Get ahead of future tech layoffs as a job seeker

It's graduation season. Over the past couple of weeks, some 2 million...
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I'm a recruiter. Here are the 3 questions I tell candidates to ask to make sure they won't be on the wrong side of future layoffs.

By Jessica Xing

  • Jermaine Murray is a job recruiter who's worked with companies like Google, Meta, and Microsoft.
  • As tech experiences a downturn, Murray says it's important for job seekers to ask hard questions.
  • This is how Murray suggests job seekers navigate layoffs, as told to reporter Jessica Xing.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jermaine Murray, a recruiter for companies like Google, Meta, and Microsoft. It has been edited for length and clarity.

It's graduation season. Over the past couple of weeks, some 2 million college students have earned their bachelor's degrees and headed off to the next stage of their lives. For many, that next stage will be … back on campus, in a grad program, most likely gunning for a master's degree. And for a sizable chunk of them, that decision will turn out to be a catastrophic error.

I'm the founder of JupiterHR, a recruiting firm that's helped place over 700 tech workers at companies like Meta, Microsoft, and Google since 2019.

Just a month ago, I saw how candidates had an unprecedented amount of leverage in the job market. Candidates came to me with lucrative offers and counteroffers from firms like Meta, Reddit, and Uber. In fact, most candidates had multiple offers, leaving companies scrambling to distinguish themselves fast. If companies couldn't do it with cash, they tried other enticing benefits like four-day workweeks or permanent work-from-home arrangements.

Yet within the past two weeks, I've seen how quickly things changed. The pendulum has swung the other way, and now companies are facing hiring freezes, layoffs, and trying to figure out how to make do with the talent they have. People I placed just five months ago have already been affected by layoffs.

However, I don't think this means worker leverage has disappeared. Some workers have leveraged the skills and the salaries they earned at previous jobs to get high-paying roles at other firms. Others have circulated layoff sheets so impacted employees can be contacted by recruiters.

Many companies are still hiring, and while some are a lot more cautious, the foundations of good salary negotiation never change. You owe it to yourself to ask the awkward questions, no matter what the economic situation is.

Here are the questions I've been telling candidates to ask companies to land a job during the tech downturn and get ahead of future layoffs.

How do I know the company is going to be here in 6 months?

Whenever you enter a new job, you need to talk figures. Ask about revenue, how much funding they have, and how well the company is hitting its key performance indicators, or KPIs. Also ask about how they've treated employees when the business wasn't doing so well.

Startups that once raised huge rounds are quickly burning out, laying off staff that joined just months before being hired. So you need to ask the hard questions to make sure that both you and the company will still be there after six months.

This is especially true for startups, but it's still important to ask these types of questions at larger tech companies. Ask how the department is doing, how the team you will join is serving the business, and more importantly, what funding management is willing to provide. All of these questions will at least give you a better idea of how viable your job will be in six months.

What does your customer base look like?

It's important that a company understands who its customer base is. This question also gives you a good opportunity to see how invested clients are in the company, as well as if the customers themselves are profitable and willing to spend money on the company you're joining. If a firm is bleeding customers, it's a good indicator that something's up.

If a company can't succinctly state how they are serving their client base, or doesn't clearly know what market they fit into, then it shows that even leadership doesn't have a good idea of what the product actually does, which could mean trouble in the future.

If investors tell you to tighten up, what plans do you have in place in order to retain your staff?

Companies spend a lot more to hire employees than to retain them. Which means when times are tough, many companies start looking to see who they can cut first.

New people are scared because they have the least amount of tenure, middle management feels there might be too much redundancy in their work, and product people might be afraid that their product is stagnating. There's been a misconception that tech was recession -proof, yet recent pullbacks show that employees need to be prepared for a downturn.

You can use the backdrop of what's going on recently, or even the backdrop of what's going on with the pandemic, to have these honest conversations. You owe it to yourself to ask tough questions, especially when things are so uncertain.

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