In the first quarter of 2023, more than 100,000 workers were laid off, primarily across the technology and financial services industries. The pendulum has a weird way of swinging back in the other direction—just a few years ago, we went from one of the hottest job markets in the history of our nation (shoutout to my fellow ‘Murican readers!) to a ubiquitous hiring freeze across all industries. This transition was attributed to a “nobody wants to work anymore” narrative that changed the leverage workers had over their respective employers, to yet another hiring frenzy, and now back to those hiring freezes and layoffs from 3 years ago. I know a lot of us have worked long and hard to get to the positions that we’re in, and now, it almost feels like it’s being stripped away in an instant. Many banks are either imploding (gulping) or cutting a lot of their talent pool considerably. Now here comes the million-dollar question: if you can’t ideally survive the slaughtering, how do you position yourself to be a prime filet mignon rather than 97/3 lean ground beef?
- Keep An Active Network — Let’s cut to the chase: getting fired is not at all ideal, but if there ever were an “ideal” time to get fired, it would be now. Future employers can and will be more understanding when there are mass layoffs across an industry or sector. You will be held in a less negative regard as opposed to being a slacker in your group that might get cut on a whim—something that, as you probably would guess, potential employers don’t respond too positively to.
- Try to Read the Writing on the Wall — If your fund is talking about downsizing and your bank’s deal flow is on the decline (or perhaps, in some cases, literally falling apart), you might want to take the hint. When it comes to layoffs and male pattern baldness, it is often better to be proactive rather than reactive. As I touched on above, there are of course ways that you can make layoffs look better on a resume, but they are best avoided when possible. However, it is important that in your networking endeavors, you NEVER mention that you are trying to hop ship because you foresee a layoff. Even if this is the case, communicating something like this will give your future employer the impression that you are underperforming—this is especially true if your organization is only reducing headcount by 5–10%. This can be justified by attributing it to more “division-specific” issues, but you are taking a chance with this approach (something you DO NOT want to risk when it comes to your career). My only caveat to this is that sometimes pre-emptively jumping ship can make it seem like you got laid off (or anticipated getting canned) when in reality this was not the case. However, I would not spend too much time dwelling on something like this. Yes, maybe one out of fifty employers will really grind your gears on something like this, but generally, this isn’t something that you need to concern yourself with.
- Consider a resume review — This is the most crucial next step in your job search. Careers follow a pretty linear path in terms of the weight of your past experiences; the moment you get to college, your high school performance no longer matters; the moment you get to your first job, your college performance no longer matters; and so on and so forth. This means that your most recent job is the MOST CRITICAL aspect of your next job application. You’ll want to ask yourself how you added value to your team and what tasks were the main highlights of your stint. Think of updating your resume as preparing for a performance review—highlight not only your individual contribution but also your best highlights and qualities that you demonstrated throughout your tenure.
- Don’t test the well twice — This is perhaps the most difficult part of navigating recruiting, but I think it’s important in today’s job market. If there are a lot of layoffs happening in a particular company, you DO NOT want to jump ship to another company or firm that is also experiencing layoffs. Although this may not be initially obvious, you do not want to encounter the same problem twice, and while you may be able to “hide” a sour tenure of a few months on your resume and LinkedIn, this only works to expand your employment gap, which is best avoided. I know that it can be very, very tempting to jump at the most lucrative job opportunity that presents itself; after all, let’s face it, we’re all in “high finance” for a reason, but you must be disciplined and think of the long-term impacts on your career.
- Do Not Underestimate the MBA — Listen, I think the MBA is a bit oversold, but one thing I must admit is that it still serves as one of the best “escape options” when you get in a bad spot professionally. Nobody is ever going to question or not respect an M7 or Top 15 program. Now, I wouldn’t force yourself to pay for an MBA when you don’t want to (i.e., try hopping jobs before hitting that escape button), but if you fail to move on to that next gig, you can always use the MBA as an escape option.
Best of luck! Let’s not beat around the bush here: getting laid off, or even the mere threat of getting laid off, is not something that’s easy to deal with. However, this is not to say that it’s something that’s impossible to navigate. Sometimes, as cliché as it sounds, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and you can find yourself in an even better position than you were prior to the hardship. Be sure to check out some of the great resources here on OfficeHours to get the full scoop on recruiting and next steps!
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