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What to Do if You're Fired

This step-by-step guide will help you find new employment fast.

Suddenly, you've lost your job. If I were in your shoes (and I'm a career counselor), here's what I would do:

1. I would know that each nanosecond of wallowing mires me deeper into self-pity and inactivity and turns that chip on my shoulder into a boulder. So my job search would start immediately.

2. I'd tell myself (even if it's slightly delusional) that being terminated is for the best. I might actually say, as a mantra, "The layoff will pay off," hoping the affirmation will strengthen the neural pathway storing that thought. It's like exercising a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger it gets. That may not work, but what do I have to lose by trying?

2a. To help make that mantra a reality, I'd ask myself a few questions: What can I learn from the layoff? Should I vet my next employer more carefully? On my next job, do I need to work harder? Acquire new skills? Be lower-maintenance? Make myself better liked by peers? Do I need a job target that better matches my strengths and avoids my weaknesses? If I didn't know the answers, I'd get a 360-degree evaluation, based on candid, anonymous evaluations from former bosses, co-workers, customers and the like.


3. I'd make minimally painful cuts to my expenses:

  • Eat at home: A dinner of broiled chicken breast and steamed broccoli with garlic is a lot cheaper and more healthful (albeit less enticing) than that Indian buffet I too often crave.

  • Use free entertainment: Borrow videos and books from the library, invite friends over (and serve them Two Buck Chuck wine from Trader Joe's), take hikes, watch good (or even bad) TV, and surf the Internet-including, of course,

  • Stop unnecessary spending. Anesthetizing my angst with shopping will only amplify my stress. So, no new gadgets, no new clothes. I have enough to last until the economy recovers -- well, maybe not that long. And my next vacation will be after I get a job offer. The best way to ease my misery is to help someone in worse shape: Volunteer at a hospital, an animal shelter or a hospice.


4. I hate searching for a job and would want to get it over with as quickly as possible, so I'd cram the entire search into one week. Yes, it'd be a helluva week, but doing it in one week would mean that all I'd have to do later is take calls from people I've contacted and go to interviews. What would I do during that killer week?

  • Start blogging in my area of professional expertise. It's easy to do, and it's free. Just use Blogger. Every day, I would write a 100- to 300-word post that would impress my target employer. I don't need to be Shakespeare; I just need to write clearly.

  • Twitter. Don't know what that means? enables you to post statements of 140 or fewer characters -- called tweets -- to the site, searchable by keyword. Your tweets should be a parade of your ideas that would impress your target employer. So as a career counselor, I might post, "Want to work w/ your hands but have no real skills? Be a home weatherizer: Obama's put $5B aside for low-incomers to caulk and insulate their home."

    After I started Twittering, I would search (by keyword or name) to find fellow Twitterers (among the more than five million) who could hire me or refer me to someone who could hire me for my target job. I'd follow their tweets and, where it moves me, compliment them or "retweet" them -- that is, repost their tweets. That Twitterer (a potential employer) would notice me and might follow my tweets. In addition to my tweets, which would include attempts at brilliant, brief brainstorms, I would send non-desperate tweets and direct messages to my target Twitterers about my job search. For example, "UC Berkeley career coaching operation just shut down. So looking for another univ.-based coaching job. Any leads?" And such is how a relationship begins.


    My Twitter profile would include a link to my blog (which would include my bio) so that when my target employer gets curious about me, he might be further impressed. My Twitter profile would also include keywords that describe me. I'd focus, of course, on those that would appeal to my target employer, such as "career coach, "career columnist," "contributing editor, careers" "NPR San Francisco radio host" and "ABC San Francisco radio host." That way, an employer looking for someone like me can enter keywords and find me.

    My clients are telling me that this sort of Twittering is worth the time, more so than even developing your profiles on the vaunted king and queen of social media, LinkedIn and Facebook. Twitter is fun, and it yields good information, job leads and interviews.

    Watch this video interview with Twittering expert J.T. O'Donnell for tips.

  • Cold contact the person with the power to hire me at the five to 20 employers I'd most want to work for, even though they're not advertising an on-target job. I want to get to the hirer early, before the job is advertised.

  • My method of cold contact: Call, then e-mail, then call again:

    1. I'd call after hours, leaving messages such as "Until yesterday, I was a career coach at the University of California, Berkeley, but it cut the program, so I'm looking for my next job. I'll be e-mailing you my portfolio, which includes a résumé, a video introduction of myself and a white paper [an impressive term for a short term paper] I wrote, "Seven Keys to Highly Effective Coaching."

    2. Using, I'd e-mail the aforementioned package. If I hadn't heard back in two days, I would call again during the day, when I had a chance of reaching the hirer, and would say, "I'm the Berkeley career coach who sent you his visual curriculum vitae . Not having heard from you, I assume you're not interested. But I know how things can fall between the cracks, so I'm taking the liberty of calling to follow up. If you think we should talk, if only to provide some advice as to where I should turn, I'd welcome hearing from you. My phone number is [repeat twice]."

  • Call or e-mail the ten to 50 people in my network most likely to have a job lead for me. These could include former co-workers, fellow alumni, recruiters, relatives, my lawyer, haircutter and clergyperson. I'd give them the pitch, ask if they know anyone I should talk with, and ask if they're willing to keep their ears open for potential jobs.

  • Answer five to ten on-target want ads. I wouldn't waste my time answering ads for jobs that don't appear to be a perfect fit. Today, want ads often generate mountains of applications. To make clear that I'm a perfect match, I'd use a two-column cover letter. On the left side, I would list the job requirements and, on the right side, explain how I meet each one.

Marty Nemko (bio) is a career coach and author of Cool Careers for Dummies.