7 Women on What It's Like to Get Laid Off
Layoff

7 Women on What It's Like to Get Laid Off

From tech world mass-firings to that friend getting real in your LinkedIn feed, it feels like everyone is getting laid off lately. And it’s rough. Finding out that you no longer have a job is kind of like going through a breakup. Even if you saw it coming, the sudden change in routine, the confusion and sense of rejection can wreck your self-esteem and send you into a stress-filled spiral of self doubt. But it can also be a transformative time that pushes you to try something new or make a radical change. This week on Girlboss, we’re talking all about getting laid off—and how to bounce back.

Layoffs are nothing new—but openly discussing it with your peers, on LinkedIn or even during a job interview is becoming increasingly common. Maybe that’s because most of us refuse to see getting laid off as a personal failing, and instead, rightly approach it as the downside of functioning in corporate, capitalist systems. In the spirit of transparency, we asked you, our readers, to share your own stories of getting laid off and what happened next. No two stories are the same. Some employers were cold and impersonal, while others were supportive and humane (six months of free career coaching, gifting laptops). All of the stories are here to make you feel less alone if you’re currently going through it.

“I was laid off along with 200 people on a minute-and-forty-second Zoom call.”

“My story is not really unique anymore, but because it happened in the pandemic, it was completely brutal. I was at a cannabis company for a year and a half. I worked on the experiential marketing team. We did a lot of events and bigger activations. Going into COVID, we couldn’t do any in-person events. But one of the reasons I was so disappointed was because I was trying to move departments into product and brand marketing. I was working on a side project with my mentor at the company, on new products and the innovation side of the business. It was actually something that was exciting me at work and was going super well. 

In April of 2020, I got scheduled for a Zoom call in the morning. So I got on this call, and there were 200 other people on the call. And the VP of the team I was on read a statement, in monotone, from a paper in front of him, that we were all laid off. It was a bunch of HR jargon.

I couldn’t understand what just happened. I think the whole call was one minute and forty seconds long. They laid off 200 people, most from the marketing function. The team I used to be on was defunct, which made me feel a little better, maybe. 

After the call, I was shaking. I messaged my boss like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ He was of no help. But then, I just felt a sense of calm. My partner was freaking out more than I was. He was all like, ‘Oh my God, are you OK? Want me to take the day off? Let’s go get burgers.’ I was just like, ‘OK.’ Maybe a part of my subconscious was expecting it. My body definitely wasn’t! 

I think it was more the way that it was done. If they had just scheduled a one-on-one call with me and said, ‘This is the situation.’ But it just seemed so brutal. I had only been at the company for a year, but there were others who were there for six years. Not to be rude, but like, come on. 

Then, we were wondering when they were going to shut down our computers. One individual on my team who wasn’t laid off offered to send me files, which was really nice. Because we were in a pandemic, we had to return all our devices. Someone started a WhatsApp group. One person tried to write to the company to at least ask to let us keep our laptops, which they did not agree to. 

Our severance packages were not very generous, but there was a government rule that if you lay off more than 50 people from one physical location, then you have to give them three months’ worth of pay, so anyone who was laid off from Toronto did get three months worth of pay. Some people in the WhatsApp group went to a lawyer, others went to the media, but they didn’t get much out of that.

It just felt like being tagged in a slaughterhouse. We were just numbers. 

The next day, I updated my LinkedIn. We got three months of working with a career coach, and I tapped into that because it was free. I revised my CV and just started applying for jobs. I began reaching out to my network. 

I decided after this that I didn’t want to work in the cannabis industry anymore, it’s too volatile. I decided that I wanted to go into consumer packaged goods, so I reached out to people I knew who worked at companies like Pepsi and General Mills for advice. Everyone was so willing to have coffee chats. It really felt like I wasn’t alone. 

Once I started on the path of trying to find a job (it was also the height of the pandemic, when it felt like no one was hiring), I was nervous, but I also realized that it would be ok. I never had a self-blame mindset. I did my work, I was good at my job. Maybe this needed to happen because I needed a stepping stone into the consumer packaged goods industry.

I was very much in the mindset of finding a new job right away, and I went into it with a goal in mind. Having a goal, and an industry I wanted to work in, was very helpful. But it was very ‘on’ all the time. I would structure my day: in the mornings, I would check my email and my LinkedIn, then in the afternoon, I would do interview prep stuff. But there’s only so much you can do, so I would go for walks and take my mind off things. 

