Layoffs Looming? Safeguard Your Career With These 7 Steps

Fired senior executive packing his boxes
It doesn’t have to be this way | Shutterstock

The specter of layoffs is ever-present even in a good economy, triggered by restructurings, mergers, acquisitions, or sector-specific declines. For example, the Tech sector’s recent wave of layoffs has left many professionals questioning the security of their positions.

If layoffs are in the air, approach the situation strategically. First, consider whether a layoff could signal an unexpected opportunity. A well-negotiated severance package could enable you to essentially get paid for your job search. In some cases, my clients received two incomes for a while, the severance income and the new job income. You may have to explain the layoff and resulting gap in your resume to potential employers, but that could be easy if you don’t have a history of job hopping.

If you’re worried about the prospect of a layoff, however, take these measures to safeguard your position while preparing for the worst; you could turn this situation into an opportunity for professional growth.

Keep your skills marketable

Look to land assignments that will increase your value to your current and future employers. Join the right association, one with an active membership and relevant programs, so that you can stay on top of the best practices for your field. Also, consider taking classes that will keep your skills cutting-edge.

Find a niche that can make you expensive to lose

One client faced a merger where 80% of her division’s employees were expected to be let go. The company included her in the 20% retained because she made it known that her prior M&A experience could be leveraged to get the newly merged organization up and running.

Remember your real job

Professionals at all levels sometimes need to remember their real job: to please their boss. If your boss isn’t seeing your value, your days are numbered, no matter how much your team or clients appreciate you. Managing your boss’s expectations is therefore crucial.

One executive was worried about getting let go after his former C-suite boss (whom he worked well with and respected) was forced out, and a new leader was put in place. In situations like this, it’s common for the new boss to want “their people.” To address this concern, my client developed a “managing upward” strategy that ensured he worked toward her new boss’s priorities while communicating his value. It worked; he was the only senior executive who wasn’t replaced.

Have a great pitch and adapt it to your resume and LinkedIn profile

You can have a valuable skillset, but that won’t help much if your current or prospective employer doesn’t know about it. Create a powerful pitch that communicates what differentiates you. Create different versions of this pitch, including a two-minute interview pitch and a 30-second networking pitch. Adapt your two-minute interview pitch to your resume summary section and LinkedIn “About” section.

Also, consider creating a “5-Second Pitch” to share during routine work interactions. For example, one client’s 5 Second Pitch was “…now that I’m leading the workflow management project.” She casually brought this pitch up in a conversation with a senior executive. The executive had not known about her leading this project; this new knowledge led to a big assignment.

Build a network of great relationships within your organization

Have informational meetings with internal hiring decision-makers before you’re let go, while you still have the work email address (you’ll get a higher response rate to your outreach). Let everyone you might want to work for know what your value is, and that you’re thinking of making a move.

In these meetings, adopt the mindset of a detective, asking questions to find ways that you can add value for their team or their colleagues, now or down the road. And crucially, keep in touch so no opportunities slip through the cracks.

Look for opportunities to lead

Organizations value leaders, that is, employees who demonstrate a) a vision for improved organizational effectiveness, b) the ability to influence others to get on board with this vision, and c) results. You can lead from any level, you don’t have to manage people to lead. Just look around you and question the business-as-usual strategies, operations, and processes that you see. Incorporate the best practices you learned from your association membership to help you create a leadership vision.

Negotiate the terms of a layoff

If a layoff looks unavoidable, seek to negotiate the following:

  1. The severance itself. In most cases, it’s best not to lead with threats of legal action. Instead, look to leverage sympathy with your situation. To that end, identify the person with a combination of a) the most power over the severance terms and b) the most potential sympathy for your situation. This person could be your boss, an HR leader, a prior boss, or someone else in a position of power.
  2. The departure date. You may ask them to keep you on the payroll longer, even if your responsibilities are reduced or eliminated. Doing so will enable you to appear employed on your resume, which may make you more appealing to potential employers.
  3. An alternative work arrangement. You may ask for an opportunity to consult to support a transition period for a couple of days a week, in addition to receiving the severance they plan on giving you. This approach will provide you with the time you need to do your job search while still enabling you to say you’re employed at the current company.

Lastly, don’t forget to save any useful internal contact information you’ll need for your search.