Being involuntarily separated from your employer can be devastating. Not only are there worries about finances, but there are concerns about how quickly you can find a new job, and how to position the separation. If you’ve been hit with a layoff—as has been the case for many productive, valuable employees since the early 1990s—I have one consistent piece of advice for you. Stop using the word “fired” to describe your situation. Remove it from your vocabulary in its entirety, starting right now.
“Fired” means, in common connotation, terminated for cause. A layoff, however, is not the fault of the employee. It is the fault of the employer, and their management. Three common reasons for layoffs are:
A downturn in demand that management has failed to anticipate and adjust for in a constructive way.
Employing a large number of people who they really didn’t need.
Poor financial performance due either to market conditions, or poor senior management.
So, as you can see, layoffs speak more to the competency of the management at a company than they do to the individuals who have been severed. With that in mind, why on earth would anyone say that they were “fired,” when in fact they were “laid off”? I’ve counseled many, many job seekers and what I’ve discovered is that people who are laid off share some common characteristics:
Feeling that they are to blame. You are not to blame when someone seven levels above you decides that one cell in the spreadsheet needs to be more “favorable” in a given quarter.
Needing to apologize. There is no need to apologize for being swept up in a layoff, ever. As management is fond of saying, it’s not personal. It’s a business decision.
Embarrassment. Probably the most common, embarrassment is misguided and useless. It is not your fault that your management failed, and that you were the collateral damage of that failure. It is not your responsibility to make excuses for their decisions, either.
Self-deprecation. Being a part of a reduction in force almost always has nothing to do with individual performance. Nothing you did or did not do is responsible for your layoff. It was likely impersonal; a purely financial decision made very far away from you and your work.
If you’ve been laid off, you should own it, and position yourself not as a loser who got fired, but as a productive contributor who was caught up in the tide. As layoffs are usually not done on a one-off basis, it’s helpful to phrase your explanation with something like the following:
We had a 10% reduction in force during the second quarter, and my entire team, including my manager, was transitioned out of the organization.
But please, stop telling yourself, your friends, family, and prospective employers that you were fired! Fired conjures thoughts of embezzlement, horrific HR issues, or abuse of company policy. You are none of that. You are at worst a victim of circumstance, and at best someone looking to share your amazing talent with a new employer, for however long that is mutually beneficial!