7 tips on how to survive a layoff

OK, so the economy is showing signs of recovery, companies are starting to hire, everything seems to be looking good, but then you find yourself laid off, what do you do? Having been a victim of two layoffs from my past two jobs, I hope to share with you what helped me find a new job in about 2 weeks time both these times. So how do you survive after a layoff?

1) Try anticipating it and try to get ahead of it: As software product managers, we are supposed to keep a tab on how well the business is doing. Are we acquiring new customers? Are we cash flow positive or getting close? How is the cash burn situation? We are supposed to know this well. So when you see numbers that are not showing any positive signs of improvement over a long time, you see others getting laid off, don’t wait for the axe to fall. Start looking! It is one thing to be optimistic that the business will improve, but on the other hand there is something called the point of no return – the tipping point where it is all downhill from here. Try to get ahead of the impending layoff for three good reasons:

  1. it is easier to look for a job when you have one
  2. it is better to get laid off when you know that your job hunt is off to a good start and you are well on your way to landing a new job and
  3. you will be able to take your time to find the job with the right fit for you and not be desperate to take the first job that comes along once you have been laid off.

For example, once I saw the writing on the wall at my previous company about five months before I got laid off, I started the job search in right earnest, turned down 4 potential offers because it was not the right fit, had 2 offers within 2 weeks of getting laid off and I ended up taking one of them. None of this could have happened if I had waited for the axe to fall and get started. And if the layoff happens suddenly out of the blue and you are blindsided, so be it. Read point 5) below on what to do.

2) Work your network long before you need it: I am a strong believer in the saying “Dig your well long before you are thirsty”. Don’t wait to start building your network (I do it via LinkedIn) or to work your network only after you have been laid off. Too late! You have to keep working the network all the time by helping others whenever you can – either when someone in your network is looking for a job, needs an introduction to someone you know or when they are looking for information you have access to. Your network will not forget your good deeds and will reach out to you in your time of need to see how they can help you in return. If nothing else, drop a friendly note, a birthday greeting, christmas or new year greetings to make sure your network knows you are alive and breathing. Networks are two way streets – you ought to be ready to give a lot more before you can expect to get something in return.

3) Build your reputation: I cannot tell you know how many times I have met readers of this blog. In interviews, I have been told that they have read my blog. Because of this, my interviews have never been on whether I know product management, but more on whether I will fit culturally into the organization. None of this was built in a day – I have been blogging for the last 2-3 years and I am now seeing the payoff. I have spoken at local events, conferences and all of these show up if someone does a Google search on my name. None of this can be taken away from me even when I get laid off for no fault of mine. My reputation as a product manager lives on. You got to build your reputation online, it is the best marketing material you can ever produce on YOU!

4) Make new connections: Assume you get an interview with a company. You make a good impression on the folks you interviewed. One of two things happen – you do not get the job or you turn it down because you don’t see it as a good fit. Is that the end? No – when you drop a thank you note to the folks who interviewed you, ask them if they would be willing to make a LinkedIn connection with you. Out of 50+ people that I have asked over the last couple of years, only 1 has turned me down. Read again, I have made 49+ new connections as part of my interview process.Why does this matter? Consider this real world example of how I landed up at Gazelle:

  1. I go through a phone screen for a position at Company A in November. I am deemed to be not a right fit.
  2. I send a thank you note to the recruiter thanking her for the opportunity. I make a request for two things – a) LinkedIn connection and b) do you know of any one who may be looking for a person with my skills
  3. Within a week, she recommends me to her friend at Company B.
  4. I go through two rounds of interviews at Company B in December – the position gets put on hold.
  5. Opening at Gazelle opens up in January – the recruiting manager at Company B recommends me highly to Gazelle.
  6. Gazelle reaches out to me over the weekend, my former boss who knows the CEO writes to him as well.
  7. I get the job, not just based on their recommendations – I still had to show up and go through two rounds of interviews – but because my connections opened the door for me.

Steps 1-4 happen while I am still employed. 5-6 happens within 2 weeks of getting laid off.

5) Never treat it as a knock out blow: Layoffs sting – it hurts, you feel worthless, you may spend sleepless nights worrying. But you need to recover. You cannot treat it as knock out blow. Usually good things happen – I have found a job better than what I had. You need to take it on the chin and get immediately back on the feet. Now is not the time to go into your cocoon, instead now it is demo time for the most important product – YOU!. Let everyone in your network know that you are actively looking. Get your LinkedIn profile updated, get recommendations from your former colleagues for the position you just got laid off, start showing up at local events, speak at these events if you can.  Look for short term assignments among your network, apply for unemployment benefits, explore ways to keep some income coming in – every dollar helps. Don’t be ashamed to tell others that you have been laid off – not to get their sympathy, but more to get the word out that you are actively looking. You never know who knows who.

6) Take the time to relax, build a new skill or enjoy life: Easier said than done, right? But if you do all of what I have stated above, believe me, you can. During the 4 weeks I took off, I went grocery shopping with my wife (something I had not done in years), I dropped off my kids at school and other after school activities, took long afternoon naps and read books. It was a great way to put a brake on my otherwise hectic work life. I got to relax and enjoy my life after a long time. All because I was close to getting offers from the companies I had interviewed with.

7) Always save for the rainy day: There is nothing faster that you can burn after a layoff than Cash. Everything comes out of your pocket – health insurance, mortgage, car payments and all other expenses. There is no income other than any severance payments you may have received. So always have enough cash saved away for the rainy day.

Thoughts? Do you have any experiences to share?

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Image: Courtesy of washingtonpost.com

6 thoughts on “7 tips on how to survive a layoff”

  1. really nice post Gopal. Gives some interesting ways at looking at this situation!

    Must say, your blog now enter my “bookmarks” !

  2. All good stuff. I have two things to add:

    1) It is important to know your standing in your current company. When things slow down and there are layoffs coming, you can’t just hope for the best. Are you working on the most strategic products? Do you have a trusted advocate in the company? Are you the only person with a certain set of skills and knowledge? If the answer is no to any of these questions you should be looking for a job long before the business slows down.

    2) Don’t be afraid to let people know you were laid off. Layoffs are common place now so there is no shame in letting people know you are out of work. More importantly, don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. I don’t mean saying “let me know if you hear of something”. I mean if you ask someone for a specific introduction or for a reference, most people are more than willing to help.

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