Laid Off vs Fired: What's the Difference? (And How to Move Forward)

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May 18, 2023
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min read

3 key takeaways

  • The difference between being laid off vs. fired
  • What steps you should take after losing your job
  • How to move on after a job loss

Losing your job can be a stressful and emotional experience—regardless of the circumstances. 

And whether you were laid off or fired, it's important to understand the difference between the two (and to know what steps you can take to move forward). 

So let's examine the difference between being laid off vs. fired and dive into a plan to get you back on your feet (and back to work)—quickly.

What does being laid off mean

You might feel like the term "laid off" is a hot (and frustrating) topic right now. And you aren't wrong. Companies from LinkedIn and Meta to 3M and Whole Foods have recently laid off employees en masse—creating a sense of uncertainty and instability. 

And if you've recently been impacted by a business's decision to downsize staff, you know the pain all too well.

So what is a layoff, anyway?

Well, when you're laid off, it means an employer has eliminated or cut your position due to a lack of funding or demand for your role.

This experience commonly arises due to shifts in the company's business strategy, financial challenges, or a decline in demand for specific products or services.

It's important to understand that being laid off, while often painful and challenging, should not be taken personally. It certainly isn't a reflection of your performance or abilities but rather a business decision made by your employer based on the state of their company.

Reasons employees get laid off

  • Restructuring or downsizing
  • Decrease in demand for the company's products or services
  • Change in business strategy
  • Financial difficulties or budget cuts
  • Outsourcing or moving operations to a different (often less expensive) location

What does being fired mean

The word "fired" carries weighty significance, often eliciting feelings of surprise, disappointment, and even a sense of failure. Being fired can be a sensitive and sometimes anxiety-inducing topic—one most professionals take very seriously.

So what exactly does "being fired" mean?

Being fired means an employer terminates your employment due to poor performance, violating company policies, or other issues related to your behavior or actions. 

A key difference from being laid off is that, more often than not, being fired does reflect abilities or actions. It can also result from a lack of effort, commitment, or even compatibility with company culture.

Reasons employees get fired

  • Poor performance or not meeting job expectations
  • Violating company policies or code of conduct
  • Insubordination or disrespect towards colleagues or management
  • Dishonesty or unethical behavior
  • Failing to show up to work or being chronically late

What to do if you've been laid off vs. fired

Now that you understand the difference between being laid off vs. fired, let's explore some immediate actions to take once you've been notified.

If you've been laid off

If you've been laid off, the steps below are a good starting point to help you make the transition as smooth as possible:

1. Collect all necessary paperwork: This includes your final paycheck, any severance pay or package information, any employment contracts, and any other documents related to your employment.

2. Understand your severance pay or package: If you're going to receive severance pay or severance packages, review the terms carefully. Make sure you understand what you're entitled to and ask questions about the things you don't. Your severance package might include additional pay, benefits, or other forms of compensation, so read it carefully (and then read it again!).

3. Review health insurance: If you had health insurance through your employer, find out if you're eligible for something like COBRA coverage if you need to find an alternative.

4. File for unemployment benefits: Laid-off employees may be eligible for unemployment benefits—providing temporary financial assistance while looking for a new job. Check with your state's unemployment office to see what you need to do to apply.

(For more detailed information, check out this layoff playbook.) 

If you've been fired 

Being fired is a challenging experience. And if you've recently been fired, there are some steps you can take to recover and move forward.

1. Understand the reason: First and foremost, make sure you understand the reason for your termination. And if anything is unclear, ask questions. For example: "Can you provide specific reasons for my termination?" or "Was my termination a result of performance-related issues or other factors?" 

2. Review termination paperwork: Review any paperwork provided to you. Paperwork can include items like a termination letter, documentation supporting the decision, or a notice of termination.

3. Ask for feedback: Requesting feedback from your former employer, direct manager, or HR department can offer insight into the reasons behind being fired. Feedback is an opportunity for self-reflection and self-improvement—helping you identify areas for growth and development.

4. Review health insurance and finances: If you had health insurance through your employer, find out if you're eligible for alternate coverage. You'll also want to review your finances and adjust your budget as needed.

5. File for unemployment benefits: Depending on the circumstances of your termination and your location, you may or may not be entitled to unemployment benefits, but it's always good practice to try.

How to move on after a job loss

Most people who have experienced professional success have also faced career setbacks. And what matters most is how you respond and move forward. You can continue to grow both personally and professionally by being proactive.

Regardless of whether you were laid off or fired, to move on from the experience and take control of your career, there are some actionable steps you can take:

1. Take care of yourself

Losing your job can take a toll on your mental health. According to the National Library of Medicine, research shows 70% of unemployed individuals experience heightened stress, and 50% report increased mental health concerns.

It's critical to take care of yourself during this time. So what can this look like? 

  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Meditation
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Regular physical activity
  • Setting boundaries 
  • Social connection
  • Therapy

If you're struggling to cope, consider speaking with a mental health professional as soon as possible.

2. Set career goals

It might seem like being let go from a job will derail your career goals indefinitely. But not necessarily—there can be opportunity and growth in times of change.

Take some time to reflect on your goals and what you'd like to achieve in your next role. Consider your strengths, weaknesses, interests, and where you see yourself in the next few weeks, months, and years to identify a potential career path.

If you're feeling stuck, the Teal Skills Workbook can help you identify your current skills and any potential skills you want to focus on before you land your next job.

3. Update your resume 

If you've been in the same role for any length of time, it's probably time for a resume refresh. In today's job market, new trends emerge every day, so it's important to update your resume according to what hiring managers are looking for (and to know what resume mistakes you should avoid!).

Your resume should be updated to include your most recent position, any new hard and transferable skills, and your achievements (including quantifiable metrics and impact) while in that role. 

The Teal AI Resume Builder can help you optimize the details of your most recent accomplishments and employment history. And, with it, you can tailor your resume to the job description of the roles you apply to—a necessary step to stand out in today's competitive market. 

Tailoring your resume using specific ATS keywords and language from a job description will help you land interviews for your next opportunity because you're giving hiring managers the details they're looking for. Sign up for Teal for free today and give it a try! 

Use Teal's AI Resume Builder to quickly compare the skills and keywords in the job posting to those in your resume. Make sure to add relevant experience to your customized resume and your application answers.

4. Optimize your LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn is a valuable networking tool. And many hiring managers and recruiters use it to search for potential candidates. 

Make sure to optimize your LinkedIn page with relevant keywords and information about your skills and experience.  

Pro Tip: A great way to check your LinkedIn profile is to download Teal's Free Chrome Extension, which includes an automated LinkedIn Profile Review. Once you install the extension, navigate to your LinkedIn profile page and click on the Teal logo. You'll see a list of recommendations on how best to optimize your profile, and you can make updates as needed.

Optimize your LinkedIn profile with Teal's LinkedIn Profile Review tool.
Optimize your LinkedIn profile with Teal's LinkedIn Profile Review tool.

5. Start your job search

Once your resume and LinkedIn profile are ready, it's time to start researching job openings in your field (or in the industry you want to work in)—identifying positions that align with your career goals.

Stay organized and, in one central location, track 10–15 jobs each day that interest you using a tool like the Teal Job Application Tracker. Of course, you don't have to apply to all of these jobs, but having the details in one place will help you sort through them quickly and easily.

6. Start the application process

After you've identified potential job opportunities, it's time to start applying! 

And while the modern application process might seem daunting, it doesn't have to be. 

Using tools like Teal to track every step of each application and ChatGPT for cover letters or individual achievements will help save both time and energy.  

In addition, Teal can now automatically fill your job applications with the help of your resume and the job descriptions you've saved inside the Job Application Tracker tool.

Teal uses OpenAI's GPT to skim all this information, provide personalized answers, and help you automatically apply for the roles that excite you most. The best part? You never have to manually enter repetitive details like your address, phone number, email, years of experience, or college degree ever again.

@teal_hq Have you ever wanted to a tool that could fill out job applications for you? Well you’re in luck because Teal just dropped an AWESOME new update. The “Autofill Application” feature will grab your resume and the job description and populate fields with your information AND write responses to the application questions (that no one likes answering). Try it out and let us know what you think! #jobapplication #jobapplications #jobapplicationtips #careertok #jobsearch #jobsearchingtips #jobsearchtips ♬ Chillest in the Room - L.Dre

Bonus: How to interview after being laid off vs. fired

Interviewing after a job loss can be nerve-wracking. But your success lies in one word: confidence. 

If you've been laid off, simply be honest about the circumstances surrounding your job loss. Be sure to highlight any positive experiences or accomplishments from your time at the company. 

And when interviewing after being fired, focus on what you've learned from the experience and confidently express how you've grown personally and professionally.

In both cases, be prepared to answer questions about why you left your previous role and to discuss your career goals (and how they align with the position you're applying for).

Pro Tip: If you need to practice your responses to common interview questions but aren't sure where to start, there are tips and resources within Teal's Job Application Tracker to help you practice.

Use the Practice Interviewing tips within Teal's Job Application Tracker to help you present your best self in an interview.
Use the Practice Interviewing tips within Teal's Job Application Tracker to help you present your best self in an interview.

You can also track your entire interview process within the Teal Job Application Tracker—from date and time to format and contacts—all in one central, organized location.

Sign up for Teal to proactively take control of your career 

If you've recently experienced a job loss, Teal can help you take control of your career and find your next opportunity. 

The AI Resume Builder and Job Application Tracker make it easy to quickly create polished and customized job application assets and stay organized during your job search—leaving you with more time to focus on finding a career you love. 

Sign up today to get started!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you say you were laid off when you were fired?

No, saying that you were laid off when you were fired would be inaccurate and potentially misleading to future employers. 

It's important to be honest and transparent about the circumstances surrounding your departure from a previous job during the job application and interview process.

Is it bad to be laid off?

Being laid off is not a reflection of your performance or abilities. It's a result of a business decision that may be related to factors beyond your control, like economic downturns, company restructuring, budget cuts, or mergers and acquisitions.

And while being laid off is not necessarily a bad thing for your resume or the potential of future roles, it can absolutely be stressful and emotionally challenging.

Is it better to say laid off or quit?

If you're in a situation where you've been laid off or quit your job, it's important just to be honest about your experience. 

But keep in mind to frame your departure in a way that reflects positively on you. In general, being laid off is often seen as less negative than quitting, as it suggests that your departure was not due to any fault of your own.

Kayte Grady

Kayte, Senior Copywriter at Teal and Champion of ADHD professionals, is a seasoned writer passionate about storytelling and career growth. With a data-driven approach to content marketing and a word-nerd knack for resume builder analysis, Kayte’s on a mission to empower job seekers to land a job they love. Constantly pivoting and reinventing herself, this social-worker-turned-marketer found growth and camaraderie in tech—a genuine surprise given her never-ending devotion to the paper calendar.

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