Imagine you arrive at work Monday morning, fill up your favorite coffee mug, and sit down to start going through emails. Another failed backup, a vendor bugging you about a quote, and Bob in the warehouse asking in an email: "Can't print from my PalmPilot, is the email server down?"
A typical Monday — nothing you, a super IT administrator aren't sufficiently equipped and caffeinated to handle.
But, soon your manager shows up in your doorway, asking for a minute to chat. You pick up your coffee and walk into his office… only to find yourself facing him, his boss, and someone from HR.
Uh-oh, looks like Bob might have to wait.
A really bad Monday
An hour later you're walking out to your car in a daze about what just happened. Later, you're awash in a flood of emotions: Anger, resentment, fear, and depression. For most IT pros, being fired will be ugly. It will immediately strip you of your livelihood, self-worth, and fulfillment.
Nothing can sugarcoat this unpleasant experience, but one thing you can control is what to do next if you are fired — and we recommend getting started immediately. The desire to binge on Netflix in your underwear for a couple days (or weeks) might be strong, but being reactive will do a lot for your soul and future career plans. Let's dig in.
Keep Your Cool
There's a lot of advice and counsel online about losing your job, but we'll focus on a few biggies. If you ever find yourself in one of these unfortunate meetings, be professional and don't burn any bridges. No matter what, this is really important to get into your head.
The immediate aftermath of being fired is not the time to tell your boss your true feelings about them and/or the company, pound your fists on the table, shout, et cetera. Keep calm, be mature, gather your things, and go quietly.
You most likely spent a lot of time building relationships at this company; relationships that will carry on if you stay in the same field, and that you may want to rely on for references. Ruining those relationships could undermine your credibility in the eyes of former (and potential) colleagues.
Get to Work
Start immediately, as soon as you get home from leaving the office for the last time. Update your resume, post it on every job site, update your LinkedIn profile, call recruiters, and chase every lead and networking opportunity you can find. If it's been awhile since your last job hunt, there are some great resources.
Reflect objectively on what happened, it's easy to blame everyone else and defend yourself, but what issues did your former employer have with you? Where do you need to grow? What habits need to change?
Take care of some personal business, too. Are your finances in order? Assume you might be unemployed for a few months, so do you need to cut any expenses? If you find yourself emotionally empty for more than a week or two, consider finding a counselor to help you get through this temporary challenge. Even one session can help. Getting fired is never easy, so don't think you have muscle through it and fix it by yourself.
If your unemployment begins to stretch into weeks or months, you might find yourself with more than a little free time. Take the opportunity to invest in yourself and learn new skills. Remember, technology is always changing, so there's always something to be learned and mastered.
Your last job was all on-premises servers? Sign up for an AWS account and play with all of its free-tier services. Come from an all-Windows shop? Spin up a Linux virtual machine and learn to build something in PHP and MySQL. None of this replaces work experience, but it'll help keep your mind sharp and gives you something to talk about in interviews if your gap in work history comes up.
If your busy work life got in the way of leisure time, find a hobby unrelated to technology. Woodworking, homebrewing, and hiking often seem to come up in IT circles. Do whatever keeps you interested, and engages your brain and maintains your sanity.
Become Future-proof Being proactive while employed can help you survive a round of layoffs in the future. Philosopher Will Durant said, "A nation is born stoic, and dies epicurean." Basically, he's saying that people go from scrappy and fighting tooth and nail to survive to rich, opulent, and comfortable, which becomes their downfall. Maybe a little heavy-handed for our discussion, but there's wisdom to glean for your career.
It's worth taking time now, while still employed to make yourself more future-proof. Identify and address your weaknesses. Ask your superiors regularly for feedback and where they see room for improvement. Don't get comfortable in the groove you establish for yourself. Learn something new to make yourself less replaceable or more valuable to your organization
Ultimately, all your best efforts might be in vain when you're presented with a pink slip. But hopefully, you've put in the work to equip yourself if that day ever comes by assuming the best and preparing for the worse. And, of course, being ready professionally, emotionally, and mentally.