How To Advocate for Yourself When Laid Off During a Recession

By Megan Nicole O’Neal

Published August 31, 2022

Megan Nicole O’Neal is a writer with a passion for storytelling, empowering others and whenever possible, mixing the two. She draws from her experiences at small to mid-sized agencies, nonprofits and large corporations to provide well-rounded advice for Indeed’s Career Guide.

In 2020, I worked for a national nonprofit that generated the bulk of its donations from thousands of events primarily held in the spring and early summer. Due to the pandemic, one by one, each of these events was canceled, and within a few months, the organization had lost millions. Along with many others, I was laid off for the first time in my career.

If you're reading this because you're nervous about the economy or have just been laid off, I've been in your shoes. It's stressful. But I'm also here to say it does get better. 

This article will provide insight on how to assess the job market, and cover what to do if you've been laid off, including how to negotiate a job offer during a recession.

Assessing the Market 

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Great Resignation is not slowing down—a whopping 4.2 million people quit their jobs in June 2022, which is unchanged from prior months and on pace to top the 48 million Americans who quit their jobs in 2021. 

Historically, these are some of the highest quit rates the US has seen in decades, which has helped skew the balance of power in favor of job seekers. In an effort to attract and retain workers, large corporations like Target increased wages and enhanced their benefits in spring 2022. According to Pew Research, the majority (60%) of workers who switched jobs between April 2021 and March 2022 saw an increase in their real earnings over the same month the previous year.  

Yet, as we've learned perhaps all too well, things can change pretty quickly. According to data released by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of U.S. job openings decreased by 6.6% to 10.7 million from May 2022 to June 2022, the largest drop seen since April 2020.

This, coupled with the rising costs of goods, inflation and the fact that the economy experienced negative growth in the first half of 2022 has people feeling weary. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. workers fear they will lose their jobs if there is a recession, according to a survey of more than 1,000 Americans conducted by staffing firm Insight Global.

However, economists believe the current job market is quite strong, and recent research from Indeed's Hiring Lab shows employers are still clamoring for talent. In July, some 5.2% of job postings on Indeed advertised signing bonuses, more than three times higher than in the same month in 2019. In a recent report, AnnElizabeth Konkel, senior economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab confirmed, "With job openings at 11.2 million, employer demand for workers is still robust."

Whether you've recently been laid off or find yourself in search of a new opportunity during a recession, first take stock of how your industry or type of role is faring in the current marketplace. This will equip you with information on what your bargaining power may be during interviews. While it may not feel like you have much say, the numbers might tell a different story. Indeed collects real-time job posting data that can help you see trends in various fields across the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Once you feel like you have an understanding of where you stand, use the following guide to advocate for yourself during your job search.   

What to do if you've been laid off

It's natural to feel out of sorts. You might feel like doing nothing (which is fair), or you might feel like you need to do everything all at once. While there is no one answer, here are some recommended next steps in no particular order.

1. Give yourself time to process 

You may want to dive straight into the job hunt. But from personal experience, I wish I'd given myself a minute to breathe so I could have avoided the deer-in-the-headlights feeling during a Zoom interview I took before I was ready. Taking some extra time will help you regroup and mindfully prepare for the job hunt, as well as help prevent burnout.

2. Ask your previous manager for feedback 

Being laid off is different from being fired. Though it may be difficult, consider asking your manager for honest feedback. They may offer insights that can help improve your job search.

Questions like:

  • "What do you feel are my strengths?"

  • "Are there any specific areas you feel I should spend time building?"

  • "In your opinion, what role(s) do you feel I'm best qualified for?"

  • "What are some questions you typically ask during interviews so I can practice?"

  • "Do you have any advice to help me control the narrative around being laid off?"

You can also ask for a recommendation, skills endorsement on LinkedIn and if they are willing to be a reference in your future interviews.

3. Set up your unemployment and new health care plans 

Gather necessary assets from your employer, like official documentation that you have been laid off, with the effective date included. This will speed up how quickly your unemployment application is processed. And clarify with your employer when your healthcare coverage will end. Each state has its own rules, for instance, in California, if your last day of work is September 3, your coverage should last through the end of that month. 

4. Notify your network 

Consider letting your network know you're #OpenForWork, and if you're on social platforms like LinkedIn, select the option to let recruiters know you're looking for a new position. You'll never know if your cousin's friend's neighbor is hiring if you don't ask.

5. Update your resume(s) 

Optimize your resume based on keywords and phrases often found in the job descriptions you're applying for. And if your experience spans several industries, design dedicated versions of your resume that best fit each industry.

For example, if you've worked in roles focused on business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B), make two separate resumes that speak directly to your in-depth knowledge of B2C and B2B separately rather than attempting to make one resume a jack of all trades.

6. Commit to continuing learning 

There are several companies that offer free courses that can help you sharpen your skills and ignite your curiosity if you're considering an industry change. HarvardX offers free courses ranging from chemistry, food & nutrition, computer science, music and more, while General Assembly provides courses in digital marketing, coding, data and design.  

