The Hidden Enemy That Attacks HR Pros When They’re Downsized or Brutally Fired…

by Alan Collins

A few days ago I had coffee with Shawna, who I hadn’t seen in years.

She had just been downsized from her senior HR manager’s position — and didn’t see the writing on the wall.

Forced against her will into the job market, she was now networking and wanted to meet with me.

Personally, I hate these kind of networking meetings.

But because I really enjoyed working with her in the past, I agreed to meet her at a nearby Starbucks.

What shocked me was…

Her behavior was absolutely NOTHING like I remember.    

*  *  *

Her manner of speaking was curt.  Her voice extra loud.  And her gestures were unusually exaggerated.

And she complained at length about her former employer.

When I asked if perhaps she was struggling a bit with the change in her employment status, she slammed her hand on our small table causing both of our coffees to spill.

And I jumped.

With her voice now angry, she shouted: “NO!  You don’t understand!”

“Not only did they let me go, those bastards had the nerve to call me the next day…because they couldn’t locate the files on a couple HR projects I was working on.”

“I told them to screw off, though screw wasn’t the word I used.”

She was literally quivering and shaking as she spoke.

I quickly moved on to another topic.

However, no matter what we talked about, she couldn’t stop venting about her horrible boss, the toxic culture, her backstabbing colleagues and how letting her go was all so unfair.

As we wrapped up our chat, I told her I’d email her if I came across an opportunity.

And I got the heck out of there.

Here’s what I couldn’t do for Shawna…

There was no freakin’ way I was going
to refer her to the two opportunities
I WAS aware of at that very moment. 

*  *  *

Why?  Because she was NOT ready.

And I was NOT going to risk my own reputation by referring a bitter, unready, negative HR person to valuable people in my network.

Giving her the names of any of my contacts would embarrass me to them and would be fruitless for her.

She was not prepared for her job search because she violated the NUMBER ONE RULE you must follow when you BEEN fired, downsized or brutally laid off.  And that rule is this…

It’s the hidden enemy that will ATTACK
you and sabotage your job search. 

How do you do this?

It’s by taking time to GRIEVE YOUR JOB LOSS and get your mind right FIRST, before you start networking and re-entering the job market.

No one enjoys getting released from their HR role.

Especially if it’s due to performance issues.

Or personality clashes.

Or without notice.

Or even for reasons beyond your control like company-wide downsizings or mass layoffs.

If you’re in this camp, it’s crucial that your FIRST STEP involve going through a process that will get you to the point where you look back POSITIVELY on this experience.  No matter how you’ve lost your job, this is an absolute MUST, no matter how impossible this may seem at first.

Here’s why.

There is an emotional sting and anguish associated with getting let go.  And you must deal with it effectively BEFORE you embark on your job search.

No employer wants to interview or hire someone that comes across as a a bitter, beaten down whiner.

They know that such people, especially if they’re in HR, can poison work environments and pass on negative energy to everyone they come in contact with.

So if you’re in the job market suddenly and involuntarily, you CANNOT afford to let bitterness and anger creep into brain once you’ve started your job search efforts.  It will subtly sabotage your efforts before you even start.

You must take the time to work through your emotions.

To help you, here are some suggestions.

*  *  *

#1:  Mentally embrace the brutal
your last job is history.

You’ve got to cut the cord from your old job.

Don’t call back to touch base with the gang at the old company (they’re busy).

Don’t ask them if everything is running fine (not your problem anymore).

Don’t try to learn whether your boss has regretted letting you go (she didn’t).

Or ask if the place is falling apart without you (it isn’t).

Here’s the sad truth: in a few months, no one will notice you’re gone.

Some of your colleagues will see your empty desk and may even silently seethe about the callousness and the brutality of how you were terminated.  But the fact that none of them have quit in solidarity because of this tells you just how much — or little — you’re actually missed.

If they call you, be polite but don’t waste lots of your time answering work-related questions for them.

You don’t have to be a jerk, but there’s no need to spend lots of time telling them where files are located or where projects stand. If they needed any of that, they would have asked before you left.

Anything they ask you to do that takes more than five minutes of your time after you’ve left is work. And if they’re not paying you for it, don’t do it. (And if they do, charge them an hourly consulting fee that’s double what you originally made in an hour.)

I know this sounds callous, cynical and bitter.

But it’s not.

You got let go.

Your colleagues didn’t.

The organization made the decision to move on without you.

Now, it’s time for YOU to emotionally cut the umbilical cord and move on too!

*  *  *

#2: Reach out to your safe haven.

This is your family, close friends, confidantes and your kids.

Have a conversation with your immediate family that evening of your departure and share with them as much as they need to know about your job loss.

Come clean and tell them what happened.

With your close friends and confidantes, get with them on the phone, text or arrange for a face-to-face to talk.

Verbally telling your story out loud ten times — to your family and supporters — will help you deal with and work through your feelings emotionally.

And it will give you something to do.

If you have kids, decide how to deal with them.  Some kids can take it.  Some can’t.

However, kids often have a sixth sense when something is wrong, so letting them know what is going on, in an age-appropriate manner, is something to consider strongly.

Bottom line, know that your family and close relatives will worry about you and wonder how you’re doing.  They may be afraid to ask, so voluntarily tell them and commit to keeping them in the loop.

*  *  *

#3: Find a private place to
emotionally decompress.

The day after you depart, take a walk to a nearby park or to your favorite private place. Breathe. Stay calm. Breathe. Stay calm. Breathe.

If you need to cry, cry. Crying won’t change the situation, but it will help release some more of the tension, anger and emotion surrounding the event.

For the first 48-72 hours afterwards:

For one thing, if your emotions are frazzled and you’re stressed, you’re not in a good place mentally to start this process.

Take two to three days (or more) to unwind, and then take a few more days, if needed.

There’s no reason to hit the ground running the day after you’ve been let go.

Take a couple days to work around your home and try to enjoy some time off. 

Sleep in, spend time with your family or relatives, hang out at a couple local coffee shops and read a book.

Essentially, do nothing.  Relax.

Browse online if you can’t sleep.  Avoid tabloid news. Look for instead for insightful and educational, inspirational and insightful articles, for starters.

Then, after a few days, you may be ready to get started.  But just to make sure…

*  *  *

#4: Give yourself at least 72 hours
to grieve.  Then start taking
care of business.

If you need longer than 72 hours, take it.  There is no magic timing that works for everyone.

Some have taken weeks and even months to fully recover and re-energize themselves.  If you can swing it, financially, take the time you need.

In the meantime, if your employer gave you legal papers to review and sign, call your attorney and enlist his/her professional opinion.

If you were offered outplacement or career transition services, take advantage of them.

If you weren’t, consider hiring the best career coach, career counselor, and or professional resume writer you can find.  It is much too competitive in today’s HR market to try and go it alone.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been in the job market, get up to speed.  Things have changed. Update your knowledge of the job search process. To do this, get copies of my books: HR Resume Secrets and HR Interview Secrets.  Yes, I know this is a selfless plug, but go to Amazon and get them.  They’ll help you tighten up your HR resume and nailing your interviews when the time comes.

In addition, get one other book on career transitions (I highly recommend Guerilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0 by Levinson and Perry).

Start reading them.

*  *  *

After a few days, begin doing some positive reflecting.

It may be tough, but begin pinpointing some positive aspects of your previous job or employer – even if you must dig deep to find them.

Think about those things you accomplished while working for that boss that you go without warning.

Think about all those skills that you learned and all the ways that you grew your career during your tenure there.

Think of all the things you are grateful for.

Jot all these things down.

Don’t rush this process.

Being able to convey these types of positive experiences are major assets of yours…and can be talking points you’ll want to use when the time comes to interview.

*  *  *

Here’s the point.

Don’t let NEGATIVISM attack and infiltrate your job search.

It’s your biggest adversary.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a brand new HR professional in your first job or an experienced HR VP in a Fortune 100 firm…if you’re brutally fired, unexpected laid off or shown the door in a downsizing, resist the urge to start your job search immediately.

Give yourself some time to grieve and work through your feelings and emotions of job loss first.

If you shortcut this process and start networking and job searching, you risk losing out on opportunities because you just aren’t ready and you will come across bitterly — no matter how well you try and hide it.

Just like Shawna did.

Don’t make her mistake.


P.S. Maybe I’ll drop Shawna an email in a few weeks to check in her.  Maybe she’ll be ready then.  Hopefully.

Feel free to add your comments below by clicking HERE.


When you’re ready to start your job search, there are two indispensable resources you should check out:  

HR RESUME SECRETS:  How to Create An Irresistible Human Resources Resume That Will Open Doors, Wow Hiring Managers & Get You Interviews! by CLICKING HERE.


