Nobody is immune to layoffs. Whether you’re an executive or an entry-level hire, layoffs can – and probably will – affect you at some point in your career. Consultants and freelancers have a bit of a buffer thanks to their multiple income streams, but when their industry suffers, they suffer too. (There’s nothing like losing four clients in a single month.)
However, you can inoculate yourself against potential job loss by learning how to anticipate layoffs, how to handle your finances when you suspect layoffs are coming, and how to leverage your network to keep your career going even after your employer lets you go.
Know how to predict layoffs
Although some types of layoffs feel like they came out of nowhere, companies often give clear signals that layoffs are on the way. Sometimes these signals are obvious – your company merged with (or got bought out by) another company, your company had its worst quarter ever, other departments start laying people off – and sometimes they’re more subtle.
Alison Green, of Ask a Manager, suggests you keep your eye out for the following indicators:
- Penny-pinching: Are travel budgets being cut? Is the office coffee no longer free?
- Postponed projects: Do you have less work to do than usual? Are you hearing things like “we’re not going to move forward on that just yet?”
- Restructuring: Are you hearing rumours about new org charts? Are people being asked to take on additional work that’s usually covered by another role?
- Hiring freezes: If companies stop hiring, they might start firing.
“There’s no way to guarantee you’ll be able to spot it coming, because employers usually play it very close to the vest when they’re considering layoffs,” Green explains. “In fact, many companies will continue to insist they don’t intend to do layoffs right up until the moment they’re doing them. So often they’re not going to make it easy for you to know what’s coming, but in many cases, if you pay attention you’ll see signs.”
Get your finances in order
In an ideal world, you’d have a robust emergency fund to tide you over between periods of unemployment.
We don’t all live in that ideal world. Maybe you had some unexpected expenses in the past year, maybe you’re focusing on paying off debt, and maybe you’ve been saving 10 per cent of your income every month but you haven’t quite hit emergency fund level yet. (If you save 10 per cent of your income every month, it will take 30 months to build a three-month emergency fund.)
Melissa Singletary, at the Washington Post, has this advice to offer:
Right now, you have to preserve your cash. You can’t afford to pay extra on your debt. You may need that money to keep the lights on or buy food. Concentrate on the essential expenses until you’re past this crisis.
Cutting back to minimum payments on your debt will feel like a terrible financial strategy right now, but you’ll be glad you have that cash in your account when you stop receiving regular paychecks. If your employer starts penny-pinching, you should too: skipping dinners out, holding off on that big discretionary purchase, and wearing those socks with the holes in the toes for just a little bit longer.
A word of warning, though: preserving your cash doesn’t mean “putting new purchases on credit cards.” This is not the time to get into new debt if you can help it. Best case scenario, you have to wear those old socks for a few more months as you pay those cards off. Worst case scenario, you could max out your cards, miss some payments, and tank your credit rating.
Start the job hunt now
The best time to find a job is when you already have a job – and right now, you already have a job.
So go after your next one.
You can play online resume roulette, but you should also be reaching out to your network and letting them know that you’re looking for new opportunities.
This means taking the time to figure out what type of opportunities you want and why you’d be a good fit. (Unless you’re talking to a close friend, I’d avoid saying “I need a job because I think I might be getting laid off soon.”) It also means updating your resume, dusting off your interview skills, and maybe picking up a new skill or two to add to your portfolio.
“If you do see signs that layoffs could be coming, it makes sense to start at least a low-key job search,” Green suggests. “Doing that doesn’t mean you have to take another job, but if your job does end up being cut, you’ll be glad you got a head start.”