Layoff Advice From a Software Engineer Laid Off Four Times in a Row

  • Janet Anne Panen is a software engineer who has been laid off four times in a row.
  • She recommends that workers should apply for unemployment the same day they are laid off.
  • Panen also says it’s important to tell people about your situation so that they can help.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Janet Anne Panen, a 33-year-old software engineer based in Sacramento. It’s been edited for length and clarity.

The unfortunate thing about layoffs is that they happen all the time. I think that most people I’ve spoken to have been laid off at least once — especially if they work in HR, recruiting, or marketing roles in tech. I’ve been laid off four times in a row during my tech career. My first layoff was at Reddit, where I worked as a social media assistant for two months before they disbanded my entire team. I was laid off after working in Uber’s HR department for two years. Then I was laid off from Dropbox as a support engineer after nearly two years. Last week, I was laid off from a software engineering job at Snapdocs.

All of my layoffs have been traumatic or hard in different ways. For me, the first was the most devastating because I really took it to heart. But the third one was also extremely difficult because I loved the team I worked on.

My most recent one is particularly scary because of the economic situation.

I worry that now I’m up against former Twitter engineers with 12 years of experience versus ‘little old me’ with a few years experience and a degree from a coding bootcamp. But what’s freaked me out the most is bigger companies like Microsoft and Meta starting layoffs when I thought they were more stable.

There are a lot of people who’ve never been laid off before and it can be a traumatic and isolating time. But I’m a veteran when it comes to layoffs.

Here are the first five things you should do

1. File for unemployment the same day as layoffs

When I was first laid off I had no idea how to file for unemployment. Make sure you can access whatever site you used to track your pay stubs. Also, make sure you have your severity agreement on hand because you will need that information for unemployment.

Set aside a few hours to file for unemployment online. Do it right after you’re terminated while you still have adrenaline: Use the “crisis mode” to get it done so you never have to look at that documentation again.

Do it immediately because it takes some time to kick in and it will help you mentally close that chapter of your life.

2. Process that the layoff is not your fault

My dad works in tech and he always warned me that employees are just numbers to company leadership. He would say that you’re just a number on someone’s spreadsheet that became a cost they could afford to eliminate.

Layoffs aren’t a reflection of you or your failures and that took me a long time to accept.

Sometimes I question how this could happen to me four times in a row. But you can’t let yourself go down that road of thinking. It’s really hard to come back from it emotionally.

3. Use your time while you can

I was talking to an old manager who was also laid off and she told me that when you’re middle class that you either have time or money. And right now I don’t have money but I have time. I try to look at that as an opportunity.

I think it’s important to take a few days after you’re laid off to take advantage of the rare occurrence where you actually have free time. It’s something that may never come again in your 40-plus year career.

So I go to Target or Costco in the middle of the day when it’s not crowded, or I go to an afternoon workout class. I also try to get all my errands out of the way like going to the DMV.

Taking this time is so necessary to prepare you for the long road ahead of finding employment.

4. Reach out to your network

If it’s your first layoff, you may feel ashamed and reluctant to tell people. But I’ve found that a lot of people are willing to help and support you but they need to know what’s going on. Every job I’ve gotten post-layoff has been due to a colleague or acquaintance referring me.

It’s cheesy, but your network is your net worth.

It’s really helpful to be in Slack groups or Facebook groups. I use the Slack org Tech Ladies and my bootcamp alum group. But it’s not enough to just join these groups — you have to participate and offer advice as well.

After my second layoff, I reached out to bootcamp alums about openings. I was interviewing like crazy but felt like no one was giving me a chance. A friend from bootcamp invited me to her her work and I was lamenting to her about how difficult it has been to find a job. One of her coworkers walked by and knew of someone who was hiring. And that’s how I got my job at Dropbox.

You have to be really shameless about it — but people really want to help you land on your feet.

5. Figure out your dream job

Use the time after a layoff to figure out what you really want out of a job.

I sit down and write down what energized me about my previous job and what didn’t. For example, I really like figuring out technical problems. I hate coordinating happy hours or event planning.

After that, I talk to as many people as I can about what their jobs look like and I think about what I like and don’t like about their positions. And through that I can design a dream job for myself.

This process helps me find direction when I’m feeling unsure of where to turn. I also highly recommend reading “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans if you’re feeling really lost.

Right now is a difficult time to be laid off. The job market feels crazy and many companies have filled their headcounts for the year. I’m lucky that I have the luxury to not go ‘balls to the wall’ with my job search right now. Instead, I’m prioritizing figuring out my next move, studying up for engineering interviews, and having many, many initial calls to set myself up for success in January and February.

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