Questions to Ask if You’ve Been Fired

Andy had recently lost his job as market research manager, and I was writing a resume for him. One day he told me, “I know that when one door closes, another door opens, but it’s the hallway between them that’s hell!”

That made me smile. And I’m not the only one who’s smiling.  Andy’s getting interviews and it looks like he can choose between two plum jobs soon! Getting fired isn’t something most of us want to happen. But layoffs, downsizing, and restructuring are still common these days.

What you do as soon as you get that pink slip, however, can make the difference in the length of time you’re unemployed, and how you fare financially. Whether you knew termination was near, or it came as a surprise, the more information you have now that it’s a done deal, the better. 

Ask These Questions

What benefits am I entitled to? You may get accrued vacation, overtime, and sick pay. Ask about these, including amounts and how they will be paid out.

When you leave a job, be sure you take what belongs to you, and we’re not talking about houseplants and framed photos!

Can I resign instead? You may be able to choose between being fired and resigning. If you are fired, you may be eligible for unemployment compensation, benefits, and a severance package. If you resign you can avoid the stigma of getting fired on your record. Of course, you will need to disclose that you were fired if you are asked that specific question on a job application. If you resign, you can answer “no.” Consider the pros and cons if you have the choice.

Do I qualify for any severance package or outplacement assistance? Now is the time to negotiate, but don’t be pressured to sign anything if you’re not ready. Some employers won’t release your final paycheck until you sign a release, but that doesn’t mean you need to sign anything right away.

How will reference checks be handled? It’s good to know what prospective employers will hear when they contact your former employer. Will your supervisor provide you with a letter of recommendation? Can he or she take calls for reference checks, or are those handled through the HR department? What information will be released to the prospective employer? Some companies will verify only the dates of employment, job title, and final salary, and  not answer questions related to why you are no longer working for the company. It’s good to know the policy.

What about my health insurance coverage? If the company has more than 20 employees, your employer is required by law to offer health insurance coverage through COBRA to terminated employees for up to 18 months. If you have a health condition, you may want to opt for COBRA coverage initially and then cancel it once you have new insurance.

What happens to my 401(k)? If you are enrolled in profit sharing you may be eligible for a lump sum when you leave the company. Retirement plan distributions have very specific requirements, so I suggest you consult a financial advisor on this one.

When and how do I receive my final check? Find out whether you need to sign paperwork before the check is released.

Begin the Job Hunt Now

My advice to Andy and and others who find themselves fired, is to get back on the horse, pronto. The longer you are unemployed, the harder it is to find a new job. Some jobseekers feel they need a little break before starting the job search, but taking a vacation is the last thing you should be doing now.

Do you need to remove any Facebook pictures? Check your privacy settings, and tell friends not to tag you in the pictures they post.

Besides the questions you’ll be asking your former employer, this is an ideal time to ask yourself some questions. What are the real reasons I lost my job? (If you suspect illegal discrimination played a role, consult a lawyer.) Did I like this job? This type of company? These responsibilities? Is it time for a career switch? If so, what kind of job would I prefer? Without a job to go to every day, your days may seem endless.

It can be tempting to jump into projects that you’ve put off because you’ve been so busy with work. Don’t. Instead, concentrate with keeping up with friends and people in your network. It will help you feel connected and social, plus you never know when one of them can alert you to a job opening.

Establish daily routines so you’ll stay healthy and organized. This is the time to double check your social media like your Facebook wall to make sure it is employer-friendly. Consider your email address and your voice mail message. They need to be professional enough to communicate with new employment prospects, not something goofy.

You’ll also want to update your LinkedIn profile and resume. That’s where I can help! Helping me gather the information for your resume can provide a boost to your self-esteem. And that’s especially helpful if you are mourning the loss of your old job. Some of the usual comments I get when people see their newly crafted resumes are, “I look good!” or “ Gee, I’ve accomplished a lot!” Recently fired? Then, let’s get started,  and make that hallway between doors a short one.   Photos: ilgiornale, Guardian

Author: Mir Garvy

I’ve written resumes for 2,000+ job seekers just like you—and helped my clients land jobs with companies like Amazon, SAS, Google, Duke University, Travelocity, Cisco Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, Expedia, and IBM.