Staying Alive: 4 Tips for Surviving Corporate Layoffs

RedRage's picture
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As an Oil and Gas professional, Fridays are both a curse and a blessing depending on whether or not I have a job at the end of the day. Since the price of oil has been on a perpetual decline and showing no signs of a recovery, thousands of employees have been laid off.

Everyone from Jim the tool pusher to Amy in accounting has been affected by layoffs, whether they have been laid off themselves or been a part of the weekly (in some cases, daily) cuts that continue to take place.

I have personally been through several rounds of layoffs (and to be frank, I have lost count of how many) so I consider myself to be experienced in these matters. Most of you that are new to the workplace might be wondering if there is anything that you can do during a layoff.

Here are 4 steps for surviving layoffs:

1.) Start Making Your Move NOW

You may have heard that finding a job is much easier when you're still employed. This is true and it has to do with perception. Managers and HR will have a bias towards employees that were laid off simply because they may assume you were no longer valuable for your previous employer which is why you were let go.

Whatever the case may be, if you are aware of layoffs you need to switch from defense to offense and start making backup plans in case you are let go. This is the time to reconnect with recruiters, friends, and other contacts on LinkedIn.

Some schools allow alumni to continue having access to job boards so take advantage of this if you have a choice. Also consider attending a career fair even if you have graduated and feel you are safe at your current place of employment. You never know what positions may become available so take the opportunity to attend.

2.) Focus on What YOU Can Control

There are certain realities that are beyond control but one reality that you are in control of is YOU. When you see your cube mates being let go chances are their workload needs to be carried by someone else. If you are given the opportunity to take on additional projects GO FOR IT!

If you are asked to take on another role or switch departments do so with a positive attitude. Even if you're not excited about it, maintain a positive attitude and do not showcase your true emotions. If a manager or another higher up senses that you are not willing to be flexible it can increase your chances of ending up on the chopping block.

3.) Think BIG Picture

I had a career adviser tell me prior to starting my post-undergrad job that, "The person who knows HOW will always have a job. The person who knows WHY will always be his boss."

Chances are everyone from the lowly cubicle dwelling minion to Vice Presidents will experience some anxiety about layoffs. You may notice that your manager has a difficult time staying focused given that his team has been shrunk by 60% and his or her job may be on the line.

This is where you need to think BIG picture. You should know what your manager prioritizes in terms of the work that you and your team perform. Keeping this in mind and staying one step ahead of the curve will make your boss's life easier. Believe me he or she will take note and will sing your praise in front of their superiors.

For example, the company I work for is in the process of merging with another industry heavyweight. As a result I realized that data such as sales, revenue, and other analysis will be needed so I focused on pulling whatever relevant information I could find. Sure enough I was asked to provide a complete fiscal year breakdown by specific geographic regions for an impromptu meeting. Having done the work already it put my manager at ease and showcased my ability to anticipate needs before being asked.

4.) Don't Hide in Your Cube...Be Visible

Despite the downturn my company has been engaged in various volunteering activities and fundraisers. I made it my goal to attend as many of these as possible as they are frequented by upper management. By volunteering and meeting various executives during these events I have been able to transform myself from just another employee to the one that my VP knows by name and acknowledges in the hallway.

It may not seem like a big deal but having done the above I have now been pulled into senior integration meetings and given heavier responsibilities due to increasing my visibility amongst management.

In closing no one is 100% safe during layoffs however you can take steps to ensure that you can survive for as long as possible while creating a game plan to move onto another career. For those that are experiencing layoffs I wish you Good Luck.

If anyone would like to talk to me feel free to send me a PM and I would be more than happy to talk with you.

Comments (24)

Jan 15, 2016

Bravo. Great post. Love #3.

    • 1
Jan 15, 2016

Another strategy that I used in my first position during the height of the crisis was this: find out what the system critical systems/functions are in your department. Make sure to control/have significant influence over them (IT systems, databases, models, etc.). It gives you a lot more security because you have the institutional knowledge/expertise on that.

If nothing else, it gives you a lot more leverage over them when it comes to your exit package.

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Jan 15, 2016

@GuyFawkes you are absolutely correct about this. Knowledge of software such as SAP and being able to mine through data and draw meaningful conclusions is always a "must have" skill set every employee should have regardless of market conditions.

Beyond this if you are solely responsible for providing reports to management and you are the only one or one of a few that can perform such a task your chances of being chopped are slightly less than others.

Paal Kibsgaard, CEO of Schlumberger mentioned "multiskilling." In short this concept is about becoming proficient in doing the job of two or three skilled workers. If you're able to analyze financials, can code VBA, and have the skills of a salesman you are much more valuable than someone whose skills are strictly within the confines of their respective position.

