shutterstock_Jorge Salcedo

You’re called in for what you think will be a typical meeting, only to be told, “We’re downsizing” or “You’re fired.”

How should you react?

The first step is to hold it together and not react. While it might be tempting to pull the office equivalent of that Jet Blue flight attendant who decided to quit his job by grabbing a beer and sliding down his plane’s emergency inflatable slide, remaining reserved is the preferable alternative: You don’t need more issues with this particular employer, and it’s important to walk away appearing strong and moving forward.

“Being fired versus being downsized are two very different beasts,” said Janine Davis, principal of Fetch Recruiting. “The latter technically is slightly less painful and significantly more forgiven. However, the steps to take when it happens to you are not significantly different.”

Gather Information

Davis strongly recommends getting as much information as possible about why you were fired or laid off. There’s no need to be combative when asking; it’s to make sure you know the company’s viewpoint with regard to why you were let go.

“In the case of a firing,” she said, “if you have any documentation to counter the stated reasons, gather them, e.g., if you were fired for poor attendance, but you have a recent employment review which rates you as ‘exemplary’ for attendance, make sure you have a copy of that review.”

Collect Letters

Ask select colleagues to write a supportive email or note. “Secure at least one person who will provide you with a positive reference,” Davis said. “A supervisor is obviously ideal, but if not, another executive, a peer or even a subordinate is better than nothing.”

Reframe the Narrative

Update your resume and online profiles as soon as possible. Alert your network that you’re on the market. Most importantly, understand that part of this process includes explaining why you’re no longer at your old job. Brevity and clarity should be the goal. Deliver your story professionally, without emotion or badmouthing your former employer.

For example, one of Davis’s clients found himself the victim of standard-issue corporate shuffling: “A new manager was brought in over their group. He fired all of his direct reports and brought in people that reported to him at his previous company.” That’s the sort of simple, impersonal explanation that no future employer will challenge.

Susan Wise Miller, career counselor and vocational expert at California Career Services, had a senior-level client who wasn’t getting along with her work partner and was unceremoniously fired. From the beginning of her time with the company, her employer had excluded her from any important decision-making. Fortunately, her earlier work references gave her the credibility and leverage to explain to future employers that a change in management style had impacted her ability to do her job.

Process Your Feelings

Getting over the shock of being let go is an individual process. Some people need to mourn the abrupt loss, while others prefer to jump quickly into the search process.

For those who need time, grieving for a short period can help you get to a positive place—but keep it short. Whatever your process, Davis said, “The key is to ensure you are ready to tackle the job search with the necessary attitude to succeed.”

Image: Jorge Salcedo/

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