HR INTERVIEW SECRETS: How to Ace Your Next Human Resources Interview, Dazzle Your Interviewers & LAND THE JOB YOU WANT!  For more details go HERE.

About the Author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling HR books including:  HR RESUME SECRETS and  HR INTERVIEW SECRETS.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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17 Responses to “The Hidden Enemy That Attacks HR Pros When They’re Downsized or Brutally Fired…”

  1. Janice Says:

    Hi Alan,

    I was let go from a HR job that I truly HATED. I knew it, my kids knew it, and so did my husband. I was super stressed out and miserable in that job (for 8 months). It was upsetting to be fired from a job (first time being let go from a job) but it was also a huge relief. It wasn’t the job for me.

    I took my time and enjoyed the summer months and landed back on my feet 4 months later in another HR job that I really love. You need to take time for yourself and look after you!

    Thanks for the great article, Alan.

  2. Alan Says:

    Thanks Janice for sharing your experience. Lots we can all learn from your story. Thrilled it worked out for you!

  3. Paul Says:

    Good one Allan.
    72 hours is pushing it for me. I would probably take 2-4 weeks at least and come back really refreshed.

    Many times we underestimate the value of rest, reflection, planning, reinventing and then coming out of the gates again strong, refreshed, confident, positive and invigorated.

    By taking the time to get the lesson and the learning properly will serve us well for the long haul.

  4. Alan Says:

    Paul, well said. Your points are excellent ones. I don’t disagree. If you can swing 2-4 weeks (or even longer), that’s ideal. As you said, the key is being able to come back fully re-energized and confident.

  5. Hilary Tolman Says:

    Brilliant article!

    In the name of professionalism I have managed to keep my opinions about the company that laid me off to myself but the negative mental state of being laid off is astounding – I was not expecting that from myself. I think the advice to take time is incredibly useful, for mind set, for planning, for mental health. We don’t take the time to process set backs, we just jump back in to the fray and try to move on to the next job as soon as possible. I did take the time to process and know better what I don’t want in my next job and what I do which is helpful.

  6. Alan Says:

    Hilary, well said. Great personal insight. It’s great to hear from someone who has had the personal experience. Thank you much for sharing. Very helpful!

  7. Janis Says:

    Correct the negative attitude will destroy you if you let it. No one wants to be around negative Nelly.

    Thanks for this article. You are always on point Alan. Thanks for your leadership and sound advice.

  8. Shadreck Says:

    Fantastic article Allan.
    Having been unexpectedly fired from my job as Head of HR just a few days after accomplishing a groundbreaking HR project for the organisation was a hard time for me. Indeed my network of pros commiserated with me but the people who really stood with me was my family.
    I took several months before I rediscovered my footing again.
    How I wish you had written this article earlier.
    Thanks Alan, I now have more arsenal to assist those who would have encountered my predicament.

  9. Diana Says:

    Thank you, Alan. Great article and advice. Those cases of job loss are so common and know no country/company/cultural boundaries. Working with ourselves on the positive side and preparing ourselves for the new job start, is key to future success – following exactly your precious advice. Thank you for your generosity to share your knowledge and expertise with us.

  10. Ron Branch Says:

    Great article and great insight. Right on point. Thanks for all of the additional resources as well.


  11. Joel Okwuoha Says:

    Hi Alan,

    This is a super article – very spot-on.
    I had to fire a HR Advisor in my team recently for poor performance, but he is keen on having me as a mentor. I have arranged to meet with him in a few weeks from now and I am sure that this article will prove to be very helpful when we meet.

  12. Linda K. Peterson Says:

    Absolutely. Positively SAGE!

  13. Michael Ozehor Says:

    This is absolutely excellent information for beginners in Human resources like me. Thanks a lot for sharing your wealth of experiences and resources with us.

  14. MD Says:

    Hi Thanks Allan, God Bless..

    You pointed it out..bulls eye..I took to updating my HR skills when i sent through a similar situation.


  15. Karen Hockins Says:

    This article is great when you are the one who has been the one to let one go even if it is for business goals vs performance. I had to let someone go who had been with me for 9 years and I had groomed from the ground up. The executives wanted someone in that role who was more of an “out-of-the-box” thinker. Although I didn’t feel a strategic player was needed for that role. It was a tough termination and that person is completely bitter and cut me out even though I attempted to help place them in a good position at another company. It helped me understand it from their side.

  16. Alan Says:

    Well said, Karen. I couldn’t agree more. There are 2 sides to every issue and it’s important to understand things from their side.

  17. William Birech Says: