How to Recover from an Unfair Dismissal

6 minute read

Losing your job can be devastating, whatever the circumstances.

But a dismissal can seem personal. It can feel like a pass/fail judgement has been delivered on just you, and that can be particularly hard to take.

Whether the dismissal was fair or unfair is in some ways not the most important thing; in both cases you can be left with a sense that you weren’t wanted. Or liked. It can still feel like a personal rejection.

How to Recover from an Unfair Dismissal

Remember, you’re in good company

We could easily fill this blog post with examples of people who’ve been dismissed from a job—and who’ve then gone on to great career success.

Steve Jobs or J K Rowling are case in point. They’re also quite extreme examples.

It can be more reassuring to know that pretty much anyone who’s worked for ten or twenty years or more will have experienced, if not actual dismissal, a near miss or two.

There will have been a time when they struggled to carry on in a job or organisation that just didn’t suit them, or they’ll have been ‘asked to leave’, not had their contract renewed or managed to move before they were pushed.

Just because these things aren’t on their polished LinkedIn profile, doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. And what’s more, these undisclosed ‘hiccups’ are likely to have been decisive events that have helped them make positive changes to their career path. They may have been far more helpful, in the end, than their visible successes.



So, dust yourself off and focus on the practical steps that will help you move on

It can be hard to extract yourself from the immediate feelings of injustice that surround a dismissal; the high drama of the situation.

But if you’ve been dismissed from your job for misconduct or poor performance, you need to focus your attention on the steps that will help you move on—rather than spend time re-running arguments in your head or focusing on the personality of the person you may see as being behind your dismissal.

The Citizens Advice Bureau has clear, helpful advice on the practical stuff you need to know; like your final pay entitlements, references and the benefits you may be able to claim. You can also use their site to check if your dismissal is unfair.

Once you have a better idea of what to expect, you can start planning your next move. Here a few key tips to help you get started…

How to Recover from an Unfair Dismissal

1. Sort out your references

Your past employer is legally bound to be honest about the reasons you left, but you’re also within your rights to ask for a basic reference—one that simply confirms the dates of your employment, job title and salary. In fact, many large corporations, only ever provide this type of reference so it won’t look unusual on your job application. Speak to the HR department or your old manager to ask that they provide only a basic reference if requested.

Also, is there another manager there who you got on well with, one who’d be happy to write a reference based on their experience of working with you, either upon request or as a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile?


2. Pay attention to how you’re feeling and don’t be ashamed to ask for help 

It doesn’t matter if the dismissal was fair or unfair, or if you accept it may be for the best in the long run—losing your job and being out of work for even a short period of time is stressful. It’s isolating.

Don’t be ashamed to talk with friends or family about how you’re feeling. And if you’re struggling to cope, then make an appointment with a local counselling service who can offer support.


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3. Consider temp work or freelancing

Can you get some temping, freelance or part-time work while you look for your next permanent role?

It can, of course, help financially but can also move your head into a different place; boosting your confidence and self-respect too.


4. Be honest with yourself—and take time out to plan your next steps

Before rushing headlong into new plans, it’s worth spending some time rationalising what went wrong. Be honest with yourself. No one handles work (or other people) perfectly all the time, so write a list of the things you did right and the things you may have done wrong.

Take the time now to think objectively about how suited you were you to the role and/or to the type of organisation. Write down all the things you liked about the job, then the things you didn’t like. Similarly, what did you like or not like about the organisation? Doing this can help you have a better understanding of where your strengths lie at work and what kind of organisation or department you do best in.

How to Recover from an Unfair Dismissal

5. Examine whether you might need a career change

It may well be that your bad experience in this most recent job is a total one-off for you and you are fundamentally on the right career path. Or, an objective analysis of what went wrong may lead you to think about a career change.

It can be hard to accept that a career you’ve wanted for a long time isn’t the one that’s best suited to your personality—but it’s better to realise this in time and act on it.

If you are thinking about a change of career, then get all the free advice you can. Try your local JobCentre Plus, the National Careers Service and the resources available at your local library. Also, look into courses, including free online courses to increase your skills and keep your confidence up.



How to tell future employers why you left

If a future employer asks you directly why you left your last job, then it’s best to be honest. If you’re not honest and they find out later that you’d been dismissed, it could put your new job at risk.

It’s crucially important to prepare for this question.

The worst thing you can do is blunder into an interview with a confused story of what went wrong that attributes blame left, right and centre and leaves you sounding either upset or full of bitter resentment.

So, don’t do it! Decide exactly how much you want to say and how you will frame it. Keep it brief and explain what went wrong in clear terms. You want to leave the impression that you’ve learnt from the experience.

It can help to practice your answer with a friend or try rehearsing your answer out loud so that you’re confident and won’t get either too emotional or muddled.

Stay positive and show the interviewer who you really are, all that you’ve done and let them know more about you—and about your determination to move on in your career.

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. 

Maya Angelou

And remember, you are so much more than your dismissal. Don’t let it hold you back from moving on and finding the next great stage in your career.

Ready to see what amazing roles are out there? Take a look at the charity sector jobs we have available today.

Jean Merrylees

Jean Merrylees is a freelance content writer and editor who has previously written for the BBC. Jean is now taking her first steps into the charity sector after spending some time writing for both Diabetes UK & CharityJob.

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