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Why You Should Ask About Layoffs in Your Next Job Interview

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interview questions

You run through everything in your mind (again).

You’ve gotten the Brazen Careerist list for focusing your job-search down pat. You’ve got 17 copies of your resume and reference letters and 5 copies of your pre-appointment correspondence. You have every org chart you could lay your hands on through Google and the company’s web site. You’ve used LinkedIn and other assorted stalking sources to check out the career history of your interviewer. Your references are all primed to expect a phone call, but…

Did you overlook anything?

How about preparing for that polite little “Do you have any questions?” at the end of the interview?

Here’s one question you should ask your potential employer but might not have considered: what about their job history? They asked you for your history, but what about theirs?

Specifically, what’s their track record when it comes to layoffs?

I know what you’re thinking: layoffs?! I haven’t even started the job!

Should you even care? Isn’t recession a thing of the past?

Why You Should Care About a Company’s Layoff History

There’s another recession in your future. Before you go, “Oh, #$%^, not another crackpot prophet of doom,” check it out for yourself. Here’s the chart:

Look at those dates in red. They show the bottom of every recession.

How long between recessions? About 7-10 years. Yep, that’s all! Cycle after cycle.

Now do the math—when was the last bottom? When do you think the next one’s coming?

The important take-away from the chart: You have a recession in your future. And probably sooner than you thought.

So What Does This Mean for You?

Back to that job interview. How well did your prospective employer do in the last recession? There are online resources such as The Layoff List that keep track of which organizations did what and when.

So, at the end of the interview, when they ask the usual question about whether YOU have any more questions, you can (sweetly, of course) ask how they handled the last recession. How did they decide which jobs/people to cut?

There’s More

Now that you know there’s a recession in your not-too-distant future, what can you do beyond the job interview to improve your chances of survival?

1. Think Defensively

Layoffs are going to happen. All employers have two lists: the Launch Pad and the Keepers List. You already know that.

Find out what it takes to get on the Keepers List. Despite office chatter, it’s not necessarily having the brownest nose. Bosses need performers so they can keep THEIR jobs.

2.  Look for Training Opportunities

The most valuable employees always end up on the Keepers List. And training is a big part of what makes you valuable.

During the good times, companies always have money for training. Put in for as much as you can. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as unemployment or finding a job in the next recession.

3.  Do the Dirty Work

Every department has assignments that fall outside of everyone’s job description. Take as many as you can. Not for the brown nose you might get, but for the knowledge and contacts.

You’ll be known by more people. And if you’re as good as you say you are, the more people see you and your work, the less one single person’s opinion can hurt you. You’ll also have more knowledge and skills, which further increases your value.

4.  Stay In Touch With the Economic Cycle

Recession is the biggest single threat to your job security.

Don’t get blindsided by the next one. It’s in your own best interest to track where the economy is. If you prefer geek speak, there are lots of good websites that track the economy. Bloomberg is one, as well as Calculated Risk, whose charts appear all over the internet. If plain English is more up your alley, our website offers an easy way to stay on top of things.

When you see the economy peaking, that’s the time the most job openings are available. That’s also the worst time to make a job change, because a peaking economy is the clearest sign that the next recession is around the door. And when the recession comes, you know the drill: last in, first out.

Another thing: the economy bottoms out and starts climbing before “everyone” sees it. Did you “feel” the economy beginning to improve in 2011? Yet it did. If you are planning a job change, that’s usually the best time to start looking, because if you make a change early in the growth cycle, it gives you the longest possible tenure before the next recession.

Things are not the same all the time with your employer. The economy impacts them, and in turn that impacts you. Understanding those changes allows you to manage your career path ahead of all the others.

5.  Build Up an Emergency Fund

Stuff happens, despite our best plans. Now is the time to prepare; “then” is too late.

Spend less than you earn, and put some rainy day money away in an emergency fund.

Also, get rid of as much debt as you can. You can cut back expenses, but you can’t cut back debt payments.

When the next recession comes and you’ve done your preparation, you’ll have to do nothing. It’s like muscle memory for athletes. It’s too late then to do anything, anyway.

How you get through the next recession depends on what you do NOW.

William Cowie learned the hard way that recessions hurt, and the time to prepare is when it doesn’t seem necessary. He helps others manage their careers and finances on http://www.dropdeadmoney.com by exploiting the opportunities presented by the economy in both good and bad times.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=246193822134037 Life On The High Wire

    Great advice, William! I’m a huge proponent for the emergency fund and cutting debt. If you can save six months of expenses and no debt, you’ve got the freedom to pursue most anything. A little bit of discipline goes a long way.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=119719364832541 Drop Dead Money

      You’re right, of course. But it is definitely better if the job you finally select has you never needing to reach for the emergency fund in the first place! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1451139280 Kim Hall

    Wonderful, solid advice. I have always been told I ask great questions in an interview, but I have never thought to ask this one. It certainly is a very important question that tells you so very much about a company!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=610637774 Natalie McNeal

    Fantastic article, William!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=172339646152677 Spark Hire

    This is great advice about how to prepare for the next recession. Considering how unstable the economy is, it’s only smart planning to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Asking about the company’s layoff policies and how they handled the last recession is just smart thinking. Whether your interview is in person or through online video, it will also prove you’re a forward thinker who looks at the big picture. Most importantly, however, it will help you prepare for the future.

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