A storm is coming…
The economy is not in great shape, and we are probably entering a recession.
Companies have been instituting hiring freezes since the summer.
The last few years have been an employee’s market. Hiring was booming, especially after the recovery from the quarantine months of the pandemic. It seemed like companies couldn’t recruit fast enough to replace the millions of workers quitting during the Great Resignation.
Working from home reached all new heights, and the time recovered from daily commutes gave people more time to reflect on work and life. People decided they wanted more. They wanted something better.
Better working conditions.
Better work-life balance.
Better career development opportunities.
The growth of remote work also opened up global opportunities that never existed before. You can now work for any company in the world and not be forced to relocate. Many of my friends and clients have accepted jobs in other countries that would never have been possible before.
However, what goes up must come down, and all good things come to an end. The job market has recently flipped back to an employer's market, and the hiring frenzy has cooled. Job seekers are feeling the strain of tightening corporate budgets and wondering why they’re getting ghosted more often by recruiters and hiring managers.
Some of my clients who are managers lost their open reqs.
My job-seeking clients apply for an open position but are then informed that the role is suddenly closed.
People are discovering that it’s taking much longer to find a new job.
So, welcome to the pending recession and a tighter job market! It’s time to change your strategies to adapt to this new reality. How you manage an employer's market depends on your current situation. What best describes you right now?
You have a stable job, and you aren’t worried.
You have a job, but you fear a layoff is coming.
You've recently been laid off.
You've been unemployed for a while.
You're the one doing the layoffs.
You run your own business.
I’m going to touch on each of these cases below. But first, I want to share some clues that may indicate a layoff is coming to your company.
When a layoff might be brewing
I’ve had a long working career — over 30 years at this point. I spent about 20 years of that in Silicon Valley, so I experienced my fair share of layoffs as an employee and a manager. I’ve been a career coach for over 6 years now, which means I frequently work with people who are getting laid off or managing a layoff.
After you’ve been through several of these experiences, you recognize recurring patterns of behavior. You see the all-too-familiar signs that a layoff is coming. Trust your gut because your instincts are usually right.
Here are a few of the precursors I’ve witnessed or heard about from my clients. Some of these start happening months in advance, but others are a sign that a layoff will be executed within the next 24 hours.
Are you back to working in an office? If so, you may notice the free food and drinks tapering off and disappearing, or the quality has dropped dramatically. I still remember the first time I experienced this at a startup. The snack supply slowly but surely dwindled, and they weren’t replaced despite our requests. The leadership team provided vague explanations, but the reality was the startup was failing, and we shut down shortly after that.
Regularly scheduled long-term planning activities are suddenly postponed, often with no explanation. This behavior is typical when a significant layoff is coming, especially one that will cause a re-org and a change in the key players. It is challenging to make long-term plans that require critical decisions when the decision-makers are going to be changing seats soon.
Hiring is frozen, and open reqs are put on hold or closed. Yikes! I know this is already true in many companies right now. This often happens a few months before a layoff. So, managers not only lose their open reqs but they won’t be allowed to backfill those positions either.
It’s usually a sign that the company is going to specifically lay you off when senior management postpones a meeting with you they normally would have accepted. Or you stop receiving invitations to meetings for long-term planning or where confidential and strategic information will be discussed. As much as people would prefer not to telegraph your termination, they really can’t have you in critical meetings once they know you’ll be leaving the company.
Entire teams are suddenly reassigned to new management when it doesn’t seem to make sense. I know this move all too well. Sometimes senior management will move a team to a more junior manager to pass on the unpleasant task of the layoff. Thanks, boss.
Numerous meetings are scheduled with management and HR reps at the same time on the same day. If you’ve developed a great relationship with your HR partner (as I recommend you do), you’ll find out about this before anyone else. Otherwise, you may hear rumors about it from your colleagues. Some companies have even conducted mass layoffs over Zoom. That’s a nasty move.
You may be on the layoff list if you’re scheduled for a surprise meeting with your manager and HR, and they won’t tell you what the agenda is. It depends on the size of your organization and its policies. At one company, my manager met with everyone, even if they were staying. When she showed up at my office door (yes, we had offices back then!), I thought I had lost my job. But instead, she told me I was not being let go.
