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How to Get Fired

It happens to the best of us: Sometime, somewhere, you’ll leave a job under less than ideal circumstances. Some people may call this being “fired.” Other euphemisms include: layoff, downsize, time off for family reasons and “I quit.”

But there is an art to getting fired. No, this is not a list of destructive habits that will earn you the ire of your bosses. Rather, this is a column dedicated to the idea that most people, during their long and multi-storied careers, will have a job that does not work out.

Many reasons account for this: the job could be the wrong fit, you’ve got an odd duck of a boss or bad hours without coffee breaks. Maybe you’ve lost passion for the press releases and constituent mail you’re churning out. Maybe you had your ideal job but then you outgrew the position. Or maybe leadership reshuffled and the new boss thinks you’d be better somewhere else. Somewhere far away.

Hill Navigator does not endorse “firing” as a word. It’s pejorative; it implies wrongdoing; it leaves everyone (employee and employer) in an awkward situation where the past is tainted and good work is forgotten. Sometimes jobs don’t work out and people can part on good terms as adults. But it’s not easy to be the one packing up your desk and still be brimming with goodwill. So Hill Navigator has a few tips on how to make the process go as smoothly as possible:

  • Don’t obsess. It happened. It happened to you, and it’s happened to other people. When Jenna*, a senior legislative assistant for a member of Congress, was told she needed to leave by the end of the year, she felt an instant sense of isolation. “Like everyone knew,” she said. And it was easy to obsess over what had gone wrong. But obsessing wasn’t helping Jenna find a new job. As soon as she switched her perspective, she started a productive job search that landed her in a much better fit. And with a raise to boot.
  • Get to work. Don’t just start watching “Dawson’s Creek” reruns; come up with a networking plan where every day you’re doing something to advance your job search. Jenna came up with an Excel spreadsheet that detailed whom she met with and how often. It kept her organized, and she could chart her progress. Tom*, a former policy associate who had to leave a House member’s office, found that the more informational interviews he went on, the more he was able to understand what job would be best suited to him. His one regret was that he’d started the process too late. “Every day I spent in my office, a little piece of me died. I didn’t want to make a lateral move just to move. Once you know you’re unhappy in your job, start meeting with people and see what options are out there.”
  • Stay in touch with the office. Wait, what? Talk to the crazy fools who let you go? Yes. I don’t mean you need to friend these people on Facebook. But, presumably, some of your old colleagues were sorry to see you go and could be helpful in your job search. Meet them for coffee at a neutral location, skip the need to complain about your new-found downtime and dislike for the boss, and ask them for help in finding a new position. These are people likely to feel a sense of obligation, and obligation can be a great motivator in setting up informational interviews.
  • Lick your wounds privately. Your goal is to get a new job as quickly as you can and avoid the unsightly “résumé gap” that ensues from being out of work for an extended time. Be mindful of the external messaging you give your world at large. Facebook and Twitter are press release substitutes. When Jenna landed her new job, she was glad she’d kept her woes to herself. “People assume it was a promotion,” she said. “In a lot of ways, it was.”

*Names have been changed to make sure the Hill staffers keep their stellar reputations intact.

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