9 Signs You're About To Get Fired (And How to Prepare)

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Allie Hofer32
June 13, 2024 at 1:46AM UTC

Have you ever experienced that anxious, sinking feeling that the job you thought was so perfect perhaps isn’t working out after all? If the discomfort is on your end alone, you likely have the time and freedom to search for a better fit. If, on the other hand, you're starting to catch some signs you're about to get fired, you may not have control over when or how your stint in that position will come to a close. 

It happens. Job security is never guaranteed, especially if you aren't remaining relevant in your field and others prove more knowledgeable, skilled, or reliable. Even when you are checking all the boxes of a good employee and being constantly praised by your boss, in today's economy, a layoff can happen at any time. 

But how do you know if you're being pushed out of a job, and what can you do about it? While you may not be able to reverse a plan to eliminate you if it’s already in motion, you can soften the shock by staying alert and watching for these signs you're going to be fired. 

9 signs you're about to get fired

If the question “Am I going to be fired?” keeps running through your mind, there's a chance you might be onto something. Typically, bosses will do everything in their power to avoid letting this type of information leak before it's actually time to let you go. However, not every company is as cautious, and certain actions can make it almost explicit that somebody is getting fired.

1. Your last meeting with your boss was documented in an email

Say you just had a tense conversation with your manager about your recent performance. You leave their office with a sigh of relief, thinking that you know exactly what to do moving forward, and you can erase that uncomfortable 1:1 from your mind. 

Later that day, though, your manager follows up with an email outlining what you two had discussed. Warning! The meeting summary isn’t a kind gesture; rather, it is very deliberate documentation intended for your file. 

In order to cover their backs and provide substantial evidence, your company’s higher-ups will be sure to pave your trail to the exit with plenty of paper proof of your downfall. Instead of panicking, use the email content as your guide to making improvements and put your all into salvaging your job.

2. You're feeling pressured to finish tasks immediately

Remember the tough conversation you just had with your manager? Calling a meeting with you has signaled your probation, which means they will now be checking in more frequently to keep you in line. 

So,instead of decompressing by the water cooler, get cracking on those items you two discussed. Review the topics covered and choose the most pressing items as your absolute must-dos to begin working on immediately. When your  manager inevitably follows up with you later in the day, they will be looking for significant progress on those items. Feeling overwhelmed or that the expectations are unreasonable are surefire signs that you might not be suited for the position. 

3. Responsibilities are being pulled from you

The newest hire approaches your desk and you quickly grab a sticky note to jot down your coffee order. But plot twist—they inform you that your boss has asked them to take the lead on the project you’ve been overseeing. Cheeks burning, you fumble for the project file and hand it over without making eye contact. 

It’s possible your manager decided that this project is beneath you and is clearing your agenda for more important items. It's more likely that the lightening of your load has the opposite meaning. 

If your assignments are being siphoned off to other employees, your boss may not think you’re equipped to handle the responsibilities of those roles successfully. 

4. You’re not invited to certain meetings

As you return to your desk after lunch, you notice that members of your team are heading to the conference room. Your heart skips a beat when you pull up your calendar and don’t see anything scheduled. Did your team forget to invite you? Maybe they’re planning a surprise party for you? Actually, this could also be one of the signs you are going to be fired.

Not being included is a strong indication that you are no longer integral and on your way out. If your team is meeting without you, they may be working on a project with a deadline that outlives your tenure. Your manager has already determined your expiration date, and while your coworkers likely aren’t aware of why, they have been instructed to exclude you. 

5. Someone with the same title has been hired

You arrive Monday morning to find your manager escorting a new face around the office, making introductions. Finally, another person to help out the department! Word quickly spreads that they have quite the impressive résumé—and that they’ve been hired with the same title as you. Did your boss realize you have too much on your plate and hire someone to share the burden? 

Unfortunately, companies rarely are in such solid financial standing that positions can be added without making cuts. One of the most subtle signs you're about to get laid off is when someone is brought on who shares your title but has more experience than you. It’s probably not personal—it’s business. But either way, it’s a red flag.

6. Your boss starts micromanaging you

This is another subtle sign you're going to be fired. Your autonomy is slowly taken from you, and your decisions are no longer trusted. It could be related to poor performance reviews or even to a recent mistake that led to a lack of trust in your professional abilities.

