Preparing for layoffs as a designer


The news of the layoffs at Twitter was tough. And I feel bad for the huge number of talented people who are now unemployed.

That being said, layoffs happen at companies of all sizes, all of the time. Companies are regularly trying to find budgetary equilibrium, and employees, at the end of the day, are a line item. A very expensive line item.

My story

Photo by regularguy.eth on Unsplash

I was laid off last year from a small startup. I was hired when they were in “hyper-growth mode” and laid off after an investor’s call revealed that their series C funding round would be smaller than they had predicted.

At the time, we had another product design opening and were actively interviewing candidates for Director of Design. Additionally, I was the solo designer responsible for the design system. So, by all appearances, I was fairly padded from any possible layoffs. And yet…

How it went down

Despite the many articles talking about “this is the worst way to do layoffs,” the reality is, there is no good way.

I woke up, logged on, and there was a nameless meeting on my calendar for noon. A company-wide email followed that said, “if you have a meeting on your calendar for noon, you are being laid off.”

I then quickly checked who else had the meeting, and saw many friends impacted. In my frustration, I also saw many people who weren’t impacted and immediately felt that it was “unfair.” Surprise, it is unfair. Move on.

Fortunately, I received four weeks of severance, which gave me time to apply for jobs with reduced stress (but still plenty!).

The harsh reality

Honestly, there’s no real way to be emotionally prepared for layoffs. “Companies are not your family” is a common refrain intended to emotionally harden employees and exonerate companies.

Ironically, “the office is where the magic happens” is a common excuse for why a company doesn’t support remote work.

The “magic,” in my opinion, is relationships.

In the digital age, where Slack is effectively part of our social media diet, a layoff can feel like a lot more than losing a job. You’re being excommunicated from society. You’re being uninvited from the Friday game nights. You’re being kicked out of all of your meetings, even the ones you set up.

Additionally, you’re losing access to your entire tech stack and, oh yeah, you’re not going to get paid anymore. (Please send in your laptop by the end of the week!)

How to be prepared for layoffs

For all tech employees

Stay modestly active on LinkedIn. No one enjoys this part of the job, but a profile that is completely inactive for a few years and then all of a sudden hits everyone with an “I need a job” post, won’t be as effective as an active user.

Respond to recruiters whenever they reach out. I know they can be annoying. I know they might be hitting you up about a job that’s completely inappropriate for your skillset. I know they might be asking you about a 1-month contract when you’re already employed full-time. But respond. My response is usually generic:

“I appreciate you reaching out but I’m not looking for a new role right now. Happy to be connected though!”

When I got laid off, I had many messages like this. And it was pretty easy to go back and say, “hey, things have changed and I’m looking for a role now!” I got a bunch of calls scheduled really quickly this way. It would have been a lot more awkward to go back to messages I ignored for a few months and do this. (Although still worth it to try!)

Meditate and exercise. This might seem a little personal for an article like this. But really. Meditation and exercise are very helpful in regulating emotions, staying present, and processing negative energy. It’s really good advice for anyone, but when I got laid off, the little bit of regular exercise and mindfulness I did, helped a lot. And I’ve doubled down since then!

Have an emergency fund. I know this is really easy to say. And can be pretty hard to do. The common advice is to have 3–6 months of pay set aside.

For designers

Very few people will heed this advice, but please keep your portfolio updated. When I wanted to leave my first job, it took me a few weeks to get everything together before I could even start applying for jobs. If you’re on an accelerated schedule (like 4 weeks of severance), spending two weeks on getting a portfolio together will be really stressful. As a bonus, writing case studies near the time when you did the work is much easier, and you’ll probably still be employed and able to reference materials freely.
I was fortunate in that I did heed this advice. The day I was laid off, I submitted 25 applications by the end of the same day. By the second day, I had some recruiter calls scheduled.

Have a personal Figma account. You can do everything you need with a free account, but you’re not going to want to be setting up a free Figma account when you’re laid off and have 2 hours before your company Figma access is revoked.

Connect with your design peers on LinkedIn. When you start a new job, it can feel weird to be connecting with your peers on LinkedIn. If you’re anything like me, the last thing I want to do after getting a job is to spend time on LinkedIn. I highly recommend spending 30 minutes to add everyone to your team. Find an org chart and just shamelessly connect with them all. If you are laid off a year later, that network will have value, and by then they will all be people you actually know.

What to do when you’re laid off

Copy and paste the stuff you need to reference in order to write case studies, update your résumé, and show your work. I can only speak from a design perspective with specifics, but for me that means, grabbing Figma files, grabbing Google docs, slides, sheets, and grabbing any documentation examples from Notion, Storybook, etc.

Don’t forget to check Slack as well! A lot of important stuff goes down in Slack. Even better if you keep track of that stuff throughout your time employed, looking through months of Slack messages is pretty rough if you’re on a time crunch.

Get contact info from important peers. This isn’t a time to be shy — immediately hit up the people you worked with and ask for contact info. I like to ask for “contact info” because it allows the person to choose what contact info to send to you. Some people will send you their phone numbers while others will send you their LinkedIn. Get it all stored somewhere for later.

Take a deep breath. Layoffs suck, it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad. Keep breathing. Before you frantically dive into portfolio revisions, résumé updating, applying to stuff on LinkedIn, etc. — take a minute for yourself to process.

Then plan. For me, planning looks like a spreadsheet where I put in all of my applications with statuses, etc.

Getting laid off sucks. It’s really hard. It can make you feel worthless and can come with a lot of shame. I’m here to tell you you’re not alone and it’s okay.

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