I'm a former Microsoft VP of HR. Here's what I would do in the first 48 hours of being laid off from a job.

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I'm a former Microsoft VP of HR. Here's what I would do in the first 48 hours of being laid off from a job.
Chris Williams writes that you should consider pushing back against a layoff.MHJ/Getty Images
  • Chris Williams was the VP of HR at Microsoft and is now a podcaster, consultant, and TikTok creator.
  • He writes that you shouldn't sign a layoff package as soon as they offer it to you.
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I've been on all sides of the layoff nightmare: I've been a victim myself, the manager in the room, and the executive responsible. In my more than 40 years in business, including being the vice president of human resources at Microsoft, I've seen too many layoffs for one lifetime.

Today, I'm an advisor to executives and others who face layoffs from both sides. Part of my work is to help the people affected.

One way I've helped is with a comprehensive guide to doing layoffs well. It's everything I've learned about how a company can make a layoff work for everyone involved as much as it can.

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But I'll be honest, most companies don't do that. They handle layoffs badly. In the last few years, even the last few weeks, we've seen a parade of companies handle layoffs with process and timing that verges on cruelty. (I'm looking at you, Spotify.)

To help you survive this, here's what I would do if I was laid off. Note that I'm not a lawyer. Some of the below may not apply or even be legal where you are. Take this all as my thoughts and opinion, not legal advice.

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1. Read carefully

The first and most important thing to do is breathe, or at least not act rashly. You'll be told you're laid off, and almost instantly, there will be a flurry of paperwork shoved at you.

It's in the company's interest to get this over instantly and get you out, get your file closed, and move on. That saves them time, money, and drama.

They'll offer you a tidy package with pages and pages of stuff. Then ask — even demand — that you sign it.

Don't. Not right away. Say, "I need time to understand this all."

You should take it home and read the information comprehensively, every single word. Some of it will be legalese, some will be intentionally complicated, and some will be optional but not say so clearly. All of it will be important and binding, so understand it before you sign anything.

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2. Consider pushing back

You should consider, at least for a moment, whether you have any leverage in the situation.

Leverage can come in many forms. Perhaps you're in a protected class (age, gender, and so on). Perhaps you have a condition that changes your status (you're pregnant, on medical leave, etc.). Perhaps you have extended tenure or specialized knowledge the company is dependent on.

This leverage may allow you to push back on the package you've been offered. It rarely reverses the layoff decision, but it might change the terms. You might press for a larger severance, longer benefits, or some other modification to the terms.

If you're part of a large layoff (more than a dozen or so), your leverage is diluted substantially. If it's a major layoff (hundreds), your leverage is very limited. The company will have invested huge amounts of HR and legal time in making sure the package is correct and legal. They will have little stomach for any changes for an individual.

But in my opinion, you should almost always try. You don't get what you don't ask for. So, pushing back by asking for a larger severance, perhaps longer healthcare coverage, or even a later termination date is worth a shot.

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Make the case not on sympathy but on business terms: You need time to organize and document your work for the successor, you're in a specialized field where it will take longer to find another job, you have a medical need pending that requires coverage throughout — some case that speaks business and money, not heartstrings.

The worst they can say is no.

3. Consider legal options

If, however, you are in a protected class or have some other special status, you should consider getting legal advice or even have a lawyer just review the paperwork.

I recommend working with a lawyer who works on contingency. They charge nothing up front but take their fees from any resulting settlement.

The advantage is clear from an economic perspective. You don't have to find a substantial fee at a time when you have just lost your income.

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But the real advantage is you can test your case. A lawyer who works on contingency will not take a case they don't have a solid chance to win. If they won't take your case, it's a stiff uphill battle.

I strongly recommend against self-funding your case. This often happens out of anger or a desire for revenge. You're mad, and a lawyer won't take it — I understand.

But you're facing a company with substantial resources. You're also now out of work. Unless you face the potential for a huge upside, with punitive damages well beyond simple restitution, you're unlikely to come out ahead financially. And, if there was such an upside, a contingency attorney would take the case.