All management is suddenly pulled into a series of meetings across a 2-day period. Now, this occasionally happens when something massive is going down, like an acquisition or change of top leadership. But, they are probably planning a layoff when your manager finds it difficult to answer you when asked what is going on.
People are told to attend a mandatory meeting even if they’re supposed to have the day off or be out on vacation. Managers will say that everyone needs to show up and can’t be off work that day. Thus, you've either identified a layoff day or a massive announcement (e.g., a re-org or acquisition is happening).
Your corporate VPN suddenly stops working, thanks to IT staff that pulled the trigger too soon. I wish I were kidding about this one. But I can remember at least two different occasions when an employee called me to ask why they couldn’t VPN into the network anymore.
Layoffs are an inevitable fact of working life, but no one likes an unpleasant surprise. It’s good to recognize the signs, be prepared, and brace yourself for the moment you pop into a meeting and see the smiling faces of HR and your manager.
Ok, let’s move on to the scenarios I listed earlier. What will help you get through this next year of uncertainty?
1. Ride out the storm
Now is not the time to be making a move. I’m guessing the Great Resignation is behind us now. I don’t know anyone who is quitting their job without having something lined up first. In this market, it’s not a good idea to quit suddenly and hope you’ll find a great job later.
So, if you already have a decent job in a decent company, sit tight. Focus on your performance, delivering value, and meeting or exceeding expectations. As much as it pains me to say this, don’t rock the boat.
Hey, you know I’m a big believer in pushing hard to get what you want and deserve from your employer. And that’s great when the market is hot, and you know you’re in demand. Unfortunately, it’s risky when companies are cutting budgets, reducing headcount, and freezing hiring.
Even if you have a stable job and think you could never lose your job, it doesn’t hurt to strengthen your position in the company. The things you can do to ensure your job security are also great for preparing for a promotion.
2. Boost your job security
I’ve been an employee, manager, leader, and business owner during my career. I’ve been involved in all aspects of the layoff process.
I was at IBM as a young employee when it conducted its first layoffs in the company's history (I kept my job).
I was at Apple as a junior designer during multiple rounds of layoffs and learned why they spared me when more experienced employees were let go.
I worked at a startup that was acquired (😁 Yay!), but then the parent company eliminated all of our jobs (😢 Boo).
Unfortunately, I had to conduct my own layoffs when I was leading teams at Yahoo. That sucked.
So, who tends to stay off the list? How did I determine who would remain? Managers like to keep people who fit into one or more of these ten categories.
Employees performing in the top 20%.
Employees in critical roles working on strategic projects.
People with the knowledge, skills, and experience for the company’s future.
Employees who keep essential products and services running.
Those few employees whom the boss can’t live without.
Employees who bring in more revenue.
Those who consistently save the company money.
People who reliably add value to the organization.
Those employees with a highly positive benefit-cost ratio.
People who aren’t a pain in the ass to manage.
So, how do you put your name into one or more of these categories? This is how…
1. Be damn good at what you do
I’ve never witnessed managers put people on their layoff lists if they were high performers in the top 20% of the organization. Those employees were simply too valuable to lose.
How do you become a high performer?
Always deliver results with high quality and on time.
Get things done with minimal oversight.
Understand the big picture.
Go above and beyond.
Ask to take on more responsibility.
Be a great team player when required.
Help everyone get better at their jobs.
Engage in continuous learning and improvement.
2. Work on strategic projects
It can be fun to work on exciting and quirky projects. We all want some time for our pet projects too.
However, it is risky to be assigned to nonessential projects when your manager is creating a layoff list. During a time of economic crisis, entire projects, product lines, and businesses are often eliminated too.
If your project gets killed, your job may disappear along with it. Do everything you can to get assigned to a strategic project that is important to the company.
It is smart to work on strategic projects anyway. Successfully delivering results on a crucial project is also an excellent way to set yourself up for a promotion later.
3. Position yourself for the future
Layoffs occurred a few times while I was at Apple. During one particularly stressful layoff, the managers went door to door to talk with every employee in their offices.
Yes, believe it or not, we had private offices! Crazy, right? That was the last time I had an office during my 20+ year career.
