Although tech employment remains strong, big firms such as Nokia, Microsoft, IBM and Twitter have recently slashed jobs; tech startups face financial headwinds that will only intensify if the economy sputters.
With that in mind, here are some ways to recognize the telltale signs of a layoff—and what you should do now to prepare for the future. Don’t get so absorbed with everyday issues that you overlook these clues that indicate potential problems down the road. Ideally, you’d like to have a three-month head start before you receive a pink slip. (Note: In some cases, employers are required to provide 60 days’ notice.)
Wall Street Cues
If you work for a public company, declining stock prices, earnings shortfalls, and downgrades by analysts should sound an alarm bell. “They’re the canary in the coal mine,” said Darren Kimball, a former Wall Street securities analyst who is now CEO of outplacement firm The Five O’Clock Club.
Before they resort to layoffs, executives often try to course-correct by slashing expenses. Freezes on travel, software and system upgrades, and hiring indicate that things aren’t going well. Circle the wagons if management makes deeper, more severe cost cuts.
Management shake-ups, infighting, and dissention among directors often beget “strategic reorganizations” within the next few weeks or months.
“Plus, it’s hard to gain traction if your boss keeps changing,” noted Connie Brock, a career advisor with Silicon Valley networking organization ProMatch. Even if you have a stellar track record, you may end up viewed as “expendable” by a new boss who’s on a clean-up mission.
While the whole tech industry is known for rabid competition (and equally rapid obsolescence cycles), subsectors such as semiconductors and hardware are the most vulnerable to sudden shifts. A decline in customer activity and new orders, or sudden tightening of credit markets, may produce layoffs within 30 days in a cyclical company.
Even in organizations with healthy top and bottom lines, your job may be in jeopardy if management decides to move infrastructure to the cloud or replace tenured employees with lower-cost workers. Be on the lookout for meetings between management and outsourcing vendors and budget changes to foresee what’s ahead.
If you’re sure layoffs are around the corner, it’s time to get proactive:
Honestly Evaluate Your Situation
Is your fate sealed? If so, there’s no point in burning the midnight oil. Find the time to go on interviews, attend conferences and networking events. But if you think you may be able to avoid the cut list, keep your nose to the grindstone and make sure your boss knows what you’re up to.
“Somebody decides who will stay and who will go,” Kimball said. “Making yourself irreplaceable is the best way to keep your job, especially if you’re viewed as someone who can help revitalize the company.”
Asking your boss if your job is at risk usually isn’t a good idea, Kimball warned. Because managers usually aren’t allowed to discuss personnel shifts, tipping your hand may accelerate the layoff process.
Launch Strategic Maneuvers
Being a “first mover” gives you the opportunity to transfer to a less-vulnerable position on a high-impact project or customer-facing role. Don’t underestimate the influence of colleagues and stakeholders on your job security: build your network internally by spending more time interfacing with co-workers and line managers over coffee or lunch, especially if you work remotely or haven’t built a circle of influence.
Prepare to Disembark
Start updating your online profiles and résumé right away, but adjust your settings so your network isn’t notified until you’re ready to hit the market.
Carve out time for networking, and start assembling a team of informal advisors to help you with your job search. Endorse your colleagues online to encourage them to reciprocate.
Use comp time or sick time to attend a bootcamp or complete a career-enhancing online course. You can also consult a career counselor and former managers and colleagues to develop a strategic plan for the next step in your career.
“Re-connect with former managers and colleagues to see what life is like after you leave the company,” Brock said. “They can be your sounding board and help you set goals and prepare for what lies ahead.”