Then, I had a friend reach out who worked at a company that was hiring and through that referral I started the interview process and got a new job in the consumer packaged goods space.” — Leanne, 34, Toronto, ON

“I’m slightly freaking out that I don’t have a job yet.”

“I've been laid off from seasonal jobs, fired a few times, and laid off again in April of 2022. This time it was different. Why did my company keep me all through the pandemic only to lay me off once we returned to the office? 

My most recent job was my first ‘real’ corporate job. I was the office manager, event coordinator and executive assistant at a tech consulting firm. I was thrilled to work there because of the good salary and benefits—after working in retail all my life this was a huge perk! I was running on adrenaline and joy. Then, the walls started to slowly crumble around me and I knew I had to get out: the environment was toxic and turnover was high. Yet I stuck it out, afraid to quit without a backup job and not finding a new job at all. 

Then, the pandemic hit. We were all working from home, employees came and went, bosses quit and got fired. I somehow stayed on during the WFH period doing very little of my old responsibilities. I flew under the radar and loved it. But, I was so bored that I created an in-house monthly newsletter to send out, connecting colleagues abroad and locally, sharing stories, interviewing new employees and trying to stay positive. 

Eventually, we returned to a hybrid work schedule, with a new office and building management. I knew my job had changed. I wasn’t the office manager anymore because we were in a shared space, with shared kitchens, a little supply closet for office needs and snacks. I didn’t have a reception area. I knew my time was coming to a close at some point—plus, I was unhappy with the job. 

It happened on Monday at 4:30 p.m. in a video chat with my two bosses. I wasn’t surprised when they told me I was being laid off—my role was being phased out. I asked if there was anyone I could support or move into a different role and they said no. They gave me six weeks’ severance pay. 

It’s been almost three months and I’m still unemployed, looking for work and wondering, ‘What do I want to do?’ All the while, I’m slightly freaking out that I don’t have a job yet. I also know that it’s good I’m taking this time to have a damn break! I mean, we’re getting out(ish) of a pandemic, there’s a huge shift in working remotely or doing virtual assistant roles and having the time to finish my next great book is top of mind!

Thankfully, I’ve had some promising job interviews, yet nothing sticks. While I know I probably dodged a bullet with most of them. It would be really great to have a new career, stability, benefits and that paycheck.

Two weeks ago, I had a breakdown: feeling like sh*t, crying, breathing unsteadily. What triggered it? Looking on LinkedIn and seeing a friend get her second internship this summer at a major film studio and my old manager getting a new job in what seemed like five seconds! I was a wreck, not feeling good enough, smart enough, interesting enough. I felt inadequate, angry and ashamed. What are they doing that I’m not? Why is it so easy for them? Who do they know that I don’t!? 

Some things that help are having a daily list of priorities, like applying for jobs, reaching out to headhunters, reaching out to old friends for contacts or getting support. I also am proud

of myself for the small things: the few jobs I apply for that are solidly aligned with my qualifications. I also have to remind myself to be kind to myself, be compassionate and proud! Seeing a therapist weekly has also been a huge help. I like to journal too. I have one for work-related feelings and one for personal thoughts. 

I’m living with my boomer parents, who both worked blue collar jobs and believe that a corporate job will be good for me in the long run. I’m thinking about switching from executive assisting to something I’m better suited for, like publicity, PR, creative writing or communications perhaps.  

Much like dating, you have to go for interviews, ask the right questions, see if it’s a good fit, wait to hear back, set up another interview and then, get the call that it worked out—or the email that it didn’t. Hope that my job is out there is what gets me through.” Dawn, 33, Long Island, NY

“I used to think nothing could go wrong if you worked in tech.” 

“It happened in February of this year. I was a student and I was working with this online education platform as a co-op placement, with plans of working for them part-time for my last semester of school. I’m studying business, and I was on the partnership marketing team. I’ve always loved marketing. I got a call from my people lead that day, with the CEO. I didn’t even have to wrap up my projects. It was just, ‘that’s that.’ For me, I was less involved with the company, so I wasn’t attending every weekly sync or huddle, so I had no idea that this was being considered. My workload stopped instantly. 

It obviously came as a shock, but because I was not there full time, it wasn’t a life-or-death situation. I felt discouraged and something along the lines of being let down. I had this premeditated idea of being there after graduation. 

As soon as I opened LinkedIn, I saw so many #OpenToWork posts from my now-ex-colleagues. I definitely did fall into the panic that everyone else did, and did the big post about it. But I’m focusing on school right now. I do miss the security of having a position lined up after graduation. If they’re hiring again in six months, I’ll happily re-apply.

