Summary. Most of the time, company-wide layoffs are out of our control as employees. That doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Here are four things you should know about layoffs, how to prepare for them, and what to do after:
Most of the time, company-wide layoffs are out of our control as employees. That doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Here are four things you should know about layoffs, how to prepare for them, and what to do after:
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On the morning of September 14, 2011, I received an Outlook invite to a meeting with my manager and HR. They informed me that my position was being terminated. “You have five minutes to write the last email before you leave your laptop in this room. Your account will be disabled. We will escort you to the exit,” the HR representative said.
It was not a surprise: Cisco Systems announced its biggest layoff four months earlier, and I suspected I might be on the list. I had started as a graduate in 2008 and was one of the most recent hires. I was young. I also had no kids. The layoff criteria was to protect those more tenured, whose lives would (theoretically) be the most impacted. I may not have had a family to take care of, but I now would have no money coming in. I sent an email, thank my colleagues for all the great moments and left the room to start … I had no idea what.
When I think back to the time between the announcement of coming layoffs to the day I was informed about mine, I remember a lot of uncertainty, nervousness, anger, and frustration. I couldn’t sleep. I wondered if I would lose my job, and when and how it would happen.
I now see that I was focusing on the wrong questions — ones I couldn’t answer. If I could talk to my younger self now, I would tell her to focus on making small wins in the areas she could change and influence. More specifically, these are four learnings I wish I had known:
1) You’ll have to leave many things behind — but not your relationships.
You’ll lose access to your laptop, your company phone, and all emails and documents associated with your work. But you can keep the relationships that matter most to you forever. Your colleagues aren’t going to remember the project you were working on together, or the specifics of the budget you discussed, but they will remember the impression you made.
I remember very well the people I enjoyed working with, those that helped me, or from whom I learned a lot. Solving problems together, going through stressful timelines, and sharing wins and losses built my network. The people you take time to build genuine relationships with are the ones who will offer to introduce you to their contacts when you look for a new job, or refer you when they move onto a new organization.
My advice would be to cultivate your network while you still have a job. This is as important as the results you drive — and it’s easy. If you give other people your best, keep your promises, and communicate clearly, the rest will follow. Always leave on good terms when you move from one team to another.
If you are affected by a layoff in the future, reach out to those connections. Write them a short message like:
I’m writing with some not-so-great news. I’ve unfortunately been impacted by the recent layoff at our company, and now I’m on the job hunt. I really enjoyed working with you, and would love you to keep me in mind if you hear of future opportunities.
Do you have people in your network that may be interested in my profile, and if so, would you be willing to make an introduction?
Remember: There’s no need for the recipient of that message to be your buddy. We’re not discussing the most intimate friendship, but a professional relationship. In a working environment, asking for help from former colleagues is expected and generally well received.
I asked directly for recommendations from those who stayed at Cisco, even from those with whom I’d never had an informal coffee. My next job came from my network — one person had a contact at a startup that was looking for a technical person, and put me in touch with the hiring manager.
2) You may have lost your job, but you haven’t lost your dreams or your future.
I remember telling my friends that the worst part of the layoff was that I was still young and I would never work for such a great company again. I thought my career was over. Now, I can say the best was to come.
Especially when you’re more junior, you tend to think your job is your career. The longer you’re in the market, and the more ups and downs you live through, the more you realize that your career is going to be a journey. You can reach the same place from different paths, or discover new destinations on the way.
My advice is to have a long-term career plan, and evaluate the many different paths that can bring you to your dream career. For instance, your goal may be to be a people manager in the tech industry, but you feel deflated after being laid off from your first role at a Big Tech company. Remind yourself that tech isn’t exclusive to Silicon Valley or shiny startups.
Most organizations have have their own IT departments and hire technical roles, regardless of the actual industry. Pharmaceuticals, finance, media, energy companies, and others all hire tech roles. This is true of most specialties — marketing, sales, finance, legal, content, HR, and DEI — these jobs exist in many, many different fields. You can build up your years of experience in each of them.
Before making your next move, however, I’d recommend reflecting on and reassessing your long-term goals, which may be different from those you had when you accepted the most recent offer. You have a chance to make a change. What did you like about your last organization, and what did you not like? What kind of companies may be a better fit in the future? Do you want to take on a similar role, or transition into something new?
We are living in a changing work world, and new types of jobs are appearing every year. Now is a good time to explore them.
3) You can still develop career resiliency, and future-proof your candidacy.
I had no plan B when I was laid off. All I wanted was to work in that company, in that job. Despite my suspicions, I convinced myself that it would all be fine if I kept performing well. But sometimes, things happen. Departments disappear, organizations shift structures, teams cut costs, and you are suddenly out of the game.
Resiliency is like a chair. If the chair only has one leg (your current job) and breaks, you fall to the floor. But if you build more legs, and one leg is weak or disappears, you can still sit comfortably.
If you, like me, lose a job without a plan, how do you keep yourself from falling? Again here, there are quick wins. First, look to build new and relevant skills. Don’t just spend your days job hunting, spend them learning.
Outside of your current experience and network, what else can you add to your profile? What skills do you need to master to rebuild your confidence and prepare you for the current market? Google the skills that are most demanded in your industry, take trainings, and start getting new certificates to add to your profile. Essentially, future-proof your candidacy — and keep doing this, even after you land a job.
I also recommend joining professional groups in your area of interest to broaden your network. Getting to know new professionals will give you more hints of what other companies are looking for.
4) You need to put your health first, always.
When we are working we tend to forget our health, and moments like this put it all in perspective. The moment I signed my end-of-contract agreement, the personal sacrifices that I had made for the company came to my mind: moving to a new city and starting from scratch, missing family celebrations in my home country, and working very late hours, among others.
Don’t make the same mistake. Your personal life is the sturdiest leg in your resiliency chair, and the most difficult to repair if it breaks.
At work, find formulas that work for you. For me, a job that offers flexibility is important because I have two small kids. I also need to work some days per year from my hometown, so I can extend holidays and spend more time with my parents and family. I can only give my best if my life at home is working fine. I know now that having that balance in my life provides me with a strong foundation to land on if something at work is uncertain or stressful.
What happens if you suddenly lose your job? It’s as important as ever to take care of yourself. This is the time to practice movement regularly, take care of your nutrition, and spend time caring for yourself. When I lost my job, I had some vacation planned in October, and I still went on a long trip because I really needed to recharge.
You can avoid burnout by making “finding a job” a part of a larger self-care routine. After my layoff, I signed up for some training in the morning, and then I had my list of potential employers and contacts to get in touch with. At the same time, I built in breaks, physical activities, and socializing throughout the day. When you are healthy in body and mind, you will feel more empowered in every part of your life.
. . .
It’s natural to be disappointed after losing a job. Give yourself time to grieve because it really is a life-changing event. But don’t stay there forever. Shift your focus to these four lessons, and you’ll be in much better shape to start a new chapter.