Sometimes the first signal comes in code. Before employers announce layoffs, they frequently use phrases like "We're going to be making a lot of changes around here."
Other times, the clues are more obvious, like a warning from your manager. While, "You might want to get your resume up to date" is a phrase no employee wants to hear, it's essential that you listen.
Marilyn Feldstein, a career coach in Jacksonville, Florida, knows the warning signs well. Before starting her own business, she'd been through six downsizings.
Defining how your old skills and strengths can be used in your new career inside your resume in a proper way, with a specific format that is also appropriate for that new career, is imperative.
"It's interesting because some people hearing those words choose to ignore them," Feldstein says. "They don't want to believe it. They're in denial. Other people take it to heart."
Feldstein thinks getting a hint about upcoming layoffs is a great time to step back and decide if you're on the right path. That's what she did.
"Sometimes people look at this situation, and they see it as they're stuck," Feldstein says, "which isn't true at all."
During one of the downsizings, several of Feldstein's colleagues decided to stay to see the outcome of the layoffs instead of looking for work despite not liking their job. They assumed they wouldn't be able to find a comparable salary with benefits on the market. Feldstein decided to look for work and found she could get a higher salary with better benefits elsewhere.
Hearing about layoffs before they happen is stressful, but it's a blessing in disguise. Here are a few steps you could take to make the most of the information.
Step One: Set aside time to reflect
First, take a deep breath and consider whether you like the career path you've chosen.
Sam Phelps, an executive director at the recruiting firm Newcastle Associates, says a layoff is an excellent opportunity to closely re-examine your career.
"Do a self-assessment of your career, your strengths, and your skills," says Phelps. "Maybe you're in an industry that you need to get out of or in a career that has gone stale."
This could take many forms. You may ask current or previous colleagues questions about your performance, get a hold of your performance evaluations or have a candid conversation with your boss. If you feel uncertain about your career trajectory and are considering changing gears, you may even want to take a personality test, like the Myers-Briggs, or see a career counselor who can help you hone in on roles that will highlight your strengths.
One of the best things about learning of a layoff early is the opportunity to decide what you'd like to do next rather than having to rush the decision.
Step Two: Update your LinkedIn profile and resume.
These steps can be handled fairly quickly, Phelps says.
When you update your LinkedIn profile, he says, "indicate that you are open to new opportunities and speaking to recruiters and update your content, particularly info about your most recent job." Additionally, as soon as you get wind of a layoff, update your resume, and, in certain instances, have someone professionally review it.
"If you haven't updated it for a while, and you haven't been on the job market for a while, in particular, have professionals take a look," Phelps says. If you're sending out a resume full of out-of-date terminology, you probably won't get many calls.
It's also important to make sure your LinkedIn profile and resume match one another, according to Nick Walker, an executive director at Michael Page.
"Your LinkedIn profile better match your resume," he says. "We've not pursued candidates internally because their resume and their LinkedIn profile don't sync up. Sometimes it's dates, or a job is missing, or their resume says 'present' when they haven't worked there for six months."
You can be held accountable for anything that's on your resume, he adds. "Treat it almost like a legal document."
Finally, you may want to use an online resume builder or consult with a professional career coach to make sure your resume is strong.
Step Three: Get back in touch with your network
It's a problem many of us share: We only communicate with our network when we need them. However, the strongest networks are built and maintained over time, during good times and bad.
If you've just been laid off, you may not have the option to casually network. Just because you are in need, however, doesn't mean the relationship can't be reciprocal.
When you get back in touch with your professional contacts, let them know that you need help, but offer to return the favor. Writing a recommendation, offering an introduction to someone in your own network, or even just offering to buy lunch or coffee goes a long way.
Phelps suggests, too, that face-to-face meetings are more effective than online communication.
"There's no substitute for personal contact," Phelps says. "I mean, an email is fine, but that's not the kind of engagement you want to get."
Instead, he suggests, meet people in person, or give them a call. Direct personal communication is best. Additionally, you may want to consider networking with friends and family, as well, rather than simply relying on those who only know you professionally.
"Explore the boundaries of your network," he says. "[It's] probably bigger than you realize."
Reach out to friends, family, even acquaintances you've had contact with over the years. Let them know you're making a career transition. Take them out for coffee. Tell them what you're looking for in your next role. You never know where the next job will come from.
Step Four: Start looking for jobs
Even if you aren't 100 percent ready to jump ship, it couldn't hurt to start looking for a job. One good reason to get ahead of the curve: Recruiters have an easier time placing someone who's currently employed.
"The person that's going to be easiest to place is the person who is professionally involved continuously," Phelps says.
Following a layoff, he says, "some people may want to take a break and sail around the world. Okay, great, more power to you, but that's going to be a certain amount of time out of the workforce. For some positions and some people, it doesn't matter, but for a lot of positions, employers want to see continuity."
In a way, you've already started your job search when you reached out to your network. Now, expand your search to all possible avenues. Sure, you can scour job boards like Indeed, but make sure to go beyond the Internet. Give companies a phone call, set up informational interviews, check out job listings in the newspaper or trade journals, join a job-hunting group, ask a staffing agency for help.
You may even want to investigate working in another department within the company as a way to softly transition into a different line of work and possibly protect yourself from a layoff.
There are a lot of ways to find a new job but hiding behind a screen isn't one of them.
Step 5: Don't lose any sleep
All things considered, looking for a job with a layoff hovering in your future can be draining. Make sure you get a good night's rest and spend some free time on fun and engaging activities that have nothing to do with work. Maintaining a healthy, balanced life is key to your happiness, personally and professionally.