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If You've Never Been Laid Off, You Will Be

Early in my career, I believed that only poor performers got laid off by their employers. Since I thought I was a top performer, I assured myself that I would never be released involuntarily. However, the job market soon proved me wrong and taught me some valuable lessons.

For instance, you may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Current stories about Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch cause concern for financial sector employees. And there are similar concerns within the airline industry, which is facing cost pressures from the rise in fuel prices. Layoffs are the fastest way for any company to reduce expenses and show quarterly profits (so fat-cat executives can get their bonuses and stockholders can reap dividends, but that's the subject of another blog post at another time).

What I learned from being fired:

  1. Almost everyone gets laid off or fired at some point in his or her career.
  2. Getting laid off usually has nothing to do with performance or competence.
  3. Most of us are classified as "employees at will" and can be released with or without cause. In other words, they can fire you for any reason or no reason.
  4. On the other hand, most of us are voluntarily employed. We choose to invest our energy in our current employers in exchange for compensation. But we are free to walk away at any time, and to work for anyone else we choose.
  5. The best way to insulate yourself from the changing fortunes of any one employer is to have multiple sources of income. For instance, if you're a copywriter for an advertising agency, you could freelance other projects on the side for extra income.
  6. Your "job security" may be related to your current employer (which is not within your control), but your "income security" is directly related to the demand for your skills (which is within your control).

The fact is, you probably will get fired or laid off at some point in your career (assuming you never have up until this point). But it probably won't be due to poor performance. Many more people are released for reasons not related to their competence. With plenty of talk today about the U.S. economy being in or close to recession, many employers - especially in industries that are under stress - may feel the need to let some people go.

So tell me, what has the job market taught you about dreaded layoffs? Have I missed anything glaringly obvious?

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