“If you were previously autonomous and trusted to do your job then suddenly you’re constantly being asked to justify your work, the end may be near,” says career coach and corporate recruiting specialist Yolanda M. Owens.

7. You suddenly lose access to systems 

Being locked out of the company's systems, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams accounts, or any internal software, is a big sign. “If you suddenly notice your access to systems, facilities or cards are being blocked or removed, you’ll want to start planning an exit strategy for yourself,” Owens says.

In this situation, it's likely that the process of letting you go is almost finalized with HR, and the only step missing is giving you the news when the time is right. 

8. You're getting the cold shoulder from your colleagues or manager

Have you noticed your manager or colleagues acting differently towards you? Something may be up. “Getting the cold shoulder could be a sign you’ll be exiting soon,” Owens says. You may notice you’re being excluded from important communications related to your role or team, your input is getting brushed off or ignored in meetings.”

Unless there's a very good reason you could think of to justify this change in behavior, the most reasonable explanation is that you may be next to get fired. Especially if this starts happening after receiving bad feedback from your boss, a confrontation, or a poor performance review.

9. The company is not going well financially

In business, money typically comes first. If your company is not performing well financially, you should prepare for a possible layoff. Typically, the first sign is that some teams begin to get gradually cut off, alongside other critical measures to reduce expenses. If the financial situation doesn't improve, the remaining employees—including you—could be next on the list. 

What to do when you are about to get fired

Nobody wants to be surprised by a termination without a backup plan, right? Instead of waiting for it to happen, start preparing as soon as you identify the signs you're going to be fired. Here's what you could be doing:

Start job searching and networking 

Yes, you can job search while still employed. In fact, when you sense that a termination is coming, this should be one of your top priorities. 

“First, update your job search materials and begin a passive, discreet job search. Start cruising the job boards and networking to see what’s out there,” Owens says. “Let your network know you’re possibly looking for new opportunities without bad mouthing your current employer.”

Prepare for certain interview questions

When you start interviewing, common questions like “Why are you leaving your current job?” are likely to come up. Recruiters want to know if you're reliable or if you're inclined to leave this job as well if they decide to hire you. With that in mind, you can start preparing your answer in advance.

“Think about how you want to explain your separation from the job in interviews,” Owens says.  “The key is to keep things short, sweet and positive. You don’t want to reveal too many details or bad mouth the company.”

If you've already been fired by the time you land your first interview, it's OK to be honest about being laid off, but be careful not to say anything that may cause a bad impression. “Saying something like, ‘the company decided to restructure and unfortunately I was part of the collateral damage’ may be enough to satisfy their curiosity and keep you from putting your foot in your mouth,” Owens says.

Keep up with a good performance at work

Believing that you're going to be fired should not be a reason to stop caring about your performance. After all, your termination may not even happen, and if it does, it's better to leave on good terms. 

“Don’t let your performance slip,” Owens advises “If you’re already on shaky ground, you don’t want to give any cause to expedite the situation. So keep your head down and stay professional.”

What are some valid reasons to get fired?

If you're an at-will employee, your company can fire you at any time, with or without cause, just as you can resign at any time. However, there are some common reasons why a company may choose to terminate an employee—and some of them are quite reasonable. For example:

  • Absenteeism: Most companies—if not all—prefer employees who are committed and responsible. Being consistently late or taking excessive time off is not a good look and can be grounds for termination.

  • Poor performance: When you land a job, it’s expected that you’ll meet the performance standards of your role. Lack of productivity and consistent underperformance with no signs of improvement are valid reasons to fire someone.

  • Misconduct: The definition of what constitutes misconduct can vary from company to company, based on their own set of rules or state laws. It may encompass reckless use of social media, harassment, or engaging in romantic relationships with colleagues, for example.

  • Insubordination: Employees who struggle to respect authority are unlikely to  thrive in most workplaces. It's important to be able to follow directions and express your opinions without disrespecting or undermining superiors. Failing to do so could give them a reason to fire you. 

  • Misuse of company property: Another reason for firing an employee is if they're caught using company property—like computers, printers, or items meant for sale to customers—inappropriately or without permission.

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