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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

You Just Got Let Go From Your First Job—Here’s How to Bounce Back, Fast

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Getting canned feels like crap. And it can be especially hard to take when it’s your first gig. You had so much excitement and anticipation for this job, after all.

Before you get too inside your head about the whole thing, stop. This one incident doesn’t define you. This is just the start of your career, which I guarantee will have many more bumps and turns along the way. So know that you will be OK!

In fact, you could look at being let go not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity to recalibrate. Come on, I’ll walk you through it.

1. Own It Without Shame

Because you were an entry-level employee, it’s highly unlikely that your specific role had anything to do with whatever crisis led to layoffs (or worst-case scenario, the demise of the company). This benefits you immensely. Most people (read: prospective employers) will see your departure as a “wrong place, wrong time” kind of situation.

Of course, it’s a bit trickier if you were let go due to a bad match, personality clash, or poor work performance. But even so, it’s unlikely you will be branded as a bad employee. Think of it like the dating world: Sometimes your first go at it just isn’t a good fit.

And getting fired can feel a lot like getting dumped. Even if you weren’t happy in the relationship, rejection always hurts. It’s natural to feel ashamed or embarrassed, but understand that no one is keeping score but you. Sure, if you want to hide in your apartment eating cookie dough with a spoon for a few days, that’s perfectly acceptable. Just don’t let yourself wallow for long—you have a lot to do.

2. Take Care of the Practical Stuff

If you were let go because of a group layoff or company restructure, you may be offered severance. You’ll get a packet of documents from your former employer that spells out the pay and benefits you’ll receive upon your exit. Unfortunately, severance is never a guarantee and depends upon the circumstances and your company’s policy.

If you were fired for cause—in other words, you were fired for something you did or failed to do on the job, you likely will not get severance.

Because you were probably at the bottom of the totem pole, your severance “package” may be puny compared to Bob’s in accounting who’s been there since 1995. Bigger companies may give two weeks salary for every year worked, for example. You can also ask your HR representative about if and how you can get paid for unused, accrued vacation pay or other benefits owed to you. (It’s their job to answer these questions, so don’t be afraid to ask. It’s your money!)

But even if you get nothing from your employer, there are plenty of other things you can do to give yourself some stability. For starters, you can apply for unemployment benefits with your state’s Department of Labor. This will provide you a weekly “salary” for a set period of time, or until you find work again. If you aren’t on your parent’s health insurance (pro tip: You can stay on until age 26), you can apply for COBRA, which may allow you to keep your company’s insurance plan for up to 18 months. Be aware, though, that if your employer had been subsidizing your premiums, the cost to you could go way up.

3. Hone Your Exit Story

Everyone from your friends from college to your Aunt Josephine is going to ask what happened. You need a simple explanation that you won’t fumble over and will set you up to network your way to your next gig. (More on that below!)

Start with something like this:

If you were let go as part of a reorganization or company layoffs: “I was part of a larger downsizing in the company. While it’s unfortunate, I’m really looking forward to doing X next.”

If you were fired: “It wasn’t a good fit; however, I’m excited to be pursuing a new path in X.”

You don’t have to go much deeper than that. You want folks to remember your next steps so they can help you get there, not get lost in the weeds of your story (save that for your best friend or pet). You will also use this story in future interviews, so best to start practicing it now.

And no matter how heated you are, don’t trash talk your former employer. The world is small, my friend, and no one wants to hire a tattletale.

4. Update Your Social and LinkedIn Profiles

This step should come after you’ve figured out the correct messaging of your story, but don’t wait too long. Within a week of leaving your role, post a status to your network explaining that you’ve left your job and are moving on to something new—and share what you want that something new to be. (Don’t stress about locking yourself into a specific role. It can always change later, and you may find that people connect you with opportunities that are closely related to what you’ve shared.)

This might look something like: Life update: I’m no longer working for [Company] and am looking for [type of position] roles in [industry]. [A little bit about your background, expertise, or skill set.] If you hear of anything please let me know. Stay tuned for more updates!

You may be tempted not to share your newly unemployed status with the world, but remember that most job leads come through friends and other personal connections. And where are your friends and personal connections? Yup. They’re on social media—and they probably want to help you out! Being assertive may be intimidating, but it’s also a savvy networking move (and it worked for this person!).

While you’re at it, take this opportunity to update your LinkedIn, too. Flesh out your job description with all the skills you gained and accomplishments you achieved in your time at your previous company, and add your end date. Keeping your profile fresh ensures recruiters find it super easily—and like what they see.

5. And Then Tackle Your Resume

Don’t worry too much about the fact that you were only at your first job for a few months or that there will be a gap in your work history until you find a new gig. You can always explain in an interview what happened.

Rather, focus on getting your resume in fighting shape so it’s ready if someone in your network asks for it or a job opens up that you’d love to apply for. Chances are you learned a lot in the job you just left—make sure you articulate what skills you developed, software you mastered, and projects you worked on in your resume bullets.

You should also optimize your resume for your job search. Read job postings for positions you’re interested in and take note of the terms and phrases they use to describe what they’re looking for. Then, plug those keywords (the ones that apply to you, of course!) into your own resume—and LinkedIn profile, too.

6. Do Some Reflecting

It may not seem like it now, but being let go is often a gift from the universe. If you weren’t happy in your last role, it gives you that kick in the pants to make a change that was likely overdue. If you were happy, it encourages you to build on what you started; you may even be able to jump to the next level or increase your salary with this next job.

Regardless, this is a great time to do some introspection. When the dust settles and you’re feeling a little less defeated, ask yourself the following:

  • What did you love about that first job?
  • What did you hate?
  • What kind of job did you envision yourself in when you first started job hunting? Is that still an option?
  • What paths could you try next?

You have many more years of your career ahead of you. A few months figuring out your path is just a blip in the whole picture. So take a deep breath and put your toe back in the water.