Laid off or let go: How to exit a job gracefully

Don't let your anger or shock get the best of you. 

A concerned worker walks out of an office with a box of belonging in their hands.

You just got the fateful news from your boss that your services are no longer needed. The odds are pretty good that at this moment, you're angry, hurt, upset, or embarrassed – or any blend of those emotions.

Your gut reaction might be to scream, cry, or let your boss know what you really think of them. However, your best move is to stay cool and “get let go like pro." Certainly, this is easier said than done in the moments after the pink slip gets slid across your boss's desk. Of all the graceful exits you may have to make over the course of your lifetime, this one may be the most challenging. Yet, it also may be the most important. Why? It's in your best interest. When you leave in a calm and dignified manner, it improves your chances of securing references and referrals (and maybe a better severance package). Beyond these practical considerations there are many less-concrete but still compelling reasons to not to burn bridges – even if you are plenty fired up about being shown the door.

You will gain respect

Here's the simple reality – for most bosses, laying people off is extremely stressful. Your boss likely feels bad enough giving you a pink slip, making them feel even worse by badmouthing or screaming doesn't benefit anyone involved. Focus on staying calm and professional. People will remember that you were a class act through a difficult time, and will admire and respect you for it.

You will move forward with more confidence

There may be short-term satisfaction in telling off your boss as you head out the door. Yet before long, the only thing your former co-workers and you will remember is the tantrum you pitched. Leaving with dignity doesn't only preserve your reputation, it bolsters your self-confidence and feelings of worth – both valuable assets as you set out on search for a job way better than the one you just lost.

You may cross this bridge again

It's estimated that a recent college graduate will hold at least 11 jobs over the course of his or her career. With that in mind, it's not out of the question that the very employer that is now letting you go may welcome you back at some point in your career. And if it's not with the same company, it might be a former co-worker or manager employed elsewhere who ends up recruiting and hiring you. By handling your dismissal with grace you open the door to unknown opportunities down the road. Of course, you're human. And it's not easy staying calm and focused during the emotional process of losing a job. Yet in the new economy it will likely be part of everyone's work life at some point.

Preparing for the possibility beforehand will help you keep emotions in check. Odds are, you probably will have some inkling that your job is not completely secure. With that in mind, it's best to discreetly lay the groundwork for a job search before the ax falls. Not only does that give you a head start on finding a new job, it also may help you take the news with greater poise and perspective. When you do that well, you will gain the respect of others, as well as the self confidence that comes from being a true professional in the face of any adversity.

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