It is always worse when a layoff comes out of left field, isn’t it? There is definitely something to be said about being mentally prepared to find a new job. Of course there is even more to be said when you are fully prepared with an updated résumé and a branded LinkedIn profile that will position you for what’s next.
I can relate to being in denial; I certainly should have seen the signs coming before my first layoff after 9-11. Even though I had been yearning for greater responsibility and wanting to either move up or move on, I took my layoff very hard. When it took ten months to find something new, and that something new was a step back, I regretted not being more prepared.
That was the first of three times, so I feel like I have learned a little something about how to tell when bad news is coming. The more warning you have, the higher the chances that you can turn the bad news into a positive next step.
1. News of future plans grows quiet
Any company doing well is going to want to generate excitement about the future. If projects are suddenly put on hold, or high-priority projects that your manager had previously told you were coming down the pike suddenly don’t seem as important, something is about to change.
This treatment could even seem like being given the cold shoulder. You may be starting to consider whether you should just confront your boss directly. If you do, be prepared to hear no news or to receive bad news. Ultimately and unfortunately, when bad news is impending there is a pecking order for who is told first.
2. Your employer no longer spends money on certain things
This could refer to perks, travel, technology, training, or even bonuses. Even if there are no immediate plans for the company’s leadership to sell or close, and you can see that the focus is more on cutting costs than growing, it is only a matter of time before they lose market share or become obsolete. If you want to be noble and go down with a sinking ship, that is your prerogative, but simultaneously prepare a life boat. Read over any non-competes, decide what company you want to target, update your LinkedIn profile and start reconnecting with people in your network, update your résumé, and decide how you are going to tell people about why you are looking for something new. (Do so in that order.)
3. Other people are being let go
This sounds pretty obvious, but I have seen some professionals insist that those who were let go were logical choices, whereas they were top performers. This is who gets hit by the news the hardest. You might have done everything right, you might have established that you are irreplaceable, and still be the victim of a workforce reduction. Does it have to do with your salary? Maybe. You will spend days and weeks trying to figure out what you could have done differently and the answer could be nothing. Instead, act immediately to position yourself as a rock star and a thought leader in high demand. Promote everything that you have done to add value to your employer and promote your résumé through social media. Consider publishing posts and responding to calls for speakers at industry conferences. Set up lunch meetings. Organize happy hours.
Being uncertain of the future and being in flux are very uncomfortable for most people. The best way to ease your worry is to make something happen. Start to build momentum. Even if you are wrong and your job is completely secure, you might open new doors to unexpected opportunities.