9 Ways to Clean Up Your Image After You’ve Been Fired

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Life is grand, work is great and then, before you know it, you’re handed a pink slip, which instantly turns your world upside down.

To make matters worse, you’ve been let go because of a violation of the company’s handbook.

Depending on the circumstances and whether you actually enjoyed working for the organization, you could suffer a major blow to your self-esteem. But there’s no need to spend months or even weeks wallowing in self-pity and feelings of hopelessness. In fact, it’s best to start planning your next move soon so your emotions won’t get the best of you.

You may have the option of submitting an appeal to the human resources department if you insist on returning and have adequate evidence to make your case. Otherwise, here are some tips to help you get over the hump and move forward with your job search:

1. Be honest

When a prospective employer finally pops the big question about why you left your last job, answer it in the most straightforward manner possible. Lying about your departure could potentially be found out, eliminating you from consideration for the job. Lying about being fired is not one of CNBC’s “acceptable job interview lies.” Come clean and explain what you’ve learned from the experience.

Also, you definitely want to avoid throwing the previous employer under the bus. No prospective employer will want to hear you bad-mouthing your former boss. You’ll create a very negative impression.

You may feel alone, but plenty of other good employees have been fired and went on to find perfectly acceptable jobs.

2. Accentuate the positive

Shift the focus by emphasizing the major contributions you made to the company and how you were an invaluable asset during your stay. Be as detailed as possible and quantify what you accomplished with numbers and statistics. For example, if you were employed as an account manager and helped implement policies that reduced the delinquency of payments by 12 percent, state this accomplishment in the interview.

Don’t forget to mention that you’ve been steadily improving your skills since your departure. Because you have, haven’t you?

3. Don’t ask, don’t tell

If you’re lucky enough to dodge the bullet, don’t voluntarily disclose information not requested in the interview.

However, you’ll want to be honest on the job application by disclosing accurate start and end dates or you risk losing the prospective employer’s trust. Lying on an application can also get you fired.

4. Carefully select references

If you were canned because of an ethical violation and not a mass layoff, it’s probably not a good idea to ask your former boss for a reference. However, you can approach others you worked with who will speak well of you.

Know that many companies, to avoid lawsuits, have policies that limit a former employer to confirming when you worked there and what your job was. In fact, the oldest trick in the book is listing the general number to the human resources department so when the prospective employer calls, the employment verification information will be stated without any extras.

But, in the absence of such a policy, there’s nothing to keep your former boss from saying you were fired and for what, as long as it’s truthful.

5. Participate in self-improvement activities

Whether it’s continuing education courses or webinars on workplace etiquette, you’ll definitely want to stay busy during the job search period and sharpen your skills. Even if you’re tempted to take a mental break, keep moving.

Don’t forget to update and polish your resume because it’s the primary tool you’ll be using, outside of networking, to get your foot in the door. If it’s been awhile since you last conducted a job search and need a little assistance, take a look at “12 Tips to Build a Resume That Will Get You Hired.”

6. Consider a therapist

While I’m no psychologist, I’m well aware that job loss can take a major emotional toll on a person. Therapy presents the optimal opportunity to vent to a well-trained stranger, learn to cope with stress and move on with your life. This is particularly important if depression has drained your momentum and you have no one else to confide in.

7. Volunteer

Is your job search taking much longer than expected? You can fill in the gaps on your resume by donating your time to a charitable organization whose cause is near and dear to your heart. And you never know who you’ll meet. You could end up working side by side on a community service project with your future employer.

8. Do an internship

Thinking of pursuing a career change? What better way to get your feet wet than an internship? Even if it’s unpaid, you’ll still have an opportunity to sharpen your existing skills and learn a few new ones.

If you become skilled enough at a particular task, try your hand at some freelancing work on the side to bring in a little extra cash. Plus, that’s another line item you can add to your resume.

Once the internship ends, you may be offered employment with the company or decide to pursue your side gig full time.

9. Practice self-reflection

With each job termination comes an important lesson and some time to reassess your situation and goals. In some instances, a job termination could be for the better and grant you the opportunity to travel down new roads. Perhaps, you’ve been dreaming of going back to school to earn a graduate degree or pursuing your passion as an entrepreneur?

If your finances are in order, here’s your chance to view your termination as a blessing in disguise and pursue your dreams.

By no means am I downplaying your situation, but it’s best to focus on the good that can come out of it. In other words, the world won’t end, and you’ll live another day to better yourself, seek employment at another company in your industry, or find your true calling.

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