Not that I am an expert in quitting jobs or getting fired. I've actually had just one employment with a large corporation in my entire life and left after 20 years. However, while I was "in transition" I participated in developing a networking group here in NJ for executives from the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. So I know tons of people who lost their jobs and took part in just as many people's quest to find a new one. As a result, I developed a "standard" list of things you might find helpful if you ever get into this position:
Have a plan. Not just this plan here. A plan tailored at your specific job. Like when your house is on fire, getting laid off causes significant psychological distress so you may not be able to think straight. Know what to take with you, and know what to say (or not to say). Make sure you have backups of all your contact data and anything else work related that is not the property, know-how or copyright of your employer.
If you're not doing it already, start looking after your network today. A surprisingly large number of people I met seems to believe that networking is what you do when you don't have a job. Statistically, 7 out of 10 people find a job through people they know. Think of it. Would I recommend you to a colleague if I'd never heard of you before? If you disappoint, I will end up having disappointed my colleague. Nobody will burn his connections for you if you are an unknown. Understand who is part of your "network" - there are more people who can help you than you might think.
Get a private e-mail account. Some employers will dig in the dirt to make their separation from you cheaper. They may check your expense reports of previous years (which is yet another reason not to cheat on expenses if you needed one) and sieve through your e-mail for incriminating statements. Most separations have a path that leads up to it so keep your personal matters strictly separated. A personal e-mail address will cost you nothing (Google, Hotmail or whatever, even AOL is free these days) and can be accessed through your web browser from anywhere.
2. On your way out
Don't burn any bridges. The situation is tempting but trust me: you'll regret it later if you wash your dirty laundry upon leaving. If you have nothing nice to say be neutral, or keep your mouth shut. Don't tell them where you're going, even if you aren't going anywhere.
Think of everything: if you have worked for your company long enough they will give you a severance package. That's fine, but remember all the non-monetary goodies which will soon come in handy: the company may let you keep your phone or Blackberry, they may pay for seminars or outplacement, they may give you a sweet deal on your company car and other items you may have. Take everything. What about your intellectual property? This is the time to sort out yours from theirs before legal disputes arise.
3. Once you are out
Clear your mind. The situation might be extremely stressful but what you need to do more than anything else is create a vision for your future. Know what you want, write it down where you can see it every day, and don't divert from it.
Buy a new suit and shoes. Don't think twice about it, just do it. You want to look sharp when you apply for a new job, and it may take a while to find one, so make sure you feel confident in what you wear. And don't forget the shoes, a good employer will look.
Tell everyone. Sometimes the right lead comes from the most unexpected source. So make sure everybody knows you are looking, and tell them in one sentence what you are looking for. Prepare your 30 second "elevator drill" but that's old news, right?
Consult. Don't settle for a job you don't want just because you feel desperate. Once you quit that job, this will be your previous job experience. You will be benchmarked against it and continue to go in wrong directions. Instead, go out there, show your face at whatever free or inexpensive event you can get into. Look for short term consulting opportunities to stay busy, and to make some money.
Make a financial plan early on. Know how much you have, see if you can decrease your monthly "burn rate" for a while and live according to your budget. Agree with your spouse on this plan as well as on the overall vision. Buy-in of your spouse is tremendously important to stay motivated.
Finally: motivation. Working from home is difficult at first. Get your family to understand that you being home doesn't mean you're not doing anything. Otherwise you'll get interrupted all day long. Realize that it's ok not to work 10 hours each day. How many hours did you spend commuting or, worse, in boring meetings in your previous job? You are saving all this time now while being equally productive. Instead, start something new. A new skill, a new language, anything you always wanted to do but never had time for. Now is the time, and it will give you fulfillment and inspiration for your quest to find a new job.
Hope you'll never need this list but remember it's here if you do.
Thanks for your time,