Layoff whiplash scars workers who find new jobs only to lose them


When workers are hit by more than one layoff in a short span, it can leave them questioning not only their career choices, but themselves. — Unsplash

About a month into his new job as a marketing coordinator this year, Nygel Jones mulled writing a celebratory post on LinkedIn. Having been laid off twice in the past three years, though, he hesitated, fearing he might jinx the new gig. Jones eventually sent the post, which said that “after a year of uncertainty, it’s nice to have a moment of relief”.

The moment didn’t last long.

About a week later, Jones, 25, got laid off – again. “My jaw dropped,” he said. “I had not even been there for 90 days, and the feedback I was getting was positive. I was completely confused.”

It’s a red-hot US job market, with the unemployment rate at its lowest in more than 50 years. But for the past year and a half, major companies like Amazon.com Inc and Google parent Alphabet Inc have been slashing jobs. This week, Tesla Inc said it would lay off more than 10% of its staff.

Unlike previous cycles, when employers might do one big layoff, lately employers have done multiple rounds of cuts, and certain sectors like recruitment and marketing have been hit particularly hard. That’s left some workers on edge, with an increasing share of jobseekers saying it’s likely they’ll get laid off from their current or new job in the next six months, according to ZipRecruiter Inc.

When workers are hit by more than one layoff in a short span, it can leave them questioning not only their career choices, but themselves. “I’m fighting thoughts like, ‘I’ve been laid off three times – was it something I was doing? It has to be me’,” Jones said. “It’s tough to fight that.”

Michael Hayes, a technology product manager in Colorado who’s been laid off four times in the past decade, knows that feeling. “There is always a period of self-doubt,” he said. “It’s human nature. Having been through it enough times, though, I recognise it’s not me, it’s a business decision.”

Chalking up the job losses to external factors beyond their control can help workers cope, but career experts say people who face multiple layoffs should also try to see if there are patterns of behaviour they could avoid going forward.

“I’m not saying it’s their fault, but consider the companies you are working for,” career coach Marlo Lyons said. For instance, are they all startups, which are inherently more volatile? If employees moved over to a big company, did they ask hard questions during the job interview about the firm’s layoff history? When bosses gave feedback, was it acted upon?

“If there is a series of layoffs, I do think it’s important to have a certain amount of self-awareness,” said Emma Seppälä, an author and lecturer at the Yale School of Management. “What have I got to learn here? Have I received similar feedback in different places? You have to self-examine.”

Andrea Chin, who is in her 30s, did just that after getting laid off in March, the fourth time in more than a decade working in the technology space as a specialist in user experience, or UX. After previous layoffs, she took time off to travel and reflect, largely withdrawing from her network of friends and former colleagues. This time around, she aggressively reached out to others who could help, and within days created a Google document – she calls it a "mind dump” – with details on projects she worked on and other various accomplishments that demonstrated her impact. That way, if a recruiter did come calling, she would be ready with her talking points immediately.

The approach paid off: A former co-worker recently introduced Chin to a hiring manager, who offered her a job, which she accepted. “There’s a lot I have learned,” she said.

It’s never too late to start that education. Hayes, 57, just recently joined a “job search council,” a free, informal network of jobseekers at similar points in their career who gather online for 90 minutes once a week to share tips and tricks or simply commiserate about the vagaries of the job market. Hayes also revised his LinkedIn profile, shortening the bio section and putting more emphasis on his achievements in each role.

Such tweaks can have a big impact, Lyons said, along with a clear explanation on what happened with each job lost – the startup lost funding, say, or it was a company-wide reorganisation. “That way, companies don’t think you’re a job hopper,” she said.

Hayes is seeing more traction lately in securing interviews, and is also now considering some contract jobs rather than just full-time roles. And there’s evidence that the market is getting better. Jobseekers’ confidence in landing a new role, as measured by ZipRecruiter, has risen in each of the past three quarters. Still, Hayes said he has found the hiring environment to be “numbingly pitiful”.

Many hit by multiple layoffs aren’t taking chances. Some are learning how to code, while others are exploring what it takes to start their own business. “I would encourage people to have a Plan B and be flexible,” said Nils Mellquist, 52, a longtime Wall Street investment analyst who’s been laid off several times, most recently in 2022, and is now doing a fully-remote contract role in green-energy finance.

Brian Rach, 36, a longtime corporate recruiter living outside Milwaukee who’s lost two jobs in the past year, would like to keep working remotely, but every remote job he applies to lately “goes into a dark hole – there’s hundreds of us applying for the same job”.

In a career pivot, he’s just filed the paperwork to establish his own limited-liability company. “I have always dreamed of having my own search firm,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith.” – Bloomberg

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