Jan 16, 2016

Good to know. So pretty much being versatile is the name of the game.

Jan 19, 2016

Solid and relevant advice. Being preemptive is possibly the most valuable thing a junior employee can do. I'd also echo big picture thinking by sticking your head out from your respective silo and viewing possible cross pollination between business units. If you can indentify how a current/past project/deal in your silo would help/add value to another project/deal in a different silo, you're likely to get noticed.

    • 1
Jan 20, 2016

The above are all good advice, but what it all boils down to is you need to add value and management needs to recognize this.

Unfortunately, my company sells into the Energy markets so we've had a number of layoffs this year. I'm actually in China right now announcing some major changes. Fortunately, (sort of) I'm in the meetings deciding how deep to cut and who to cut. It all comes down to who we can live without. Even if you're versatile, but you don't own any specific thing that's critical, you're at risk. However, if you're a top sales guy, the guy that keeps the servers running, the Controller that closes the books, etc.... you're going to be safe.

There's really no magic to it. If you're well liked (people don't want to fire you) and add value you'll be safe. If your position isn't critical and/or you're an average or below average performer then you're at risk.

twitter: @CorpFin_Guy

    • 1
Jan 22, 2016

Completely agreed. You have to find ways to become irreplaceable at whatever you do and have back-up plan for the worst, considering the increasingly competitive labor market and the highly volatile economy in recent times.

Jan 22, 2016

Very interesting post with great, solid advice. Will definitely keep in mind for the future.

Jan 22, 2016

just don't overuse seamless :p

speed boost blaze

Jan 22, 2016

Start flirting with management and see what happens.

Jan 22, 2016

Tell your boss everyday that you're willing to do ANYTHING to stick around. Helps if you look at his pants and then give him a wink (no homo)

    • 1
Jan 22, 2016

I'm fairly sure that during the crisis, the analyst headcount was severely reduced, so regardless of how many manager-level employees were let go, employees at the analyst level were still in the danger of getting cut. My guess would be that to get through a downsizing, you have to be on good terms with senior colleagues who may be deciding who stays and who goes, and to have a record of outstanding performance.

    • 2
Jan 22, 2016

They can only fire you if you actually show up for work- Costanza

    • 1
Jan 22, 2016

Get on your knees and beg. Crying helps too.

Jan 22, 2016

Be part of the "Talent Pool"

Each major bank has what they call a talent pool, which is basically what management considers the top performers who they will do anything to keep. They range from young guns to veterans.

    • 1
Jan 22, 2016
CorpFinHopeful:

I'm fairly sure that during the crisis, the analyst headcount was severely reduced, so regardless of how many manager-level employees were let go, employees at the analyst level were still in the danger of getting cut. My guess would be that to get through a downsizing, you have to be on good terms with senior colleagues who may be deciding who stays and who goes, and to have a record of outstanding performance.

yeahright:

Be part of the "Talent Pool"

Each major bank has what they call a talent pool, which is basically what management considers the top performers who they will do anything to keep. They range from young guns to veterans.

Thank you for the advice. It seems that incoming analysts are equally likely to be part of layoffs as veterans. So, jumping ship/trying to transfer to a different group is not a good move?

Jan 22, 2016

Maybe I'm completely off here but I wouldn't underestimate how difficult/lengthy/costly it can be to get rid of more senior employees. Maybe this is easier in the US than around here but with deferred comp, etc this can be quite something. I don't want to scare anyone but if the heads of your division, group, office or team gets a plain request to reduce headcount by X amount, they are quite easily tempted to go with easy wins (i.e. junior staff). Sure, they are unlikely to fire everyone since they know someone's also go to do the grunt work but they better know your name when layoffs come.
Basically this is just a lengthy intro for "be a top performer and you'll be the last one to get fired".

I see transferring to another group only working in 2 ways: you know people at the other group and they pull some strings to get you (better alternative) or when coming in subtly talking to HR that you'd be willing to relocate since you're aware of the ongoing/upcoming restructuring. The latter could backfire since it could leave the impression of being disloyal, especially if it trickles down to your team. I would carefully consider transferring and first try to evaluate as objectively as possible my position in the team.

    • 1
Jan 22, 2016
EuroLocust:

Maybe I'm completely off here but I wouldn't underestimate how difficult/lengthy/costly it can be to get rid of more senior employees. Maybe this is easier in the US than around here but with deferred comp, etc this can be quite something. I don't want to scare anyone but if the heads of your division, group, office or team gets a plain request to reduce headcount by X amount, they are quite easily tempted to go with easy wins (i.e. junior staff). Sure, they are unlikely to fire everyone since they know someone's also go to do the grunt work but they better know your name when layoffs come.

