Recently, Microsoft laid off 10,000 employees. Facebook lost 11,000. Not to be outdone, Google reduced its workforce by 12,000. Overall, in the first two months of 2023, over 120,000 tech employees were laid off, including every sector and every size company.
With software engineers losing their jobs left and right and execs throwing around empty words like “rightsizing,” it’s understandable that many people are nervous about being laid off. The interview process is brutal, and the number of openings in the next few months is going to be smaller than usual. You have to search for jobs. Then, send in your resume, pass the phone screen, pass the onsite whiteboard interview, and maybe, you might get an offer. And after all that, you might like the role and the compensation and accept the offer.
Losing your job means losing your income. You might have a family that relies on you. You might be on a work visa. In the US, you might lose your health insurance. If you own a house, you might fall behind in mortgage payments and lose your property.
And once you’ve spent a lot of time working with a group of people, it’s natural to like them, or at least, to tolerate them. You might generally enjoy your team and your work. And in the chaos, it can all be taken away from you at any moment.
You can’t assume to work in the same job in the same industry for your entire life. Maybe that was true if you were born in 1950 or live in a country like Japan, but it’s extremely rare today. Even “safe” jobs aren’t really safe. The larger the organization, the more likely you’ll be hit with unexpected layoffs. Governments and large corporations only give the appearance of stability.
You can complain about the situation. This doesn’t help anyone, so I don’t recommend it.
You can try to change the situation. You can join a union or push for better labor laws in your area. Political change is difficult and will take some time.
And finally, you can recognize the emotion of the moment and let it pass through you. Then, act.
Here are 6 things you can do so you don’t need to worry about layoffs.
1. Have money in the bank
First, keep cash equal to several months of living expenses in your savings account. If you spend $4000 a month, and want 6 months of buffer, keep a balance of $24,000.
I prefer to keep one year of living expenses in my savings account. This is an incredible mental cushion. If I ever lose my job, I have at least one year to take my time to find one that I genuinely like.
If you don’t have this cash lying around yet, that’s OK. Make it easy by setting up an automatic transfer to your savings account every month. Once you’ve created a cushion, you can turn off the transfer. Don’t try to do it every month manually–you’ll forget. It’s not weakness, it’s just human psychology.
2. Demonstrate your value to your manager
The second thing to do is to be a top performer and make sure your manager knows it. This is not a foolproof way to avoid getting laid off, but it will certainly help your chances of retaining your job.
Remember: your manager is not responsible for your career development. You have to take the initiative.
If you’re not a top performer yet, the path to become one is simple:
- Figure out what the team needs
- Make it happen
(Though, it will take a lot of time and effort.)
Top performers continually demonstrate the value of their work. They drive their 1:1s with their managers. They think about how their work fits in with the larger organization and how they can help the team. They communicate effectively, unblock teammates, and blaze a trail for the people following them.
Also, being a top performer does not mean “staying late and draining your energy”–it means working on the most important tasks in a sustainable manner. With so many unreliable people doing the bare minimum, doing what you say you’ll do will get you positively noticed.
On the other hand, the prospect of being laid off is demotivating. What’s the point of putting in extra effort if you might lose your job anyway? On one hand, you’ll have a body of evidence and confidence that you can get stuff done. But still, slacking off might be the most logical thing to do in your situation, especially if you think your company is doing poorly or your team will likely be laid off. In that case, maybe pump the brakes at your job and develop your skills instead.
3. Develop your skills
As a software engineer, you already have valuable skills. Programming is going to be in demand for the foreseeable future. You probably already have a specialty, like databases, iOS development, or testing. And there are many domains around programming, like project management and technical writing. There’s always a way to leverage your experience into a new opportunity.
Soft skills are even more important when looking for a new job. You could be an extremely competent person, but if you suck at talking about your achievements in a job interview, you’ll be rejected every time.
Additionally, finding a new job is a whole other set of skills. Think about all the things you could do:
- Write a resume
- Submit job applications
- Update your LinkedIn profile
- Network at a career fair
- Grind leetcode
- Practice interviewing for phone screens and on-site whiteboard interviews
- Prepare to negotiate your salary
Finally, remember that you can learn new skills. You’ve done it before and you can do it again.
4. Develop your connections
Speaking of finding a new job, many people find jobs through their informal networks–colleagues, friends, and family. If you have extra time, consider activating hustler mode, going to networking events, and providing value to others. LinkedIn can also be a useful tool if you know how to use it properly.
Additionally, consider talking to a mentor. They may have been through multiple rounds of layoffs before. And if you don’t have a mentor, find one. The best software engineers are more than happy to talk to people earlier in their career.
5. Write down your unemployment plan
There’s a lot of things you could do if you get laid off. If you’re worried, your brain will jump from activity to activity, thought to thought, making no meaningful progress and draining your mental energy.
Instead of getting caught in a loop, write down the things you would do if you unexpectedly lost your job. It can be as short or as long as you like. Here’s a very brief example:
- Rest for 1 week
- Cut back on restaurants
- Practice interview questions on leetcode
- Read that book about Swift
- Ask Alice for a referral
- Practice interviewing with Bob
- If I can’t get a software job after six months, get a temporary job at the Krusty Krab.
(Heck, you could even make yourself a vacation plan: if you get laid off, take 3 months to backpack across Europe.)
The human mind does not like uncertainty. By writing down your personal unemployment plan, you can trick your subconscious into feeling okay. Plus, a small number of actions will get you the majority of the results. By prioritizing the important stuff, you’ll free up even more mental energy.
6. Imagine what happens if you get laid off
Finally, take a page from Marcus Aurelius and the Stoic philosophers. Imagine what would happen if you lose your job. You might feel scared. You might feel alright.
I feel like I have no need to worry about being laid off. For a few weeks, I’ve been thinking “This could be my last day going into the office.” And I’m OK with that. Every day, I’ve done my duty.
I would still be upset if I unexpectedly lost my job due to factors outside of my control. But I also understand that a person’s value is not a 1-to-1 mapping with their job or their salary. Nothing is guaranteed. I’m going to give myself the best chance I can at crafting a career and a life that I genuinely enjoy, and the rest is up to fate.
There’s a lot of things you could do. Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once. Acknowledge the emotion of the moment, and you know you will get through this.
All will be well.