We entered 2023 with news of massive corporate layoffs in the tech sector. As these waves have expanded beyond tech into other industries due to concerns over a possible recession, you may be anxiously wondering whether you will face a layoff in the coming weeks and months. Unless you work at the CEO or CFO level, you cannot control layoff decisions. However, even if you think your job is safe, you can prepare for the possibility. This article covers strategies for preparing your résumé and how to address a layoff.
Look for the signs
It might start with the company reporting an increasingly dire financial forecast, such as low sales. Did they freeze spending and hiring? Are people more on edge? By developing an awareness of your environment, you will be better prepared to respond to an unpredictable event. Once you know a layoff is imminent, contact your manager to see if they will be a reference for you. Then, spend time networking online and in your community and talking to people about your job search goals. Get into the habit of using LinkedIn to follow your target companies and initiate connections with people who work there. Finally, update your résumé and other job application materials.
Here’s some good news: If you get laid off, you may not need to address the layoff on your résumé. If you have a gap from a layoff that is less than six months, you don’t need to disclose it on your résumé. On average, it takes three to six months to land a new position when you factor in applying for jobs, networking, scheduling and attending (multiple) interviews, negotiating the offer, determining a start date, etc.
Show how you used your time
Employers tend to scrutinize gaps that go beyond six months. If that’s your situation, I suggest you briefly address it in your experience section above your most recent role. For example: “Laid off as 1 of 999 employees following a company restructuring in January 2023.” Rational hiring managers understand that layoffs are common and the job market is complex and unpredictable.
You can add details about how you used your time constructively. Did you pursue a graduate degree or professional license or take on any part- or full-time contract, volunteer, or freelance work? Drawing attention to these areas will put a more positive spin on your termination while showing prospective employers that you honed your skills.
Focus on your impact
Hopefully, you’ve kept track of your key achievements and contributions over the years. Doing this makes updating your résumé much easier. If you don’t keep track of your performance, then now is the time to start — aim to document your “wins” and accomplishments at least once a year. You can highlight special projects you led, key problems you solved, or new technologies or processes you developed.
Once you’ve brainstormed your impact, dig deeper into your achievements. Ask yourself: What specific action(s) did you take? What was the impact on the team, department, client, company, etc.? Can these results be quantified? For example: “Improved productivity by 66% after leading XYZ.” Not all achievements are quantifiable; however, you can often find other ways to convey your impact on your résumé. Examples include leading and collaborating with teams or other departments, mentoring or training employees, or gaining a reputation as a subject-matter expert within your team or department.
Use your cover letter to address your layoff
Unless you apply for a job that specifically asks you not to send a cover letter, I recommend including one with your application. Not only does it allow you to introduce your résumé and address the employer’s specific needs, but you also have the space to share additional details about special circumstances, such as a layoff, career change, return to work after a hiatus, etc. I’ll share an example of how you can approach that scenario in the context of a layoff.
During COVID-19, I worked with a client who got laid off from her engineering job with a leading global beauty company. We modified her cover letter, leading off with her 10+ years of experience developing, improving, and troubleshooting processes to manufacture specialty cosmetic ingredients. Then we added the following language: “As you may have read, ABC Company was one of many companies that restructured following the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, I was 1 of 999 employees laid off. Since then, I have had time to reassess my strengths and am ready and well-situated to explore new opportunities.”
Getting laid off sucks, but it has nothing to do with your performance or qualifications for other jobs. Give yourself a few days to process what happened and reassess the next best step for you and your career. By clarifying your future focus, you will be less likely to dwell on what happened and show up more positively and professionally for future opportunities. Don’t forget to focus on your professional value; luck favors the prepared!
This article originally appeared in the Career Connection column in the April 2023 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at www.aiche.org/cep.