What to do when (it may happen) you're fired


Odds are, most of us will get fired at least once. Often there are warning signs, like a new boss who wants to bring in "fresh blood," or a nose-dive in company profits. Sometimes your own star seems to be falling: You're getting less challenging assignments than usual, you're excluded from key decisions, or not invited to important meetings.

It all leads up to what's called the "termination interview" -- that dreaded meeting when the ax falls. Companies get lots of advice about how to do the dirty work, most of it geared to preventing lawsuits. Nobody really talks about the employee's side of the conversation. But a new book, "Fired? Fight Back!" tells you how to protect your interests (Amacom, $16.95; [800] 262-9699).

By day, the author is a mild-mannered consultant to Fortune 500 companies. To not seem like a traitor to his clients, he writes under the pseudonym "Mr. X." Maintaining his cover, he recently consented to a telephone interview. I plunged right in with a personal question: "Have you ever been fired?"

"Yes," he said, sounding a bit defensive. "Not for poor performance, but because of the financial condition of the company." Getting fired "doesn't make you a bad person," he hastened to add. "It's OK to be angry, but pretty soon you're going to have to get past that."

Backup to that awful moment when you find out you've been fired. X thinks it's best to keep this meeting as brief as possible. Don't lose your temper, don't beg for your job back and don't sign anything, he advises. Take notes. Then make an appointment for a few days later to discuss the terms of your departure.

Management, which doesn't relish the task of laying off people, wants to wrap things up quickly, X explains. They can ask you to clean out your desk immediately, confiscate your keys and escort you out of the building like a criminal. Still, they can't force you to resolve any unfinished business, whether it relates to vacation pay, benefits, or a severance package, if the company offers one.

Then go home and make a list of the items you want to negotiate. Many people only think about getting enough severance pay to cover them until the next job. But sometimes you can also maneuver for other sweeteners, like outplacement help, or more lenient payback terms for credit-union loans.

Another topic to cover is what your boss will tell prospective employers who ask for references. While many companies have a strict policy of simply confirming the dates of employment, few managers outside human resource departments actually follow

it, says X. You can ask your boss to put a positive spin on why you have left the company. Most people will live up to that.

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