How I Survived 5 Rounds of Layoffs

The CEO’s voice broke as the words came out. He was visibly shaken with eyes watering.

You’re friends and co-workers that aren’t in this room are being let go right now. We had to make this difficult decision to keep the company going.

Suddenly everyone turned and started looking around in the dimly lit auditorium.

Who was left?  

Who’s being fired?

How many of us were left? Half the company?!?

Layoffs would happen again and again. Five times to be exact. I survived the guillotine every time.

What does it take to be a rockstar employee? An A-player? Someone, who not only keeps their job in hard times but keeps getting money, bonuses, and stock options thrown at them over and over while people are being cut left and right?

I am employee #22

At the beginning of the day, the Internet start-up I had worked at for six months had over 100 employees. We were well funded – about $7 million when I joined as employee number 22. Hired on as a software developer.

Then the unthinkable happened –

The dot-com bubble burst. Venture capital funding dried up. Nine out of ten companies would eventually close their doors. Shortly after that day 1/2 of our company would be let go to keep the company afloat. Free Reese’s peanut butter cups would now cost $0.25. Diet cokes would remain free, a remnant of the Internet startup culture.

The development team, of which there were over 50, would be hit the hardest. Since we were the biggest group of employees, 1/2 would be let go.

Then a couple months later – another half. Then more. And then some more. In a span of eighteen months, the team would shrink from over fifty to just four.

After the second round of layoffs, there would be a running joke if ever an impromptu meeting was called.

Is Scott in the room? Ok, good, I’m safe.

I was Rockstar employee. I survived cut after cut. If I were in a meeting with you – you weren’t going to be fired that day.

At one point so many people had been let go or left, I became the employee at the company that had been there the longest. Even the founders had left – I had more seniority than the CEO.

What did I do to become such a rockstar employee?

1. First one in, last one out

If you want to be noticed you must be present.

I was in at 8 a.m. every day or earlier, and usually left at 6 p.m. or later. The reality is I kept this schedule to avoid rush-hour traffic. But it worked in my favor because I ended up working more than most of my co-workers.

Management sees that as productivity and hard-work. Both attributes they need in employees to propel company growth.

2. Have a positive attitude

They fired my supervisor in the first round of cuts. I don’t know the reason he was axed, but I have a pretty good guess – he had a can’t do attitude.

  • We can’t do this.
  • We can’t do that.
  • That won’t work.
  • That’s a bad idea.
  • John’s idea is dumb.

It wasn’t just the can’t do, but it was the delivery. He was a negative nelly. A complainer.

I can’t say I always had a positive attitude, but I never had a negative attitude. I didn’t complain to anyone about anything.

3. Avoid office gossip

One of my friends was fired not long ago for answering an innocent question about a co-worker.

While I do enjoy hearing the office gossip (who doesn’t!), I avoid relaying it to other co-workers. I save it for sharing with my wife if I share it all.

4. Be a producer

If you’re in sales and you’re the #1 sales producer, how likely is it you’ll get let go?

If you’re in sales and you’re the worst producer – well, you already know the answer.

I wrote more code than any other programmer. At one point, I churned out 1,000 lines of code in a day (that’s a lot). One time I decided to check how much another employee was producing: 500.

Top producers have a higher value than other employees.

5. Make yourself visible

People who are in the right meetings, are on the important projects or do something to get noticed have more visibility with the decision makers. The more you can get your name out there and have people know who you are, the more perceived value you have.

Because of the parts of the product I worked on, I had opportunities to interact with other departments (designers, marketers, quality assurance, project managers, sales).

It’s a subconscious imprint you give to the decision makers that you’re someone of importance. When you factor this in with all of the other ways to avoid a layoff, it helps keep your name off the cut list.

This tip also ties into #1 – First one in, last one out. If you are one of the first people in the office and the boss or CEO walks through – who do they see at their desk? You.

Request to get on high profile projects. If you can’t, see if there is anything you can help with to get more exposure.

6. Be a team player

Helping your team members is a great way to stand out. Give them:

  • training
  • resources
  • tips for success
  • positive feedback

Your co-workers will thank you, think more highly of you, and say good things about you. That information will eventually make its way to your boss.

Every company wants to have team players.

7. Make your boss look good

Your boss gets the final say about who stays and who goes. Employees that cause missed deadlines or missed quotas don’t have to explain it to the higher-ups. Your boss has to explain it to the higher ups. But the bigwigs are going to blame him or her, not you.

Your boss, on the other hand, is going to blame you, even when it’s their fault for not managing you properly (if that’s the case).

When team members make deadlines and quotas the boss looks good. When the boss looks good, it will reflect favorably on everyone on the team.

This tip is also useful when you’re trying to get a promotion (or your bosses job).

8. Underestimate and overdeliver

Some might call this sandbagging.

We were required to set our deadlines for the projects we worked on. Day-to-day we never knew what fire we would have to put out. Maybe a customer needed support. Maybe a new bug was found to research. No matter what, the day’s work was never wholly dedicated to just working on a single project.

When it came time to give my boss my schedule, I always padded it a little just in case something came up. Doing so allowed me to often complete a project sooner than the deadline.

I always had integrity when I did this. I never padded my schedule just to look good. I padded it to cover for unforeseen circumstances that typically happened every day.

9. Stay healthy and skip the vacation

Some people may disagree about not using your vacation. The bottom line is I loved what I was doing. I didn’t consider it work – so why would I want to go anywhere and not be able to program?

After two years the company changed the vacation policy requiring people to use it or lose it each year. At that point, I had accumulated four weeks of vacation. I asked for the entire month of December off. That didn’t go over very well, so they made an exception for me.

Employers notice when you’re not around. Too many sick days, too much time off.

‘Where is Nadine today?’

‘Is Tony off again?’

10. Love what you do

It was easy for me do this stuff and become a rockstar employee for one reason – I loved what I did.

I couldn’t wait to get to the office and start writing code. When I would drive home at the end of the day, I would still be trying to solve problems in my head.

If you hate your job, you’re never going to have a positive attitude. And it’s all downhill from there.

Why would you come in early to a job you hate?

Why would you stay late?

Instead of making your boss look good and being a team player, you’re more likely to complain about the idiot that screwed up something.

If you are passionate about what you do, everything I mentioned become easier. You won’t even have to think about them or work on them – they’ll naturally flow out of you.

When you become the rockstar employee and A-player that every company looks for, you’re chances of getting laid off go down significantly.

Question: Have you avoided a layoff? How did you avoid being cut? If you’re worried about being layed-off, what do you need to improve? Please leave a comment below.

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