Between March 11th and May 13th more than 400 startups have let nearly 50,000 employees go, according to Layoffs.fyi. If you’re among those, my sincere condolences. This guide should help you avoid some common pitfalls and help you get back on your feet as quickly as possible.
If you’re still employed, now is a good time to get a game-plan together for what to do if it happens to you. One reason to do it now is that it’s hard to make good decisions under stress. Research shows that losing a job is one of the top-five most stressful life events, on par with losing a loved one through death or divorce, major illness or injury, and moving. When you’re laid off, you’re suddenly faced with an onslaught of high-stakes choices just when your ability to make good decisions is at a nadir. It happened to me twice in 2019-2020 and I definitely made a few mistakes along the way.
Here’s some advice from people who’ve been there on how to leave with grace, how to get your next gig as quickly as possible, and how to survive and thrive in the meantime.
We generally aren’t our best selves when we’re stressed. So step-one is to get a handle on your emotions. “Don’t blame yourself,” Systems Engineer Timothy told me. “Take a deep breath. Your feelings are valid. I remember the last time I was laid off. It was a rollercoaster of feelings for the first few days.”
While it might be tempting to push down or try to ignore negative feelings, this is likely to prolong your suffering. Instead, approach your feelings with curiosity and non-judgement. Notice what’s happening in your body. Allow for whatever is there. I’ve found meditation extremely helpful.
Then, start taking action. Software Developer and blogger Dan Moore has some amazing advice in How to go through a layoff. Dan recommends bidding your former colleagues farewell and telling them how much you enjoyed working with them via email or LinkedIn. If you’re not already connected, now is a good time to make that happen. “Get those LinkedIn endorsements,” Product Manager Andrew Sullivan said. “They help a lot. And order cocktails to go from somewhere nice.”
If you’re offered a severance package or asked to sign any kind of agreement, Dan recommends running it by an employment lawyer first. It’s expensive, but, “They’ve seen these kinds of contracts before and are legally obligated to do right by you–unlike the company’s lawyers who wrote up the agreements, who are obligated to look out for the company,” Dan writes. Also before signing anything, make sure you have the answers to these seven questions to raise immediately after you’re laid off.
No matter how much or how little your layoff reflects on you or your work, it’s still hard to talk publicly about needing a job. But it’s absolutely essential that you get over your embarrassment and let your network know you’re looking. If you don’t already have a robust professional network, check out Dan Moore’s Tips for Building Your Work Network and our How to recession-proof your software engineering career.
“Tell people you're looking for a job as soon as possible,” Scientific Engineering Associate Liat Zavodivker said.
“Resume and contacts first,” Senior Devops Keith Rockhold said. “Number-one thing, before the crying, the drinking, whatever you need to get yourself right mentally. Update the resume, send it out to your close contacts and update your LinkedIn. Then do what you need.”
Operations Manager James Higginbottom notes that many positions are filled without ever ending up with a recruiter or on a career website. “Make sure people you've worked with who can vouch for you know that you're looking for work,” James said.
“Let everyone know (especially those in your field),” that you’re looking for a new gig, Timothy said. “And treat it like it is, a new grind.”
Post that you’re looking on social media as well. Just be sure that you don’t say anything that could be embarrassing or unflattering to your former employer. Not only do you want their recommendation going forward, but you may end up working for the same company or the same people in the future.
When I was laid off from one of my startups, I posted on social media that they’d run out of money. While this was true, I heard through the grapevine that my former CEO thought the post made negotiations more difficult for him. It’s not a bad idea to run whatever you’re thinking about posting by your former employer first, and while you’re at it, you might as well ask them for help finding a new gig.
Even with a big network, it can take some time to get the word out and for the opportunities to come in. In the meantime, here are some other moves to consider.
Software Engineer James Mishra recommends job seekers set themselves apart from the “stampeding herd” of tech workers who are and will be looking for work. “Laid-off tech workers need to differentiate themselves from the herd,” James said. “If I were laid off right now, I'd probably dive into contributing to open source projects and making free books and online courses about computer security and application performance. And when the economic dust settles, hopefully, that body of work would be a differentiator.”
Now is a good time to learn new in-demand skills. “In software, security and performance are hard to ignore,” James said. “Expertise is lucrative because slow equals expensive and nobody wants to be hacked.”
In a recent survey, 89% of IT managers said they had trouble finding enough machine learning, artificial intelligence, and blockchain talent.
Demand for talent is increasing fastest in the areas of AR/VR, gaming, machine learning, and NLP. For more on what’s hot, check out In-Demand Skills to Get a Remote Developer Job.
“I think candidates should assume that many new openings are for solving specific problems (eg specialists) as opposed to being cross-functional,” James said. “Generalists need to advertise how they can handle specialist problems.”
Once you’re proficient enough, freelancing/contracting is a great way to learn new in-demand skills while getting money in the door. According to Upwork, freelancing has a nearly $1 trillion direct impact on the economy and makes up nearly 5% of US GDP, comparable to the size of the entire information sector. Freelancing widens your network, offers you the chance to get more positive recommendations, and many freelance gigs turn into full-time roles.
To find out who’s hiring, Timothy used his old email contacts to search for open jobs. If you’ve been corresponding with people in your field who work at other companies, searching your email can remind you of the names of those companies. Then you can go to their websites to see whether they’re hiring. If they are, you already have a connection there. You can also email those contacts to ask whether they are thinking about hiring.
He also suggests searching for the kind of company you want to work for on Google Maps in your nearest tech corridor and checking the company websites for open roles. “Also bring up the local paper’s ‘best places to work’ and start there,” Timothy said. “At least you have a better chance of being treated well where you land.”
It’s also a good time to prep for your interviews.
While looking for a job in a recession and global pandemic isn’t fun, it is a good opportunity to find jobs outside your geographic area. Twitter just announced that all employees currently working from home can do so indefinitely. Google recently abandoned its plans to lease more than two million square feet of office space. Nationwide Insurance has closed five of its offices, turning 4,000 employees into permanent telecommuters. And SF real estate startup Culdesac is relinquishing its San Francisco headquarters. “Remote work is going great for us,” tweeted co-founder Ryan Johnson.
Losing your job is incredibly stressful. Experiencing job loss in a recession and global pandemic is a whole nother level. It’s easy to make mistakes and lose momentum when we’re under stress. Just remember to begin by remembering to breathe and feel your feelings. Then exit your job with grace and kindness to maintain positive relationships as much as possible. Lean hard on your friends, family, and professional network to help you find your next gig. Don’t be shy about telling people you’re looking for work. There’s nothing shameful about it and people want to help. Lastly, be open to learning new skills and looking at other cities when finding your next job.