Related: 8 Important Steps To Take When Preparing for a Layoff

Interviewing after a layoff

The time it takes to secure a job will differ for everyone, but the good news is according to U.S. unemployment data from the BLS, the amount of time seems to be trending in favor of job seekers. Use the following steps to help you prepare for your job search. 

Preparing for your interview  

As you begin the job search, create a cheat sheet of notes about your career. Include examples of projects you've completed successfully, your strengths and a quick elevator pitch of yourself that you can quickly skim over before interviews to ensure your most relevant career highlights are top of mind.

Set up a designated space with good lighting and professional background for video interviews, and practice mock interviews with trusted friends or family so you feel comfortable and confident answering questions on-the-fly.

Commonly asked interview questions

After being laid off in the peak 2020 recession, I interviewed quite a bit before finding my next role. And perhaps to your benefit, I took a lot of notes. Here are some of the most common questions I was asked:

  • Tell me about yourself. Probably the most vague and difficult to answer unless you prepare beforehand. It helped me to think of this instead as being asked, "Tell me how you ended up in [your specific industry]?" as it focuses your response on the most relevant information.

  • What excites you about this role/company? (Also asked as, "Why do you want to work here? Or, "What is your ideal next role?"): Tailor this answer to touch on why you personally feel drawn to the company. Are you excited about its mission? Have you been using its product(s) for the last decade?

  • Why are you leaving your last role? If you're searching due to a layoff, be honest. Also, consider offering up your previous manager (with their permission) as a reference to vouch for your qualifications.

  • What was a campaign or project you are really proud of? (Sometimes worded as, "Tell me about a project you managed from start to finish, and the end result." Or alternatively, "Tell me about a challenge you faced and how you overcame it.": Have a few projects you can reference, and pick the one that best mirrors the type of work you might do at this new company.

  • What would you like to see [insert company] do differently? Do your homework and research the company so you're able to have an informed discussion around how you could help them be more strategic, efficient, successful, etc.

  • What sets you apart from other candidates? Everyone has a superpower. Learn yours and be ready to share it with others.

  • What are your strengths? (Also, "What is your greatest professional weakness?"): These questions can be difficult and require some strategic thinking beforehand. Read the job description and find which of your strengths would best fit this role. Be mindful not to veil your "weakness" under an obvious "I'm a perfectionist" canned response.

  • What aspect of [your current role/industry] do you enjoy the most? People want to work with others who are excited about what they do, let your passion show.

  • What's your experience working cross-functionally with other teams/stakeholders? They want to know if you're a team player. If you already have experience working directly with upper management, this is the perfect time to talk about it.

  • What are your passions outside of work? Companies are equally checking if you're a fit for their culture, so share some of your favorite hobbies or activities that give a feel for your personality.

What you should ask your interviewer

Whether you're talking to a recruiter, the hiring manager or a VP, these questions will give you a sense of the company and show the interviewer you've come prepared:

  • Why do you enjoy working at XYZ company? This gives you a feel for the culture of the company. For example, if the interviewer says, "I love having the opportunity to work on several interesting projects and never get bored," you'll understand the company is likely fast-paced.

  • What does success look like in this role? Often, even within the same company, each person will have a slightly different idea of how you can shine in this role. This means it offers some of the most insightful tips once you're hired.

  • Can you share more about this role's team structure and how it fits within the organization as a whole? This question will help you understand which teams you work with, your visibility to executives, etc.

  • Do you have any reservations about me being a fit for this position? It might feel counterintuitive, but asking this question shows confidence. And perhaps more importantly, it lets you hear if the interviewer has any doubts about your experience and offers you a chance to address their concerns directly.

Negotiating a job offer in a recession

You've received an offer (congrats!) and it's time to negotiate. Use theIndeed Salary Calculator to learn the salary range of your role. Despite economic uncertainty, wage growth has increased over the last year, with the average hourly earnings in the U.S.up by 5.2% from 2021, and using market data is one of the best ways to help advocate for your worth.

When negotiating, keep in mind if your new role is within an industry that's growing or experiencing decreased openings as this will affect your bargaining power. If you're a recent graduate or find yourself in an industry that's struggling,  there are still ways you can negotiate on your own behalf beyond a higher salary. 

Perhaps your new company's policy is that you aren't added to the company's health benefits until 90 days in. You can ask for a sign-on bonus to cover the cost of your health care for the first three months. In lieu of money, you can request the ability to work remote, or hybrid, a better job title, or later start date if you'd like a break before you dive in.

You can also negotiate for opportunities. For example, this could look like accepting an offer at a lower starting salary, but negotiating for a six-month review and salary adjustment based on your performance. 

Just remember as with all negotiations, you want to have everything documented in writing, either in your contract or your acceptance letter—this ensures if your hiring manager leaves the company, whatever's been negotiated remains unchanged. Lastly, at the end of the day, never use ultimatums unless you're willing to walk away from the offer.  

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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