So talk to a lawyer if you're even thinking about it. Here, too, the worst they can say is "no."

4. Tune up your résumé and LinkedIn

OK, it's over, you're done. It's time to look ahead.

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If you haven't already done it, you need to really tune up your résumé and LinkedIn profile. It should have your latest work, position and titles, and big accomplishments.

Keeping these up to date on a running basis is best, to be sure. But if you haven't, now you need to really get on it.

You can find more information and opinions on résumés and LinkedIn profiles on social media than you could ever use. Certainly, review what they say and listen to a lot of the various perspectives. But do what feels right for you and your career.

Don't pay a résumé guru or LinkedIn wizard to help you. There are enough people offering great advice for free. Don't spend hundreds of your precious dollars, no matter how desperate you feel. Their advice will be from their well-worn playbook and probably won't represent you as well as you can represent yourself.

5. Go modest when taking it public

The next thing to consider after your profile is perfected is whether you should go public about your situation.

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There are three typical choices:

  • Stealth: This option is to simply change the end date on your current job on LinkedIn.

  • Modest: This option is to do the stealth option above and also include a small LinkedIn post. I recommend, at most, a couple of sentences. "I'm sorry to say I was affected by the recent layoff at XX. I enjoyed my time there and look forward to my next adventure." Or something similar.

    Good friends and contacts will reach out to you, which is exactly what you want, but you aren't making a scene.

  • Wide open: This final option is the extended post. These often have details of the events leading up to it, lots of gory details, and frankly, TMI. These posts are frequently filled with vitriol for the company and lots of appeals to sympathy.

    I strongly recommend against this kind of post. You're burning the bridges behind you. People you might use as connections or references will get damaged by the shrapnel. Worse, you're telling any potential future employers that you're prone to drama. You don't handle adversity well and often do so publicly.

So stick to a modest post and save the drama for the private conversations with friends over a drink.

There's also been a recent debate about whether you should have the "open to work" flag set on your LinkedIn profile. There are a lot of things to worry about when you're out of work; this is probably not one of them.

But if it were me, I'd first try to connect with my network. Try to find a job through people I know. If that fails, I'd go for more broadscale approaches, such as looking at job sites and changing my profile on LinkedIn to indicate I'm looking.

6. Work your network

The most important forward-looking advice is to dig deep into your network. Connect with everyone you know who might have knowledge of an open position.

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The very best hires are made through connections. From both sides, a job placement made via a personal connection is the best. The hiring company has the advantage of knowing you're a credible person. You have the advantage of knowing someone who works there. It's a win-win.

Connect with lots of people, tens of them, all preferably one-on-one, maybe for a Zoom or a coffee. Check up on them, not on you. Of course, they know you're only reaching out because you're out of work. That doesn't mean you have to make it all about you.

Ask them what they are doing. What is interesting, what is hard, what makes them happy where they work? Ask great questions about their job and life, and get them to think you're a thoughtful, smart person who they'd like to work with.

And then spring it on them: "Hey, as you know, I'm recently out of work; I was wondering if you know of any open positions. Are there jobs at your company, or is there anyone you know who is hiring?"

Don't make it a big deal and not the whole point of the conversation.

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Maybe the answer is "No, not now." But you've planted a great seed and expanded your network. The person you talked to will be at some meeting or conference or dinner with a friend who says, "We're having such a hard time finding someone for this job." Your contact will say, "You know… I know someone." And off you go.

So plant lots of seeds, and if it's taking a long time, water them by circling back around a month or so later.

A great network is what will get you through being laid off. They'll be a source of support and encouragement. They'll be a source of ideas and more connections, and they could well be the source of your next job.

Yes, of course, you should consider applying for jobs from people you don't know, but never sell your connections short. Even if you're not laid off, you should be building your network. It's your most important career asset.

Chris Williams is the former VP of HR at Microsoft and a leadership advisor, podcaster, TikTok creator, and author.

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