If you suspect you’re in danger of being fired, the worst thing you can do is just sit back and wait for it to happen. Instead, here are 10 concrete steps you should be taking now, before you’re shown the door.
1. Remove personal files and emails from your work computer. Most companies disable computer and network access as soon as an employee is fired, so you may not have the chance to retrieve these items once you’re let go. Email any personal items to yourself—and erase anything that you don’t want your employer seeing once you’re gone.
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2. Take home your personal belongings. If you’re fired, you’re likely to be given only a short amount of time to pack up your personal items—often with company security standing over you. At that point, you’re probably going to be desperate to get out of the office and won’t feel like dealing with your collection of blown-glass Star Wars figurines or tracking down where you left your college fraternity mug. So if you see a termination coming, plan ahead and take some of that home now.
3. Take home work samples and contact information. If you want to have samples of your work to show future employers, take them home now, since you might not have the opportunity once you’re fired. (Make sure you’re not violating your employment agreement by doing this.) Make sure you also have contact information for any colleagues, vendors, or clients who you might want to reach out to for networking purposes after you’re gone.
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4. Imagine hearing the words “we’re letting you go." Actually hearing those words can be a real emotional blow. And if you’re caught off guard, there’s a higher chance of saying something that you’ll later regret. As satisfying as it might be to go on a bitter rampage about everything that’s wrong with your boss and your company, you need to protect your reputation by exiting professionally. A classy exit can garner you future recommendations from coworkers and even your boss; a bitter, hostile exit closes that door for good. So figure out ahead of time how you’ll control your emotions and what you’ll say to exit with class.
5. Think through logistics ahead of time. For instance, you’ll want to ask whether they’re offering you a severance package, how long your health care coverage will last, when you’ll receive your last check, and what they’ll say to future employers who call for a reference.
6. If there’s any reason you might need to take legal action later, collect relevant documents now. If bringing legal action is a real possibility, take home a copy of the employee manual, copies of any relevant emails or memos, and anything else you would need to prove your case later. Because it’s costly and can take years, legal action should be a last resort (and employees often assume things are illegal that actually aren’t), but if you think you have a case, this may be your only opportunity to assemble helpful documentation. (It can also give you leverage to negotiate a better severance package.)
7. Get your finances in order. Don’t wait until your paychecks stop coming in. Stop any unnecessary spending, and sock away as much money as you can. If you’re planning to do something that depends on being employed (such as refinancing a mortgage), do it now.
8. Investigate how unemployment compensation works in your state. Learn about eligibility requirements and how to apply. If you’re fired, you’ll want to apply immediately, because the sooner you do, the sooner you’ll start receiving benefits.
9. If you’ve been putting off any health care appointments, make them now. Get your doctor and dentist appointments in while you still have insurance. (You can also choose to extend your coverage after leaving your company, through the federal program COBRA.)
10. Remember that you’re not alone. Lots of good people before you have been fired. Steve Jobs was once fired! So was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Harry Potter author JK Rowling once got fired too. Getting fired doesn’t make you a failure; it’s just a tough break, one that you’ll bounce back from.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.