How to Get Ahead of a Layoff

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During the Great Recession, it felt like every company in every industry was experiencing drastic layoffs and reducing its headcount. Though the economy is recovering, layoffs are still a concern as companies merge, business changes or markets fluctuate.

Cheryl E. Palmer, owner of Call to Career, says frequent closed door meetings with executives, budget shortfalls, reassignment of tasks and company mergers are some examples of red flags, which can indicate that a layoff may be imminent.

But, if you think it's a hopeless situation when talks of layoffs start circulating in the break room, think again. There are measures you can take to get ahead of a layoff, and also steps to take if you unfortunately are let go.

Securing your current position
If you're concerned you may be an employee getting laid off, there are steps to take that may help. "Align yourself with the direction of the company," Palmer recommends. "Having worked in outplacement for a number of years, I have found that it is not necessarily the unproductive workers who are most vulnerable to layoffs and downsizings, but rather those who are not in sync with the vision of management for the company. My advice to employees is, pay attention to what is said in company meetings, and even what is not said. This kind of information can help you determine where management is trying to take the company."

In addition, Palmer recommends showing your contribution to the bottom line. She says, "Even if you are not in sales, you should still be able to articulate how the work that you do is valuable to the company. As far as possible you should be able to quantify how much money you saved, what time-saving measures you instituted, and how you improved processes. Management tends to cut those positions that do not have a direct relationship to the bottom line."

If you are laid off
If these measures haven't been enough to prevent you from getting laid off, there are still steps to take to make this career transition go smoothly. "Distribute your resume to people in your network and tell them what you are looking for," Palmer says. "Particularly for people who you may have worked with a few years ago, you need to give them a resume so that they can see what you have done most recently. This is also critical for references so that they can speak knowledgeably on your behalf."

Beyond that, expand your network. "Join or become involved in a professional association," Palmer adds. "A professional association is the best place to find people who are already in your field who have connections to organizations that hire people in your field of expertise. You can raise your visibility in an association by taking on a leadership role. Virtually all associations are looking for people to volunteer to serve on committees. Taking on such a task gives you deeper connections with others in the association that go beyond merely passing out a business card at a monthly meeting. People have an opportunity to see your work ethic and will be more inclined to recommend you for openings that they know of."

When it comes to your future job interviews, it may seem embarrassing or negative to say that you were laid off from your previous job. However, employers will likely understand. Palmer says, "Put it in perspective. You should let the employer know that you were one of 100 people who were laid off. You should also tell the employer that it was a business decision. You never want to leave the employer with the impression that there was a layoff, and you were the only person laid off. That is an indication that the company was just trying to get rid of you."

When a company is reviewing and possibly reducing its headcount, it can be easy to get swept up in hysterics and make matters worse for your job. But by staying level headed, taking preventative measures and keeping things in perspective, you can come out of a layoff fine, or even better than before.

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