How To Prepare For Your First Layoff

Last year at this time, I was excited. Jubiliant even. After spending several months frantically preparing for my defense, getting my dissertation in shape and job hunting, I was looking forward to starting my new job. I had received job offers from three companies. After agonizing over the details, I had finally picked one. The company was doing great. The pay was good and the job description sounded very exciting. The stock prices were up and as far as I was concerned, I was all set.

Things remained that way for about a quarter or so after I joined. And then there were rumors. Followed by bad reviews from the press. And crashing stock prices. And drastic reduction in annual bonuses. And finally, announcements of layoffs. I survived through the first round of layoff rumors without being too worried. We were the golden boys and girls that were involved in the development of the next generation killer product which the company desperately needed to get out of the rut. So, we would not be touched. And sure enough, in the first round of layoffs, out of the 3000+ that were let go, only two were from our center, out of whom one was rumored to be voluntary.

Now the second round of layoffs has been announced. This time the reduction will be by 4000 jobs. And apparently, we won’t be spared. I don’t understand how managers think, but apparently, they are targeting to close down some of the design centers entirely and let go of most people while relocating the few best to other centers. Our center is currently on the target list. I am under no illusion that with my less-than-one-year experience, I will be among the few that are retained. The first commercial product from our center will be out this month. If our product makes the expected numbers, we stay. If not...

Initially, when I heard this rumor I tried to ignore it. Denial is supposed to be one of the first human defense mechanisms against unexpected high stress changes, and sure enough it kicked right in. But yesterday one of my colleagues overheard a discussion among managers about this topic. At this point they are as clueless as we are. But they are quite scared and jittery too. And that can’t be a good sign. Another colleague is waiting for way longer than normal for a signature on her immigration forms. Normally, our managers are quite efficient and immigration related legal forms move by their desks quickly. But now looks like everyone is in limbo, not really sure how to respond.

Preparing for the first layoff, even before the first year anniversary at work!! That ain’t nobody’s dream. Frankly, I don’t know if I am coping, or still in a state of disbelief and a certain amount of denial. This post is meant to be a pep talk to myself. If you have any suggestions or stories to share, please feel free to drop a line.

While working for a big corporation in the tech industry, layoffs are a way of life. Learn to live with it.

We all have options. But many of us choose to join the big companies. In my case, it was part greed for the money, and part anticipation of working on one of the most cutting edge pieces of technology. Good benefits, a matching 401K plan, stock options, annual bonus, employee stock purchase plan, etc., all helped too. Well, nothing in life comes for free. The price we pay is that, in a big company we are just small fish in a very big pond. Pawns in a gigantic chess game. Part of a disposable work force. When things go well, we will be rewarded with bonuses. And when things didn’t quite work out, we will be let go. That’s just the way it is. Deal with it! If you picked to join a big corporation in the tech industry, you chose your fate. Learn to live with it.

Stop second guessing your decisions and having self doubts.

I had multiple offers when I graduated. If I had taken one of the other offers, would things be different? -- I can’t help but wonder. But it is useless waste of energy to think about the what-if’s. There is no point in second guessing your own decisions. Under the circumstance, knowing what I knew, I made the best possible decision. Now it is the time to live with it. Just grab the ball and keep running.

At the work place, listen to all the rumors, filter them and file away. But, turn off the internal commentary.

It is good to be aware. At least that way, when the shit hits the fan you won’t be clueless and devastated. But if you keep playing mind games with yourself, you will soon lose all peace of mind and there will be no joy in getting up in the morning and going to work (assuming there was some before the layoff rumors). Remember that most of the stuff you hear on the grapevine are just rumors spread by someone else who is as scared as you are. Or interpretations of what they think they heard. Yes, if there are heavy rumors there is a good chance that you could find yourself without a job sometime soon. But no amount of worrying will change the fact. So switch off that internal commentary.

Be aware of what other jobs are available in case the axe does fall. Remember, many of your colleagues will also be looking for jobs and the competition is bound to be tough.

Find out more information about your company. If the plan is to shutoff the entire center, the company may try to place some of the people in other centers. Be aware of what options are available just in case you have an opportunity to move to another center. Look at who your competitors are. They will likely have job profiles that match very closely to your skill set. Such jobs will be easier to slide into. Revive old contacts. With several other people from your company -- with possibly similar skill set as you -- looking for jobs, any edge will be advantageous. Think outside the box and look for options that many of your colleagues may not consider. If you think of all this before the actual layoff, you will be in a much better shape if and when it does happen.

Use this as an opportunity to determine if your career path needs changes.

