What to Do When You are Laid Off

Layoffs are happening due to COVID. Even back in December and January, the first signs of workforce reductions were here. There are some simple steps that will help you land on your feet.

Vin Vashishta | Originally Published: January 21st, 2020

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I have been laid off and it is a terrible feeling, but you can land on your feet. Start by reestablishing your confidence. Your skills are valuable. You are an asset to businesses. This is not your fault.

Blame is a big part of being laid off. Put the blame where it belongs, on your former employer. Do not dwell on what you could have done differently. Take a day or week to get past the stress and doubt.

The best way to handle a layoff is to see it coming so let’s start with the not so obvious signs of layoffs.

The Layoff Game

Why am I writing this post now? I am seeing the early signs of the layoff game.

  • Stock buybacks
  • Increases in dividends
  • Multiples that make no sense

  • The first two activities are how companies increase price per share without increasing revenue. Senior executives’ bonuses are tied to share price. These can only boost shares for so long and the next step is to reduce spending.

  • Letting contractors go
  • Hiring freeze
  • Promotion freeze

  • Cost savings start with closing open positions. Hiring will slow to replacements only then replacement hires will be pushed out by a quarter or more. Promotions will be harder to get approved. Performance and talent management become a big focus. Employees will be asked to take on more work to offset understaffing.

    Bonuses get converted to stock options; remember all those buybacks? This is where some of those shares end up. Always ask yourself why senior leadership gets stock grants and employees get options?

  • Reorganize

  • Re-organizations are the last step in the cycle. When organizational charts don’t make sense, round 1 layoffs are next. Managers be let go or leave on their own and will not be replaced. Some groups will report directly to a senior leader; one who would not normally handle teams at that level. Teams on the chopping block will have a hard time getting responses from their new leadership. Often individual team members are moved to “special projects” they cannot talk about.

    After round 1 layoffs, a senior leader assures remaining employees that the cuts are done. Usually a month or less later, that leader is gone. Round 2 layoffs, this time deeper cuts, are soon to follow.

  • Mergers

  • During a merger, if you hear about cost savings (operating synergies) as a key driver behind the merger, they mean layoffs from consolidation. A company talking about being acquired will often reduce headcount to look more appealing as an acquisition target. Both are red flags.

    Get Out Early If Possible

    Do not wait once you have seen the signs. Do not hope for the best. Do not believe the platitudes. If the business is not offering you bonuses, promotions with raises, or tangible incentives to stay, get out.

    Few people know that there are incentives to be one of the first to leave. The business often needs your knowledge and skills while they transition. Companies will offer to keep you on part time as a contractor. They will pay well over your current salary if they need you badly enough. With a new job lined up, this can be a great side gig. Keep proving your value and these side gigs can last for years.

    Negotiate the best severance package possible for yourself. Make it known that you are willing to take a package to leave in the first rounds. These packages can be from 6 weeks to 6 months of salary. Those negotiations often lead to the consulting agreements I just mentioned. Again, this is an opportunity to have a new job in hand while getting a bit of side money at the same time.

    The theme here is to put yourself in a stronger negotiating position. Once you have been laid off, your negotiating power is 0. You are now part of a crowd of employees looking for work so your negotiating power with new companies is lower too. Do your best to get in front of the layoffs.

    You Have Just Been Let Go

    Sometimes there is no warning, no signs, nothing to be done to avoid the train wreck. I have personally made all the mistakes I have just warned you about. So, there I was, trying to figure out what to do next. In January 2012. In Nevada. Dead center in the recession and in one of the hardest hit states. I even had a co-worker say, “Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re the reason we all got fired.” His implication was far from consoling. Way to kick a guy when I was down.

    It is a sad story so when I tell you, “I’ve been there”, it is not an exaggeration. It was a worst case and I had to guess my way into a better professional situation.

    I used my network on day 1. I started to reach out to hiring managers at other businesses, asking if they needed people. I told them about the layoffs and connected the hiring managers with others who had been laid off too. A network is a powerful tool if you are laid off. Do not be afraid to use it and even while you have your own struggles, do not forget to help others where you can.

    I went on a few interviews, but I was in the midst of a career change at the time. Most interviews were with teams that were a bad fit or roles that I was overqualified for. The roles I wanted to transition into, I could not get an interview for.

    I stumbled into doing something right. I said no to the roles I was offered that did not make sense. You may feel forced to take what you can get but making a bad career move can put you in a worse position than you started out in.

    I had done a data science contract for a mid-sized marketing company and a product management contract for a local business while I was still employed. I started reaching out to other companies for consulting jobs in those areas. I built my social media presence. I started writing.

    Those are all powerful activities to keep you focused on moving forward. They will build your personal brand and get your name in front of people. All three are better than any resume you can send to a recruiter or hiring manager. Do things that help them find you. Offer to consult and solve business problems. If no one else will hire you, hire yourself.

    One evening in April, I got an email from a new client. At 3AM I came up with the name of my current business because, suddenly, I needed one. I kept the name because it reminds me of where I started from. A business is just a name. Your first employee will be you. It is nothing more complicated or scary than that. Think about starting a business because if you can land your first client, you can get more.

    Nothing Succeeds Like A Little Success

    My journey from there was not without more mistakes and difficult lessons. I did work for free, or the promise of money down the line, or for exposure. I did not charge what I was worth. I used weak contracts. I did not bring enough people on board to help me.

    When I say you are going to land on your feet, that does not mean it is immediately easy or that life returns to normal. Do not lose faith that you will land on your feet. Once you are back to work, embrace the change. Allow yourself to make mistakes, learn from them, and grow.

    Celebrate the little victories. Allow yourself to feel better. Above all else, do not fall into the trap of holding a grudge against your former company or management. That hurts you more than you know. Wish them all the best.

    I do not hold animosity against the company that laid me off. The last 8 years have been good ones for me. Their company was sold a year after I left so they made the business attractive to a buyer. It was a good business decision and at the end of the day, that is the healthiest way to look at a layoff.

    I succeeded in my career. They achieved the desired business outcome. A little success makes everything better.