career support

Hiring and getting hired during a recession

As many were just getting over the highs from the holidays and getting back to their desks to kick off the year, the biggest commercial companies in the world were announcing layoffs.  Many are predicting that 2023 will be the year of the layoff in tech and that what we’ve seen is only the start.  Government contracting, where most of Precision’s clients ply their trade, has traditionally not seen a corresponding ripple effect when commercial sectors rise or fall given business is more closely aligned with defense budgets than stock prices.  But with corporate budgets reducing across multiple industries, and theincreased buy-in by private equity firms over the last half-decade, it would be wise for employers and job-seeking employees alike to anticipate a potential belt tightening in our industry.

Savvy managers can read the tea leaves.  We’ve all been through tough stretches before and lived to tell the tale.  Preparing for the squeeze is one of the smartest things a manager can do to prepare themselves and their team for potential pink slips.  You know your team better than anyone in your organization.  Clear your desk, clear some time in your schedule, and clear your mind to do a quick gap analysis before anything else happens.  What service does your team provide to your organization?  In what areas does your team excel?  In what areas does your team struggle?  Which of your employees is critical to the continuity of service?  What are your KPIs?  How closely are you tracking your data for your team and for the individuals?  These answers will all be key to driving discussions with upper management when the time comes.

Now is also a great time to start expanding your internal value.  Are there additional functions your team could be performing cross-functionally within the organization?  Searching out opportunities to support other leaders and teams within your organization has several benefits.  The interconnectivity of cross-functional workers makes them harder to reduce from an organization.  It shows good value for your team and for your individual contributors, who are often viewed as lines on an overhead review when reductions are discussed.  There is cultural value in seeking cross functional opportunities as well.  Many on your team may be looking to diversify their skill sets, take on new challenges or interact with other components of your organization.  Engaging them in such a way can have a positive impact on the overall team and company culture.  You’ll need those extra good vibes, seeing as how 70% of layoff ‘survivors’experienced decreased motivation in the way of reductions.

No matter how prepared you are, there is still a good chance you’ll be given a target: X% of the team will need to be let go.  These are never easy moments, but as Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”.  Hopefully, you’ve done the organizational assessment needed to understand your team, the strengths and weaknesses, and the areas for growth.  Now it’s time to ‘dead head’.  Deadheading is a process popularized by gardeners who prune both weakened old growth and faded new growth to promote the overall health of an organism.  Often  the oldest portions of a plant are the strongest and will keep blooming year after year.  Similarly, new growth that springs to life and seeds quickly will have performed its work and can be cleared to make way for future new growth.  Your team operates very much the same.  Deadhead members who do not produce reliably, year after year, or who flourished once and should now make way for new members to similarly flourish.  While the term may sound callous, the goal is to come out of the other end of the squeeze with a healthy, productive team.

When your organization starts undergoing changes, that’s when real leadership can shine.  Keep an open door, an open ear, and an open mind.  Allow employees to express themselves and set new expectations for them.  Your employees will be experiencing a range of emotions: relief, anxiety, anger, and survivor’s guilt.  Give them time and space to process those emotions before getting back to the business of your business.  All industries, especially defense, and government where Precision Talent Solutions operates are prone to ebbs and flows.  Better days always lie ahead.

Managers are employees too, and for all employees at less stable companies, if you start to feel things getting shaky then there are steps you should take to prepare for the squeeze.  Step one: get your ducks in a row.  If there’s even a remote chance, you’ll be out on the street in the near future then get ahead and get prepared.  Blow the dust off your resume and refresh it.  I’ve written previously about resume updating, but in short, make sure yours is current and has plenty of quantitative talking points.  That’s an area most resumes fall short of.  Do the same with your LinkedIn profile.  Consider that your resume and LinkedIn profile can be complimentary in many ways, the resume being the smaller gear that turns the larger one.  As I’ve previously noted, hiring managers are busy and two pages are about as long as a resume should be.  If you have overflow you feel compelled to include add those details to your work experience on LinkedIn.  Have a hundred certifications?  List the key ones on the resume and then build the LinkedIn profile out with the rest.  Don’t forget to update your headshot.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve screened a candidate while looking at their LinkedIn profile for reference and been unable to tell they were the same person.  Lastly, start looking through the various forums and networking sites that are relevant to your job and your industry.  If you pay to be part of a professional association then get some value for those dues.

Speaking of ducks, if you feel the squeeze is coming, emulate the noble mallard: perfectly calm on the surface while paddling furiously under the water.  You’ve done the work.  You’re ready for what comes and statistically speaking, you’ll make it through.  The highly publicized layoff of 23,000 Amazon workers last month?  It impacted less than 2.5% of their overall US workforce.  3M’s 2,500-person layoff impacted a similar 2.6% of their global workforce.  The odds are good that you’ll make it through.  Then, of course, you’ll need to decide if your role and your organization are still the right place for you.  Regardless of that decision, you will have already set yourself up for that potential career shift.

The job market going forward in 2023 and beyond will start to normalize.  It has to.  It had been so significantly skewed towards a candidate focused market, even before the Great Resignation, that as the US economy starts to feel its own squeeze, employers will begin to have more leverage.  For job seekers, that means picking your spots better.  If you’ve defined your “why” (outlined in a previous post) and you’re determined to leave, then start making a list of target titles and companies and get the search going.  Cold applying can be a soul-crushing endeavor, so start with applications at companies where you have close contacts who can speak up for you.  Is there a company that you’re energized about working for?  Connect with people there and invite them for a coffee.  Get to know them.  While data on the “hidden job market” is hard to quantify, some people believe as many as 60% of jobsare filled through referrals without ever accepting open applications.

I once worked for a company that laid off half the corporate staff in a single day.  Half the company was invited to a meeting in conference room A, while the other half to conference room B.  Only one group came out and went back to work.  It was sad and stressful and gut-wrenching.  And I was one who survived.  While there is a better way to go about a staff reorganization, the reality is you may find out one day that your badge no longer works. Whether you’re a manager anticipating that moment, or an employee who could be locked out, or both, take the steps needed to prepare for the squeeze and you’ll be ready to jump start the next phase of your career.

Andy is the Senior Account Executive and Talent Acquisition Consultant for Precision Talent Solutions, a proud husband and father, and a great listener.