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Dealing with Layoffs
Practical advice to prepare for and cope with redundancy.
Every time I open my laptop it seems as though there is another tech company that is making people redundant. It’s unfortunately something that I have also experienced throughout my career as a software engineer, and it’s particularly tough.
Several of the conversations I have had throughout my time as a manager however, it is clear to see that many people have never experienced redundancy and don’t really know what it is like. I guess for many it is just one of those horror stories you hear about and hope doesn’t happen to you.
This article is going to be me sharing what I know about redundancies: what they are & why they happen, as well as some practical advice for anyone who has been effected by recent layoffs, or just wants to be better prepared should the time come.
As a note: Unfortunately, there is little advice to share to how to protect yourself from being one of the 'chosen ones' during layoffs because by nature they are sporadic. Sometimes it may be the last in first out scenario, and sometimes it might be specific feature teams that get cut. It’s impossible to try and foresee.
It’s easy to take it to heart, and think that it is a reflection of your worth or effort, As easy as it is to say, try not to take it to heart - there are so many different reasons as to how/why the decision to layoff certain people is reached. Some of the brightest and most talented people in the industry have been affected over the last year, so this isn’t a ‘stigma’ that you have to wear or be ashamed of.
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Redundancies - what are they?
Put simply, redundancies are when a company cuts a percentage of it’s staff. This could be done for various reasons, but primarily it is for financial. Company finances are usually counted by ‘runway’ and ‘outgoings’. Outgoings are the amount being paid out to employees, and the runway is how long a company could survive without taking any more money in. Redundancies are usually a way to create a longer runway by cutting down on outgoings.
There might be some instances where the company is moving location and no longer requires folk from a certain area (less common with remote working though), although I have seen some full distributed companies over the last year consolidating and making redundancies for those based outside of the US.
The process for making people redundant is very different depending on the company.
Sometimes this happens very suddenly (as per the stories coming from Google where people were testing their access cards to the office and finding out if they were still employed). And other times it can happen over a number of weeks (pulling my personal experience from Monzo). Both methods provide challenges. Whilst suddenly cutting people off its very brutal, leaving people to stew over it for a few weeks is also incredibly difficult, both for individuals as well as company culture.
Generally two things will happen:
You will be paid a redundancy/severance fund - this is one common misconception I have found people have when speaking to them. You are not typically cut off financially high and dry. You will at the minimum be paid your notice period, and often companies will give more to support their departing staff - like paying extra severance or making stock options vest sooner. At Monzo, I left with about four/five months pay. Three months for my notice, and a couple extra for severance.
You will lose access to company systems and your computer.
Different countries have different laws regarding notice periods, severance and redundancies, so it is definitely worth getting an understand with your HR staff what the minimum notice period you will be paid is. It is also worth saying that countries that have probation periods, it is sometimes the case where you could find yourself being paid a fairly small amount due to a shortened notice period within your probation. Worth checking!
How to prepare
As much as it is not nice to think that this might happen to yourself one day, it's always best to be prepared just in case the worst happens. The beauty is that most of these actions are going to be beneficial to your personally or professionally anyways, so it is a no-brainer to start thinking about them.
1. Get a hold of a spare laptop/computer if you don't already have one.
This was one thing I learned the hard way, by having to give my computer back when I had been made redundant. Going out to the shops and making a expensive purchase is not high on the list of priorities when you have had your financial stability rugged from under you, but you need access to a computer to move forward with job finding.
Technically, most employers will encourage you to keep work laptops for work, and all personal work on a second machine regardless, so keeping two laptops is a good practice anyways. I have not always adhered to this, and in this case I lost a lot of personal writing and pictures that I had been storing on the computer. Lesson learned! At the very least make sure you are regularly backing things up you don't want to lose.
2. Build an financial emergency fund
We are very fortunate in tech to typically have salaries that allow some expendable income, but even so, building a solid emergency fund is easier said than done with the cost of living at the moment.
I see some people mentioning in similar advice that you should aim for a years worth of savings, but that seems intimidating and in my opinion out of touch. As a minimum I aim to keep at least enough savings to give me runway for at least three months (although the longer the better).
On average I have found most job application process' to take around a month from start to finish, but some can be more. I have spoken to people over the last year that have been looking for 3/4+ months for a job without luck, so having as much financial space as possible will buy you time to find another role. With any redundancy/severance pay on top of this, you should have some room to breathe!
3. Network with peers
The last three jobs I have had, have come off of the recommendation of someone I had connected with online or worked with before. Referrals are a lower risk for a company when they are hiring, because they have someone vouching for that individual.
Knowing people means that more opportunities will potentially present themselves. Whether a company is going to be hiring and hasn't put a job spec out yet, having a connection in a company will allow you to hear about these opportunities first.
As an introvert, this kind of interaction doesn't come naturally or easy to me, but building connections with people is one of the best things you could do in the industry for numerous reasons.
Whether it is attending meet ups, jumping into peoples DMs or just finding your crowd on Twitter/Mastodon/Discord, then take a step to being more proactive in building that network of people.
4. Network with recruiters
Recruiters get a bad name on LinkedIn due to some bad actors, and I think that is unfortunate as there are some really great recruitment folk out there!
Having connections with a group of recruiters carries many of the same benefits as the peer group, however recruiters are being paid to find you a job. They will have jobs that have not been put on wider job boards for you to think about, and they will support you through the interviewing process.
It can be fairly daunting, but I suggest to look for the recruitment agencies that are giving something back to the community as a place to start. There are a few out there who organise technical round tables, meet ups, podcasts and talks for developers and engineering leaders.
5. Practice interviewing, and polish off your resume!
Interviewing is a skill you can learn, and if you haven't interviewed for a while, you might find you are rusty!
Prepare the best you can by practicing with colleagues/friends, as well as practicing technical assessments like code challenges & system design exercises. I have been doing mock-interview calls for a while with various engineers and engineering leaders, and it is a great way to get feedback from someone and improve your skills. Send me an email if you are interested!
Make sure to keep an up to date resume on hand at all times, and refresh it with some of the projects you are working on as time goes on. It's surprising how much impactful work folk do through their time at a company which they forget about. As well as it being particularly surprising how much impact just a few changes to the structure/content of your resume can have when applying to roles.
I recommend “The Tech Resume” as a resource to get an idea for what a strong resume looks like! This is worth its weight in gold.
6. Keep a list of interesting roles
This is something I have done for a while and is a good practice to have an understanding for what is out there.
I keep a Notion page with job roles that I come across directly from a companies website. This gives you a great starting point to start applying for positions that may seem a good fit for you. As time goes on, that specific job might be filled, but new ones at the company may open up, so its worth checking consistently.
There are so many roles that are not on LinkedIn or job boards, that you can only pick up from companies websites directly. Keeping a habit of finding some of these is going to be valuable and give you a head start if the time comes when you need to find a new role.
A couple of useful resources I have found for finding jobs: