The Career Hacking Podcast

In today’s episode we’ll answer a question from Sam in Waco, TX who writes:

Hello WehnerEd,

There have been some rumors going around the office about a series of layoffs around the turn of the New Year. What would you recommend I do to avoid getting cut, and should I go ahead and start searching for a new job just in case?


Thanks for reaching out, Sam!

It’s convenient that you ask this question, as I was recently a part of a team that was laid off earlier this year. I spoke last episode about preparing myself to take the leap into a new role, and as I was beginning that formal transition, the vast majority of my team was laid off in a restructuring.

It started off as any other Wednesday, but I soon realized the day was not going to be the normal grind. Co-workers grouped together in the far corners of the office and spoke in hushed tones. They occasionally pointed to various cubicles with solemn gazes before glumly looking down at the floor and shaking their heads. As the day grew older, the groups grew larger as more staff members learned the news. Before too long, nearly everyone in the office had received his or her fate. Gatherings migrated to the local pubs to support one another and nurse their sorrows.

It’s common to think that only those who don’t meet expectations are the first ones to go, but the grim reality is that anyone, regardless of their standing or track record of success, is susceptible. Steve Jobs was famously fired from the company he founded! I’ve seen folks let go from the world-class, industry-leading teams they built, and ultimately it’s the way of the world. Businesses will forever operate in their best interests, and tough decisions are a part of playing the game.

But what can you do to prepare for that moment before it happens? How can you stay ahead of the curve? How can you see imminent change before it hits you? It’s easy to get comfortable in a role and to feel like you’re good enough to rest easy each night. The truth is that if you are not continually reinventing yourself and making time to grow your skills, that your ticket could be punched when you least expect it.

To answer your question on what you can do to avoid getting cut, there are standard and unsurprising practices that have proved effective over the years including

  • Keeping your resume & LinkedIn information updated
  • Stay in touch with your extended network
  • Stay up to date on your licenses and certifications

But really, in today’s day and age, these old habits likely aren't enough to ensure your continued employment. The reason for this is simple:

The world today is changing at a faster pace than ever before. 

Efficient and minimal-downtime robots are taking over the jobs of factory workers. Computers are now able to do the basic work of engineers while software coders are programming machines that can create their own software. Cars are on the brink of driving themselves, and a continually decreasing percent of the population still files their taxes with a human accountant each Spring. The rest are handled online. Needless to say that this is only the beginning of a new age of digital innovations that will continue changing the face of workforces everywhere.

So then, how will you compete in the coming economy?

First, study the trends. Take a moment to learn more about industry trends beyond the scope of your organization and stay informed beyond the daily barrage of political “news.” Understand the coming technologies and consider how they’ll affect your business at the highest levels. Ultimately those are the winds of change that will impact you and your team.

In terms of putting yourself in a solid position to weather the storm, also study the smaller-scale trends that affect your organization specifically. Learn the ever-changing needs of your customers to ensure the value you’re providing is the value they need or desire. How do decisions within your group or organization impact your work or influence the customer’s view of your product? If you don’t already know, find out what your business is measuring to determine its success, and double-check that you’re contributing to that higher goal. Ensure that you as an individual are always providing value in the eyes of your business and never fall into the trap of just doing work for work’s sake. Those are the ones that will likely be laid off… first.

Learning about macro industry trends and verifying the value that you bring to the business are only part of the puzzle when building up your defense against getting laid off. A major factor is also growing the depth and breath of your skills so that you may continue to demonstrate why you’re an employee that managers will fight to keep. This is the difference between working hard and working smart.

How are you playing to win? 

A former manager of mine told me to always carve out at least 4 hours of each week for personal development. If you’re not sure where to start, study up on selling. Great products are nothing without sales. Great ideas are meaningless unless you’re able to convince customers to buy. Your abilities won’t find fulfilling outlets unless you’re able to sell yourself in interviews.

More ideas:

  • Buy coffee and have a quick chat with someone higher up, or well-respected in your business. Pick their brain, and identify traits that enable them to be successful
  • Apply for leadership development courses and other methods to expand your skill set
  • Speak with members of other teams in your organization to understand their challenges and see if you can develop a solution to improve a process together

Don’t just be the person who only does what their manager asks them to do. Seek out work that needs to be done. Taking initiative on projects that matter will help make you an indispensable member of the team.

I talked a moment ago about the high rate of global innovations forever changing our professional landscape. Turn the tables and use these changes to your advantage. A combination of creativity and being informed is a surefire way to success in any business. If you work at a corporation, chances are you are surrounded in inefficient processes.

  • Read a book on entrepreneurship or Agile Project Management and apply new ideas to old approaches
  • Implement new software solutions in place of old and manual workflows and set up automated rules in your inbox to automatically segregate distractions and clutter
  • Search for shortcuts and macros on the web to automate repetitive processes
  • Integrate online storage solutions such as Dropbox and Google Drive to boost collaboration

Small benefits accumulate to become large impacts and those impacts will work wonders for your career.

Next, Make a habit of learning new things …and instill a growth mindset. It’s a common misconception that learning is only for the young. In fact, the brain is like muscles in that, with exercise, you can continue to grow mentally stronger at any age!

A growth mindset will not only keep your skill set relevant, but will also improve your adaptability.

According to Fast Company, adaptability is one of the most sought after skills by today’s employers beyond what is taught in conventional curriculum.

Did you catch that? 

Learning new skills imparts multiple benefits to help you become more marketable in the ever-changing workplaces. Take time to read and to learn new things personally and professionally each day. Free up your mind to promote adaptability and to level-up your skills.

Finally, always be preparing for your next role. Even if you’re happy working in your current position, take time to create ways that you can better today than you were yesterday. If your goal is a promotion, sit down with individuals that are already in those roles.

The internet provides endless outlets for you to fulfill any and all of these items. As always, you can work with one of our coaches to level-up your game as well. Just ask

My first employer hired me into an engineering position. Within a year, I earned a management position that was usually reserved for those far more experienced and deserving than myself. I split time in this role also acting as a software development manager and took several trips each year as a campus recruiter…. All because I excelled in my defined duties… showed an aptitude for meeting challenges head on… and expressed candid interest in taking on new types of work. Seriously, if you’re interested in something new, just ask.

Talk with HR and your managers to share your aspirations. Nearly every opportunity that has been extended to me was the result of letting an enabler know that I was interested in something bigger. While I didn’t always get that “something bigger” right away, my contacts expanded my role to help grow me in the right directions and introduced me to new mentors that would challenge my abilities and foster my development. Always ask questions of others and over-deliver on what others ask of you.

To sum up, in order to future-proof your career and succeed in business, follow these simple steps:

  • Study the trends and ensure your efforts are continually aligned with changing customer needs
  • Take time to study and to learn new things each day to instill a growth mindset. This investment will pay off immensely.
  • Leverage the high rate of global innovations to work in your favor. Be an advocate of change, and implement improvements that will get you noticed.

Always communicate your goals with enablers in your company to always be preparing for your next role. Don’t just let HR tell you what your next role will be… …or send you packing … like happened to my high-preforming team. Create your own success by continually growing yourself, and you’ll be surprised by the amount of opportunities that find you!