Should I Be Preparing For A Layoff?

Close-up Of Businessman Reading News

Close-up Of Businessman Reading News On Newspaper


On a Tuesday at 5pm, I received a voicemail that effective immediately, my job no longer existed. After a five-year tenure and recent promotion, I was in the middle of a company-sponsored cross-country move to an exciting new role when I received the news. A week prior, I was celebrating my upcoming relocation. Now, I had no income, no severance, no prospects, and the Human Resources department was unresponsive.

This happened 20 years ago, but it’s likely a nightmare that many are unexpectedly living right now. So, yes, I believe we should always be preparing for a layoff. As someone impacted two decades ago by the Enron/Arthur Andersen corporate scandal where over 100,000 jobs were lost nearly overnight, I’ve learned that even if you work for an established company, have stellar performance reviews and a shiny new Master’s degree, anyone can lose their job at anytime.

And we’re seeing that now with the current coronavirus pandemic, where the job loss numbers dwarf what happened with Enron. Economists are predicting that by the end of March, over one million workers may be impacted.

My goal isn’t to promote panic, so it’s important to recognize that every recession is different in terms of the trajectory and how the economy bounces back. New information is unfolding daily that changes the forecast models, and what happened in 2008 is different than what’s happening today. Regardless, this isn’t the last recession or downsize you’ll see during your career, so preparing for a layoff is a prudent strategy for your long-term career management.

But, you don’t need to live in fear. In fact, taking steps to protect yourself in the event something happens does just the opposite – it instills a sense of empowerment and security that can only come from within.

If you’ve been placing your bets on your company for job security, it’s time to recognize that isn’t the wisest choice. Companies merge, businesses fail, industries dry up, and market needs change. If you’ve been working for any length of time, you’ve likely already been impacted and have some battle scars to show for it.

No matter what industry you’re in or how stable your company seems today, it’s time to start betting on YOURSELF for job security.

There are three key drivers to career success that I teach my students at The Wharton School. If you make an effort to consistently focus on these, you’ll be in a position to land on your feet no matter what the future holds.

The Wharton School

The Wharton School

Carina Myers

1) CONTINUOUSLY REINVENTING. Maintaining skills that are fluid and relevant to the marketplace is critical. You may be an absolute expert in your field, but a new technology invention could make that expertise obsolete. It’s important to remain current on industry changes, continue to proactively grow your skills, and strive for outstanding performance, no matter what your profession. While a few companies are coming around to the cost-effective and strategic notion of re-skilling their employees to build crucial skills for the future, most are not yet that progressive, which means it falls to you to muster the drive to remain marketable. Here’s how:

  • Self-Assess: No matter what stage you’re at in your career, you likely have unique abilities, transferable strengths and major gaps in your skill set. If you’re not sure what these are, it’s time to spend some time figuring it out. Do some deep reflection, ask your manager or customers, review your performance reviews or poll your objective colleagues.
  • Market-Assess: Research the market to learn what is in demand and growing. If you have wicked abilities in an area that’s drying up or being automated, it’s time to focus on building skills that are in demand. Don’t wait for your company or a job loss to do this. Stay ahead of the curve.
  • Reinvent: Stop defining yourself as a title or an employee of a company, and rather begin introducing yourself with the value you add to your market audience. As more hybrid roles emerge, employers need individuals who are agile and can adapt during instability. Titles are limiting. Ask yourself what current problems you solve and make the answer to THAT question how you define yourself.

2) BUILDING A STRONG BRAND. People must trust and respect you if they’re going to hire you in any capacity. They must also be aware of what value you specifically add in terms of your expertise. As an introvert, earlier in my career, I convinced myself that being a stellar performer was enough. But as Carla Harris points out in her book “Expect to Win,” most decisions about your career are made while you’re not in the room, which means that unless you’re performing visibly, you may still get passed over. Many people don’t put much stock into their brand, but I can promise you that others are observing you and coming to their own conclusions, which may or may not be what you’d prefer to be known for in your career. If you haven’t spent time investing in your brand or are looking to make a career switch, here’s what to do:

  • Gather Data: If you ask your colleagues and others in your network what you’re “known for,” are the responses consistent? Is it what you want to be known for? If you’re trying to switch careers but others are constantly viewing you where you are now, it may be time to amp up your efforts to re-brand.
  • Write Your Career Story: Most people don’t have a linear career progression, yet if they have a well-written resume, it looks like they do. This is their career story, which begins with identifying your audience and their pain points. Once you know what problems your audience is facing, review your transferable skills from your entire career history (including volunteer roles, courses, special projects, etc.) and build your branded introduction, resume, LinkedIn Profile, interview responses, and all aspects of your professional representation (even if you’re not looking for a job in the moment) to reflect this. If you’re missing core skills, this is a good exercise to uncover them so you can take action to close the gaps.
  • Don’t Forget Likability. Research shows that likability can be equal to or even more important than competence in career success. Likability isn’t an innate trait, but rather can be honed (check out this LinkedIn Learning course to learn how). And, likability not only boosts your chances of landing the job, but people perceived as likable also get more assistance, obtain more pay raises, receive more information, and mistakes tend to be more easily forgiven.

3) CREATING AMBASSADORS. The research has been consistent for decades – networking leads to more opportunities. I’ve heard (and used) all the excuses — it’s schmoozing, I don’t have time, I’m not good at it. However, if you really want to open the vault to a recession-proof career, it lies within creating ambassadors — those people willing to go to bat for you. So, this goes beyond names in a Rolodex, and very much relies on the foundation of the two steps mentioned above. A contact is someone in your LinkedIn connections. An ambassador is someone willing to put their own social capital on the line to help you meet the decision-makers, learn about new opportunities and offer referrals. Here’s how:

  • Stretch Your Comfort Zone: Despite researching and practicing for years (my Doctoral Dissertation is even on networking), it still can be uncomfortable for me to network as an introvert. I accept this and push forward anyhow because I know how important it is. Remind yourself that at the very core, it’s about helping others, being curious, finding commonalities, showing gratitude and proactively staying in touch. You’ll not only find it much easier to network, but you may realize that you’ve been better than you think at it all along.
  • Start with the People You Know. We all already have a network. And those people have a network (aka, your 2nd level contacts). But we usually skip the people we know because we assume they can’t help us. Yet, they are the most motivated to help and would, if they only knew what you were looking for (for more detail, watch this TEDx Talk). If the people in your life don’t know your career goals or can’t clearly communicate the value you bring to your profession, you’re missing a huge opportunity to gain access to information and connections that can boost your career (and likely theirs).

Twenty years ago, I found myself unemployed with a stellar list of accomplishments, but with my personal brand linked to a scandalous company, and all my closest contacts struggling to find work and unable to help. It was horrifying and a rude awakening. In that moment, I vowed to NEVER allow myself to be in this position again. In fact, most don’t know that this experience is how I ended up transitioning into my current role of helping others to overcome hiring challenges and feel empowered in their careers. Fear can be paralyzing, but it can be also be motivating. So, if you’re terrified right now, blessings may be on the horizon that you can’t see just yet – hang on.

This advice isn’t just for now, but for the remainder of your career. If you’re feeling paralyzed, I’ve been there. Start today and with consistency, you’ll see opportunities. If you believe this doesn’t apply to you, it will at some point. Why not get ahead of it? In the US, we can tend to be a culture of reactivity versus prevention, but when it comes to your career, you get to choose.

No one is going to manage your career for you or care about your progression as much as you do. All three of these drivers — 1) Reinvention, 2) Branding, and 3) Building Ambassadors — are within your control, regardless of what is happening around you. If you consistently focus energy on these actions, you’ll be in a much better place to weather economic changes at any point in your career.

Happy hunting.

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