The managers asked us various questions about our past work experience and skills. Little did I know that my familiarity with Unix (thank you, IBM) would save my job that day. It positioned me for working on the new Mac OS X, after Apple’s strategic acquisition of NeXT.
Pay attention to your company’s big plans and business strategy. Make sure that your skillset is well aligned with where the company is going so that your manager sees you as a valuable asset.
I know that sounds cold and calculating. An asset? But, these layoff decisions aren’t warm and fuzzy.
4. Keep the lights on
The company can’t afford to lose the crucial employees who keep their essential products and services up and running. If you want to stick around and can’t get assigned to one of the big strategic projects, then make sure you are working on the essential “bread and butter” projects, services, etc.
I remember one layoff discussion with the leaders of the various organizations in the company. Someone mentioned an employee’s name as a potential candidate for the layoff list.
His manager laughed and said, “He’s the only one who understands the code for XYZ. He wrote the whole thing, it’s not documented well, and no one else could keep it running. If we get rid of him, we’re screwed.”
5. Be indispensable
There are other ways to become indispensable to an organization too. Make your manager’s life easier. Be that employee that he or she can’t live without.
I remember one employee who always went above and beyond to take work off of his manager’s plate. He intentionally guided the manager to delegate things to him over the years. He made his boss’s life easier.
When that manager had to layoff 20% of the organization, do you think he selected that employee who was taking on so much of his workload? No way.
He knew that all of that work would get dumped back onto him if he lost that employee.
6. Bring in more revenue
Companies are famous for never putting anyone from the Sales organization on a layoff list. I remember a CEO answering a question about that very issue.
Someone asked, “Why didn’t the Sales org have to give up 20% of their team as we did?”
The CEO stared at her and said, “Because they bring in revenue. We lose them; we lose revenue. That’s not something we can afford right now.”
Demonstrate how you are directly responsible for bringing money into the company. If you are not directly accountable, then you have some homework to do.
Find ways to tie your work and achievements to activities that generate revenue for the business. The product managers I used to work with were very good at this. They would create models and calculate how their enhancements to the product drove improvements in key metrics and how those metrics drove increased revenue.
7. Save more money
If you are consistently finding ways to save the company money, your salary pays for itself many times over. Firing you would mean that the company loses more money than it would save by recovering your position’s compensation.
Again, you may have to get creative with your research and homework to show how your actions result in saving money for the business. Or, you may start looking for ways to cut costs (e.g., more efficient processes, cheaper software licenses, more affordable vendors, etc.).
8. Add more value to the organization
I remember some employees who were retained because they contributed to the company in qualitative ways. They weren’t directly increasing revenue or reducing costs, but everyone knew that the organization would suffer without them.
You help keep everyone’s morale up.
You’re the one who onboards new employees.
You provide training that is crucial for the team.
You do research that everyone else needs to perform their jobs.
You are always finding ways to improve processes and make things more efficient.
You keep everyone aware of the latest industry trends and developments.
Basically, people are glad that you are around, and they can’t imagine the office without you. Losing you would feel like a massive hit to the team’s morale. Your boss couldn’t afford to eliminate your position.
9. Maintain a highly positive benefit-cost ratio
A benefit-cost ratio is used in a cost-benefit analysis to measure the overall relationship between the relative costs and benefits of proposed investments, projects, and initiatives.
Yes, you are an investment for the company (e.g., a $200K/year fully-loaded cost for the average software engineer). They invest money and benefits into you as an employee with the hope that you yield even more value for the company.
Are you consistently delivering much more value than the cost of keeping you? Note, that cost goes beyond your total financial compensation.
We all know that some employees are more “challenging” to work with than others. However, we often put up with their behavior when they are one of the top performers in the company.
10. Don’t be a pain in the ass
Some employees are such a pain to manage that their managers dream about them leaving the company. Those people’s jobs are often hanging by a thread. The employee provides just enough value to make them worth keeping on the team.
However, when managers are required to create a layoff list, guess which names they immediately write down? Yes, the PITA employees.
This may not apply to you, but I know that someone somewhere is a challenging employee to worth with and manage. They frequently complain, make demands, and are generally high maintenance.
