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On this page: Recognizing the signs of a pending layoff as well as how to handle it if it happens to you are key survival skills for the 21st century.

Guide to Layoffs and Layoff Recovery

By Susan P. Joyce

Being laid off happens to most people at some point in their careers - sometimes, a person is laid off more than once.

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Know that being laid off very seldom is a reflection on your work.

More often being laid off is because you are an "expensive" employee, or at least more expensive than the people who aren't laid off with you (they may be laid off later, though).

The corporate world doesn't usually have the time or skills to carefully prune away the "poor performers" and keep the best.

What Is a Layoff?

Sometimes this is called "down-sizing" or "right-sizing" -- at least by the employer. Outside of the USA, it is also called being "redundant."

Regardless of the exact term used, being laid off is NOT the same as being fired!  Individuals are fired for job performance issues, usually individually rather than in a large group. 

A layoff is a job loss resulting from a reduction in an employer's employee head count, typically to reduce expenses (both salaries and benefits). Layoffs are often called "down-sizing" or, more hopefully and euphemistically (for the employer), "right-sizing."

Layoffs can cause the job loss of a few people or of thousands.  It is more often a matter of being in the "wrong" part of a company or the "wrong" job when head count is reduced than being incompetent or a poor employee.

Like an actor or actress on a canceled TV show, the actors are seldom the direct cause of a show's cancelation, but they lose their jobs anyway because production of the show ends. 

Usually, companies begin layoffs to reduce expenses - and, hopefully, increase profits so they can survive. Sometimes it works, and the employer survives. Sometimes it doesn't work, and the employer shuts down any way with more jobs lost.

Layoff Self-Defense

If your current employer has begun layoffs, pay attention. Don't assume that your job is "safe" even if your boss has assured you that it is. Your boss may be uninformed (or not), and your boss may be laid off, too.

If no one has been laid off yet but the atmosphere is getting tense, read the Signs of a Pending Layoff article for tips on how to predict that layoffs may begin where you work.

Set up your LinkedIn profile (unless your employer doesn't allow that). Also, read Layoff Preparations at Work and  Layoff Preparations at Home articles plus Job-Hunt's free Layoff Self-Defense ebook so that you know some self-preservations steps you can take.

Stealth Job Search

Moving to another job with a different employer is often a good idea. But job hunting while you still have a job isn't easy. Employers often fire an employee who is discovered job hunting, and, with technology used today, discovering you are job hunting is easier than ever before.

Read Guide to a Stealth Job Search for ideas on how to keep your job search quiet but still effective.

Don't Quit First

Until you find a new job, resist the feeling that you should just quit your existing job so you can focus on finding a new job, because being unemployed can put you at a disadvantage in the job market.

Quitting your job can also mean that you won't be able to collect unemployement compensation.

Related: Don't Quit Your Job

Bottom Line

Layoffs are survivable. YOU will survive, if you are laid off. Millions of people have moved on, even moved up, in their careers after being laid off. I've been laid off twice, and, looking back, those layoffs lead me to where I am today. I am doing what I'm doing now because I was laid off, and I love writing for and editing Job-Hunt.


About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.