Basically this is just a lengthy intro for "be a top performer and you'll be the last one to get fired".

I see transferring to another group only working in 2 ways: you know people at the other group and they pull some strings to get you (better alternative) or when coming in subtly talking to HR that you'd be willing to relocate since you're aware of the ongoing/upcoming restructuring. The latter could backfire since it could leave the impression of being disloyal, especially if it trickles down to your team. I would carefully consider transferring and first try to evaluate as objectively as possible my position in the team.

Thank you, that is a very insightful. It makes a lot of sense that the higher ups are more expensive to let go when you take compensation structure into account. However, the group is already quite top heavy from previous rounds of layoffs, i.e. there are hardly any analysts and associates. I suppose the best way to go is to make sure my performance is superior and perhaps quietly look for a job somewhere else, just in case.

+1 SB for everyone who helped me out in this thread!

Best Response
Jan 22, 2016
EuroLocust:

I see transferring to another group only working in 2 ways: you know people at the other group and they pull some strings to get you (better alternative) or when coming in subtly talking to HR that you'd be willing to relocate since you're aware of the ongoing/upcoming restructuring. The latter could backfire since it could leave the impression of being disloyal, especially if it trickles down to your team. I would carefully consider transferring and first try to evaluate as objectively as possible my position in the team.

VERY carefully consider this. A friend of mine was let go when he said he wouldn't mind being moved to Asia, he got canned on the next round.

I survived '08 by luck I believe, more than anything else - I was really useless back then. I've woken up since then everyday wondering if today was going to be my last, even if today I am a director and I print a decent amount, it does not matter. Management changes, and new people come in who might not know you. Your division might get the sack. Today equity is hot, tomorrow it is not. You will have this feeling of potentially being fired all throughout your career. It's OK! That's just the way it is, you just have to get used to it.

FYI if they don't know you - you'll go. You will find that most structures at banks now are HEAVY in MDs and Ds, barely any VPs, Associates, and Analysts. The reason you keep older people now is that they produce, so you are less likely to get rid of a producer than a junior who doesn't ring in the till yet. I do my own note in the morning now, and do the evening summary; I produce my own trade ideas and do my own bookings, etc... I used to have juniors who did this, couldn't afford to keep them and now I do all this sh.t on top of my already existing work. Same for my traders.

When looking to hire, we are looking to hire people with experience who will produce right away, very easy in the current environment as every other banker is out of work. Juniors are not as interesting anymore, as we don't really need to build teams when they are already there to be poached for free.

MDs know each other and will protect each other, that's another thing to consider. One MD = 10 Analysts in comp; does not matter, the 10 analysts will go instead of firing the 1 MD. I've seen it a lot.

Now that I've depressed you - I'll try to give you some tips:
1. Make sure people know you
2. Be likeable - this means go for drinks with your older co-workers, try to tag along. Don't open your mouth too much, just be around ordering beers and be a nice guy. If you carry back home one of your bosses drunk you are sorted
3. Do your work well, this shouldn't be a question really.
4. BE MOTIVATED!!! This is fucking KEY! We fired a really bright junior recently. He did his work on time, he did it well. He did not want to do another job I suggested to him even though I clearly hinted to him that he was on the chopping block. The guy did not show a lot of motivation or interest, just did his job extremely well and that was it
5. Following that other bit. Be keen, ask questions pester people with that. They are busy? Whatever, just wait 10 minutes and ask again. Persistency is super important.
6. Don't ever get too smashed and be awkward around seniors
7. You mentioned moving teams, you have NO IDEA how many times I tried to change teams or tried to change bank all together. In my second year I was talking to every over bank on the street via head hunters. Internally you have to be super smooth about it, you meet other department heads at career events you can become buddy buddy with them. This no one can tell you what to do - and you should feel it yourself to move or not to move.
What i can recommend is: NEVER EVER EVER slack off on your job when you are looking elsewhere. You are about to get a fantastic offer? I had a bank that liked me a lot etc.. They offered me the same base as where I was with no guarantee, I turned it down, but I had been slacking on my job for a month due to this and my client franchise suffered during that time - not worth it. In hindsight I would advise sticking with your first analyst position until you get your promotion to associate, and then move (the offers were a lot more interesting when I moved as an associate)
8. I guess I could write some more stuff - but to be honest I am still learning how not to get fired and tomorrow I might be on the market once again. So best of luck, there is no clear way on how to keep your job in a crisis. A friend was best mate with his boss, loved by all, top performer - they chopped his whole team off and so he went.

This is banking - it's tough, but if you can survive the rewards can be handsome, and this is why I'll wake up tomorrow and fight another day.

    • 4
Jan 22, 2016
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