You don’t have to be a “Pollyanna,” but you should have a generally positive attitude. Collaborate well with your colleagues, contribute positively to meetings, provide constructive feedback, and be that person that people enjoy working with.
Surprisingly, a big corporation may not be the safe haven most people think they are. Many companies have over-hired over the past couple of years. The tight labor market may have contributed to it, as they were desperate to fill seats.
However, these companies are now shedding talent. This chart shows that layoffs have skyrocketed since May of this year. 146,102 employees across 964 companies have lost their jobs in 2022.
Peloton has had four rounds of layoffs this year.
Microsoft just announced layoffs across multiple divisions.
Snap had a 20% reduction in its workforce.
Flipboard cut 21% of its staff.
Meta froze hiring and is planning additional cost-cutting measures.
Tesla laid off 200 autopilot employees.
TikTok has started laying off US workers.
Coinbase cut over 1,000 jobs.
Netflix has had multiple rounds of layoffs.
Twitter cut 30% of its talent acquisition team.
Startups have long been considered a risky place to work. But a well-funded profitable startup may be the best place to be for the next couple of years. If you do get hit with a layoff, it might be time to start shopping on AngelList for your next job.
3. Find your next job
If you’ve recently been laid off, try to avoid some of the most common mistakes people make:
Not taking time to deal with the job loss emotionally.
Immediately jumping into a job search that day or week.
Asking connections for help without a clear idea of what you want next for your career.
Setting up an interview before you have your confidence back.
Saying negative things about your past employer and manager.
Hiding the layoff from your friends and loved ones.
Going into isolation and avoiding your support network.
The day of a layoff is traumatizing. It doesn’t matter if you expected it, wanted it, or feel relieved. It is still an upsetting event, and you need time to let things sink in.
You may feel a sense of urgency to begin your job search, but your head isn’t in the right place. Don’t pressure yourself to be productive yet.
The day after the layoff, treat yourself well. Take some “me time” and enjoy things that you usually don’t have time to do.
Don’t feel guilty about taking a day off. You don’t need to start looking for a new job immediately. That would be a mistake, anyway. You’re not ready to bring your A-game to the process.
Then, take a day to reflect on what you want most for your career and life. You’ve probably been so focused on work and everyday routines that you haven’t taken any time for serious career planning.
What are your big goals? Where do you want to be in 5, 10, or 20 years? What does the ideal end state look like for you? Based on that, what’s the next step for you in your career?
Spend the rest of this day:
Updating your resume the right way.
Updating your LinkedIn profile.
Creating a draft template for a cover letter that sells you.
Refreshing your personal website.
Adding work to your online portfolio if you need one (e.g., you’re a designer).
Join an alumni group to stay in touch with your past colleagues. Your professional network of previous coworkers and bosses is one of your most valuable resources for any future job search.
Get straight on what you want for your next job and how to position yourself to pursue it.
Do you want to stay within the same domain and industry?
Do you still want to keep doing the same work you performed for your previous employer?
Are you seeking a lateral move, or are you ready to push for the next level?
This “job hop” may end up being a great way to get promoted.
Start capturing ideas for where you’d like to work, who you’d like to work for and with, and the kind of role you want next in your career. You may need to work on acquiring additional skills and knowledge to land the job that you want most.
Some other housekeeping tasks to consider:
You may want to file for unemployment. Many states are making it easier to do so right now.
Look into your options for health insurance (e.g., COBRA in the U.S.).
Review your finances to determine changes you might need to make to your budget while you are searching for your next job.
Do not let a layoff define you. When a massive economic event like this happens, layoffs are an unfortunate consequence. You did nothing wrong, and there is no stigma attached to losing a job right now.
Own your story. Be confident. Go into your job search with feelings of hope, pride, and ambition.
Write your elevator pitch and the story of how you want to describe and sell yourself. Update your social media bios to align with your professional positioning.
Be prepared for that inevitable question, “So, tell me about yourself.”
If you are struggling to find a new role that meets your expectations, then I encourage you to cast a wider net. For example, some people write off the opportunity to work for a startup because they never have before. Don’t reject something if you haven’t at least had a conversation with the hiring manager first.