How about the dream you always had for working at a really small startup company with possibly a low pay but a much better potential to strike gold? Or how about taking up a consulting job that pays a lot more than the full time job, but you may not receive any benefits? What about becoming self-employed, a dream you have had for a long time, but never really pursued due to the cushy job you had? Or why not start a family, something that has been on your mind more and more of late? Now is a good time to give some serious thought to such questions. Think of this layoff rumor (or the actual layoff itself) as an opportunity to turn your life around and set it on a different track. When your outlook changes things begin be a lot less stressful.

Get your finances in order. Cut the expenditure and increase the amount you stash away in savings. Beef up the emergency account.

You may have had multiple offers in the past. But that does not mean you will even get an interview call in the future. Especially with several people with similar or better profiles than you out on the market looking for similar jobs as you. You don’t know how long it will be before you can land another job. If the whole industry is going through a slump, even when you get a job, you may be forced to take a pay cut. So start to tighten up the belt now, so you may worry less later.

If immigrant worker, know all the information about immigration requirements. Be aware of your options in the home country.

Those of us here on a H1 visa need to worry about the time duration within which we need to find another job, in case we get laid off. Be aware of the INS rules and immigration laws. Be aware of your company policy -- in some cases you may be able to negotiate with your company about when they will report your job termination to INS, giving you a little more time to look for jobs. For some of us, it may become inevitable that we may have to return back to the home country. It is a decision that can make or break you. I have seen people return back with the tail between their legs. In their mind they are failures because they could not hold onto their job here in the US. But a layoff is not an indication of how good you are. So stop beating yourself up and unnecessarily making this personal. At the same time, I have seen others who turned this into an opportunity. Who took all their savings and returned to the home country where they are very gainfully employed. Heck, one of my friends invested the savings in local real estate and rode the wave up. His wife has retired at the age of 31 and works on voluntary gigs to "keep her mind busy". They have a weekend home that could put my weekday home to shame :) Again, it’s all in the attitude. Instead of being forced to make decisions, if you think ahead of time and make those decisions voluntarily and are prepared to back it up, you will be able to live life with a lot less stress and a lot more satisfaction.

If a native worker, be aware of the rules and procedures for claiming unemployment benefits

I read some place that you need wait for a certain amount of time before you can receive unemployment benefits. Sorry, I don’t know much about this since it is not an option available to me. But if it is applicable to you, you must know all the rules and act as early as possible, even if you firmly believe you will never have to rely on unemployment checks. Just think of it as Plan B (or Plan C if you already have a plan B, or Plan D...) If you have some opportunities that you can avail, you should know all that you can about them.

Make sure your resume is up-to-date. Polish your interview answers. Prepare a mental note of your references.

If you really do get laid off, you will need to act quickly. Having an up-to-date resume will help you get out there onto the playing field quickly. Remind yourself that you are not fired due to unsatisfactory performance. You were just the victim of bad fate and corporate whims. The more you believe this, the more confident can be in an interview. Polish the answers that you will offer to the interview questions that will focus on the reasons for your termination. Have a list of references ready. Make sure you include on that list someone other than your current managers. If they themselves are looking for jobs, they may not be too inclined to be spending time writing reference letters. Being prepared to act quickly is half the battle.

Show up at work everyday on time. Make sure you meet your deadlines.

To most, on a good day it is difficult to stay focused and motivated. With rumors like these floating, it is easy for the morale to go down and the quality of work to start slipping. Do not let that happen. If the upper management gives your manager a fixed number of employees they have to let go of, you don’t want your name to be the first one to pop up in your boss’ mind! I would go so far as to say avoid taking any vacations or time off until things calm down.

Finally, keep your emotions in control. Don’t not take your frustration out on your family.

When frustrated, it is very easy to lash our on your family. Your job is already in turmoil, do you really want your personal life to be a mess as well? Keep your anger in check. Bite your tongue before snapping at the spouse or worse, a child. Make sure you go out and relax and spend some quality time with your family. Ask yourself, what do you work for after all? For whose sake do you want to have a job? If the anxiety caused by the possible loss of job is making you mean to your family, is that job really worth having?

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Sun said...

I could use the information if you put it two weeks earlier, though it was my first lay off :)

ispf said...

Sun, Sorry to hear about the layoff, but Congratulations on the new job. That was a very quick turnaround. I hope when the time comes, I will be able to turn around quickly as well!

Layoff said...

People always hate to talk about when they are laid off. But as it has become every day's news headline since Yahoo started it with cutting 1500 of its task force last year, now a need of platform has been in demand where people can express their selves in words how they are feeling about their company, whey the got laid off was that justified or not.
And every thing they want to tell anonymously.And is providing you that platform.

Layoffs said...

People always hate to talk about when they are laid off. But as it has become every day's news headline since Yahoo started it with cutting 1500 of its task force last year, now a need of platform has been in demand where people can express their selves in words how they are feeling about their company, whey the got laid off was that justified or not.
And every thing they want to tell anonymously.And is providing you that platform.