information for friends and useful connections, statistics that might bolster future job interviews, or anything else that might come in handy. Just be sure not to take anything confidential or that you’ve signed an agreement not to take.
It’s also a good idea to make any medical appointments you might need before your health insurance goes away. Similarly, make sure you have a healthy emergency fund in your savings account, if you can: enough money to get you through a few months (experts suggest three to six) without your regular salary. This will make things a lot less stressful when the hammer finally comes down.
Next, Ms. Green said, “read your employee handbook. You might find things in there about separation procedures. It might prompt you to start thinking about negotiating a neutral reference, or you might find out if they pay for unused vacation.” These types of logistics are easy to forget when you’re in that fateful meeting, so if you think about them beforehand, you’ll be well prepared for anything that comes your way.
There are, however, a couple things you’ll need to discuss during the meeting. First, agree on a story about why you left. “Sometimes you can negotiate with your employer, and they will agree to say you weren’t fired,” said Ms. Green. In some cases, they may agree to just confirm your dates of employment when called for a reference. “The time to do that is in the meeting, when the firing is happening, because they have an incentive to wrap this up as pleasantly as possible.” You might even be able to negotiate for more severance.
In the U.S. and a lot of other countries, there is a difference between being laid off and being fired.
Fired usually implies cause: poor performance, insubordination, incompetence, criminal activity, or violating terms of employment (sexual harassment, racism, &t.) Fired for cause will often include a history of poor reports in one’s personnel file. Being laid off is better. It implies you were “let go” for general staff reductions or as part of a reorganization but not for poor performance or criminal activity.
Negotiating severance that this point is important. When I was laid off many years ago I was able to double my severance plus get a career coach, access to resources, and some other things that helped me find a great job just before my severance ran out.
Finally, try to turn that meeting into a learning opportunity. “If you’re not too devastated by having gotten fired, this is a great opportunity for you to get the feedback that you didn’t get earlier,” Ms. Scott said. Ask what you can do better, so you don’t find yourself in the same situation next time. “Then I would ask my boss, ‘Where do you see me working? What kind of opportunity do you think I would thrive in?’ If the boss is a total jerk, you’re probably not going to get any useful information, but usually people have an idea of where you would really do well.”
This is fantastic advice.
Hit the ground running at your next job
Don’t wait until you’ve been fired to start searching for your next job. “As soon as you start being worried, start the job search,” Ms. Green said. “Reconnect with your network, and start looking around at what’s out there.” Make a list of everyone you know who might be able to offer you work — or might know someone who could. If you’re in a field where freelancing is common, see if you can line up some potential freelance work during the gap. “The sooner that you can start, the better,” said Ms. Green. “You don’t want to go home from that meeting and be at square one.”
Always have “irons in the fire” even if things look good at work. It will keep you in-tune with the marketplace, help you focus your training and experience to that market, and maybe that next great opportunity comes along.
Hopefully, that will help you line up interviews quickly. Just make sure you’re prepared to answer the question of why you left your last job. You don’t have to say “I was fired,” necessarily, but don’t lie outright, since the interviewer will likely talk to your former boss. Instead, come up with a brief, nondefensive explanation of why it didn’t work out. Ms. Scott offered a simple script: “You could say something like ‘I realized that I’m really not well-suited for XYZ kind of opportunities. But that’s why this job is really appealing to me, because I’ll be playing to my strengths.'” If you can show that you’re a person who takes feedback and learns from your experiences, good employers will take notice.
Finally, remember that no amount of preparation can inoculate you against the blow to your ego. Give yourself a few days to recover, but try to shift your focus to the future. “The road to insanity in these situations is obsessing about injustice,” said Ms. Scott. “Sometimes there really is injustice, and you may want to take action. But usually, it’s a better return on investment of your time to get a new great job.” After all, the best revenge is a life well lived.
Agreed. The Stoic practice of negative visualization can help with this. Prepare for the fact that you may not be able to be as prepared as you might like.
You can check put my previous posts titled “Preparing for the Pink” on this very topic here, here, here, and here. I should collect these into a page for easy navigation, so na?