FIFO Is Your Enemy: Don’t Let First In, First Out Syndrome Hurt Your Career

Photo of a distressed employee who's been laid off.

In many workplaces, the most recently hired employees are the first in line to lose their positions when the organization makes staffing cutbacks to conserve budget resources. Of course, staffing and payroll decisions aren’t always based on money alone; some positions become unnecessary for other reasons, and every workforce is carefully deployed based on diverse employee skill sets, experience, ambition, availability, and workplace politics. But when money alone guides the decision behind a cutback, the fairest, easiest, and most diplomatic solution is often FIFO: First in, first out.

This policy works well for employers. It allows companies to avoid lawsuits and morale problems by making it clear that a cutback is an impersonal decision, and is impersonally executed. But what about the newly hired employees who stepped off the job market only to find themselves adrift again a few months later? If you’re one of these employees, one layoff can easily turn into two. And if that happens, and two becomes three, you’ll need to keep this chain of events from causing long-term damage to your career prospects.

Don’t Despair

There are few things in the world that feel unluckier than two layoffs in a row. One is bad enough, but two (and — gulp — three) might make you wonder if you’ve been cursed. You haven’t. There are no curses involved, only simple math. But unfortunately, multiple consecutive layoffs can become a red flag to potential employers. As kayakers know, there’s a circular undertow at the base of a waterfall that pulls in all objects within a defined area. Being in the area makes a person more vulnerable to the damaging effects of being in the area…and so on. Until you can put a safe distance between yourself and the danger of the layoff whirlpool, don’t rest. Even if you find an opportunity for a momentary break, it’s better to skip that opportunity and stay on your toes.

And don’t despair. When you receive your second dismissal notice, take a deep breath and recognize that your “job search” may be evolving into a bigger and longer project than you first anticipated. Even as you find a new position, land an interview, receive an offer, and head into work every day, you still won’t be fully out of the woods until you’re protected by seniority. Be patient.

Handle Multiple Layoffs with Care

Think carefully as you reformat and update your resume after a second or third consecutive layoff. Do you really need to list all three of your short-lived positions? If one or two of them aren’t relevant to the job at hand, leave them off your application. If asked, you can explain the gap on your resume during your interview, and of course you should never lie about your career history in any form. But don’t let the gaps be the first thing a reviewer sees when glancing over your resume. During your interview, make sure your employer understands that your second layoff resulted from FIFO policy and had nothing to do with your performance.

Get Help & Perspective

If you’re having trouble making your way out of the danger zone, or if you’ve landed a new job but you still don’t feel safe and aren’t sure how to secure your footing, get help. Visit LiveCareer and explore the career development resources and pick-me-ups on the site that can help you become an asset to your employers, no matter how long — or short — your tenure may be.

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