Be open to remote roles. I know some people prefer to work in an office and be around coworkers. But you’ll find more opportunities if you’re working for a company in another city, state, or even a different country. As I mentioned, I have some friends and clients who took jobs with international companies, and it’s worked out quite well for them.
If you have a big enough financial cushion, you have some time to shop around. Hopefully, you have enough emergency funds to cover six months (best case, a year). If not, you may need to take more drastic measures to get income flowing in quickly.
4. Execute your backup plan
Hey, if you've been looking for a job for a long time, your strategy might not be working. Are you ready to try something new? Are you willing to do something more radical?
Do you need help with finding great jobs, practicing your job interview skills, and selling yourself? That’s where a career coach like me can help. You can schedule a free coaching call and talk with me about what your needs are right now.
Getting income flowing back in is your top priority. So, it might be time to take a job that you normally wouldn’t consider. It doesn’t have to be something you’d want to put on your LinkedIn profile later.
One quick tip: Add a new current position to your LinkedIn profile as a placeholder for your “consulting business.” This will prevent a gap in your employment and cover the time you may have to work at a job you’d rather not list there (e.g., working at the local hardware store).
I often recommend that people have an ongoing consulting business position on their LinkedIn, anyway. You’re always vulnerable if you only have one source of income from a single employer. A side hustle consulting business helps, especially in situations like this.
5. Take care of your people and yourself
Unless you're one of the heartless corporate drone managers, laying people off is going to impact your mental and emotional health. It's painful to let people go, especially this close to the holidays, and when you know the market is cold.
Screw what your company policy says. Find a way to take care of your team — the people who are staying and the people you let go. Help them connect with recruiters and hiring managers. Just don’t use your corporate email or laptop to do so. Work behind the scenes to help people.
Layoffs are hard on the employees who stay, too. It’s sad to lose coworkers and friends. It creates so much anxiety when you fear that your job might be next.
Talk with your team, address their concerns, and answer their questions. Don’t make false promises, though. You can never guarantee that someone’s job is 100% secure.
Take care of yourself, too. It's been over a decade since I had to lay people off when I was a corporate leader. I still think about it. I still picture those days and can see the expressions on their faces when I shared the bad news.
It will bother me forever.
The company won't pay for your therapy years later when you're no longer its employee. But you still have to live with you. So, do what you need to make peace with what you have to do.
Obviously, be careful! Don't blatantly violate your company policies or employment agreement — unless you're ready to leave and work somewhere better. Or maybe you now know it’s time to leave this chaos and start your own business. Speaking of…
6. Evaluate your business resilience
This last scenario only applies to you business owners out there. How is your business performing during this economic dip? Is your business good even when the economy is "bad"?
This is a good time to evaluate your resilience. What can you do to make your business more robust under conditions like this? Are there ways to tweak your model or offer new services or goods that will thrive now?
Starting and operating a successful business is never easy. But it sure is a lot easier in a good economy vs. a bad one! Times like this are when you find out how solid your business plan is.
It’s an opportunity to learn about the power of diversification. I just wrote about this for my solopreneur newsletter. If you’re interested, check it out:
We will get through this
You’ll get through this. It won’t be fun, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Markets always go through up and down cycles. We faced it in the Dot Com Crash of 2000. We ran into it during the Great Recession between 2007-2009.
You’re not alone. Many of us are worried, and some people are already struggling. Don’t isolate yourself. Talk with your friends and advisors.
Check in with your network and see how other people are doing, too. Keeping your network fresh and active is always a good idea. But it’s even more important now.
Times like these are one of the reasons I created my Invincible Career community. When you join, you will connect with an experienced career coach and ambitious peers who want more out of work and life! Get the advice, feedback, and support you need to get ahead in your career!
By the way, there is a great way you can support my work without spending any money on a premium subscription:
📣 Recommending my newsletter on social media!
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I've been enjoying the Invincible Career newsletter by Larry Cornett (@cornett). If you want to get ahead at work and be happier in your job, but you aren’t subscribed yet, you’re missing out.
Larry Cornett is a Personal Coach who can help you optimize your career, life, and business. If you’re interested in starting a business or side hustle someday (or accelerating an existing one), check out his “Employee to Solopreneur” course (launching later this year).
Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take complete control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.