Timing a Layoff to Get Severance

If your company hasn't offered you a bonus to stay until layoffs begin, start looking for a job now

Dear Liz,

I'm pretty certain I'm going to get laid off, but I'm not sure when it's going to happen. I would be surprised if I'm still working at the company in six months, but I'm not sure. I want to start job-hunting, but if possible, I'd like to time the process perfectly so that I get laid off and get my severance, then start the new job with money left over. Any tips for making that happen?


Dear Barclay,

The wild card in your scheme is the layoff date. Since you don't have a sense of what that date might be, you're better off job-hunting now, taking a good job offer, and feeling grateful that you got out when you did. Look at the situation:

1) You could get laid off tomorrow, start a rush job search, and still be out of money before an offer comes in. A bad situation to be in.

2) You could start a job search tomorrow, get laid off in two months, and still be out of money before an offer comes in. Also a bad situation to be in.

3) You could delay your job search until you have a better feel for the most likely layoff date, get laid off sometime this fall, and run out of money before an offer comes in. You're still in a bad situation.

4) You could forget about timing your job search for the maximum haul, launch a job search this week, and give yourself the best chance of getting a job before the ax drops or soon enough after that you still have some cash on hand. A good situation.

It's a fool's errand to try to time these things. You've been given the gift of time. Tons of people who get laid off are blindsided by the news and have to scramble. I'd put the world's most organized job-search plan together right now, starting with a brilliant résumé (BusinessWeek.com, 8/22/08) that speaks to your stellar accomplishments (not tasks and duties) and a plan to reach out to a short list of targeted employers (and not just the ones that have jobs posted).

One more note: Your company wants you to job hunt, too, or at least they don't have any objection to your doing so. If they did, they would have offered you a bonus to stick around until some date in the future. If you leave before your lay-off date, you're one fewer person getting severance.

If the impending layoffs are common knowledge, you're in the catbird seat: Get your boss, his or her boss, and all the bosses you can grab to write letters of recommendation and LinkedIn endorsements for you. Your requests for these recommendations will spur them to extend that stay-bonus offer, if they're inclined to—or it may get you a terrific introduction to your next great company. A few weeks' cash is not enough of an incentive to play on the edge of a cliff. Get a good job now, while you're not under pressure to take the first thing that comes along.


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