We all got a severance package, along with a lot of resources to help us with future jobs. They added everyone’s names to a blog post so employers could find them. We got referrals—everyone was doing the best they could. We had help with writing resumés and cover letters. They definitely didn’t leave us in the dust. You could tell that it was very hard on them. I was trying to crack jokes on the call, to lighten the mood, but you could tell that they were very upset to be doing this. 

I never actually considered getting laid off. It was my first big-girl job and I loved it a lot. I was starstruck the whole time. So to have it taken from me was upsetting because I was like, ‘Oh I’ll never find something like this again.’ And it kind of showed me how volatile tech can be. I used to think that nothing could go wrong if you worked in tech. And then, I started to see every company on my radar going through the same thing. I saw how un-secure my position can be, and it made me reconsider what industry I would pursue after graduation. 

Overall, I was the youngest person there, and the only co-op student. It made me have more empathy for the more senior staffers, and that softened the blow. 

I’m taking more things into account when I look at my post-grad career plans. If I’m starting a family, I wouldn’t want to be in such a volatile industry. But overall, the layoff worked in my favor since I was busy with school.” Paula, 22, Victoria, BC

“It’s really hard to drop everything. You still feel this weird allegiance to your company.”

“I worked at a national online news brand, churning out five stories a day. It was pretty stressful, there was a lot of office politics and personality. That made it a lot harder to get the work done. We were told not to share information about our salaries, because it was revealed that someone who’d been there longer was making significantly less. The lack of transparency made things pretty awkward. 

These layoffs happened in July 2020. We were all laid off on the same day, and at this point we were all remote. So everything happened via Slack. I got an email from one of my colleagues basically saying, ‘People are getting laid off today.’ Some already started getting HR invites in their calendar. At the time I thought, ‘Oh, it can’t be me.’ And our two bosses just ghosted us for the day. I understand that they couldn’t tell us what was going on, but we were completely left in the dark.

Eventually, we all had our calls. Around 1:30, my colleague and I were like ‘Why are we still working?’ So we decided to meet up and just walk around the city. It’s really hard to drop everything, you still feel this weird allegiance to your company, and loyalty is expected at these companies and yet you’re just let go. I guess it’s how business goes. And it was eye opening for me. 

In retrospect, I’m very grateful for getting laid off. I was contemplating going freelance. I have ADHD, so I find the structure of a 9-5 very difficult, and after working at other media brands, I loved the jobs and the experience, but you feel so small and like what you’re doing doesn’t really matter. I wanted to be my own boss. Especially after feeling let down and ghosted by my bosses on the day of getting laid off. I wanted to take advantage of the momentum, put my name out there and get started. I had connections, so I was really lucky. And I’ve been trying to pay it forward to new people in media, because it’s really hard. 

Now, I’m advocating for myself. I set my rates. I don’t want to answer to anyone else anymore—within reason, of course!” — Monica, 31, Toronto, ON

“I started to look differently at the corporate ladder, because it can just get taken away.”

“I’ve been laid off four times. The first time, I graduated in May 2010, and had just moved off campus in DC. The non-profit I was working for ran out of funding. I had to put my ego aside and ask friends and family for help with rent. And then, I went to work at Borders. I graduated with a degree in marketing and communications, and now I’m working part-time at a Borders Cafe—not even the bookstore. And I’m a reader, so I wanted to work in the store, but all they had left was café jobs. It was nerve-wracking. I’m not a retail person. 

Then, I worked at a university, and there was some restructuring. I had started looking for another job, so the day I got let go, I already had a phone interview somewhere else. That one was hard. I was let go and had to get my stuff and leave the same day. It was harsh, but I was already preparing myself to leave. I ended up getting the job from the interview that same day, so that worked out. That’s one thing: really paying attention. Sometimes you can tell because other people are getting laid off. So as soon as you start to hear rumblings, that’s when you need to start looking. 

Another time, it was a contract position (remote before remote was a thing) that eventually fizzled out when they ran out of money. From there I did some contracting work, I sold T-shirt and mug designs to supplement my income. And when you work as a contractor, make sure you set aside money for taxes. I had no idea, and I pretty much cried in the accountant’s office. 

Then, I had an ed-tech job, with a great team and a great manager. I was co-lead on a woman’s leadership group. It was a great way to meet other people across the organization. After losing that job, I really started to look differently at the corporate ladder, because it can just get taken away and you have to start over. 

You have that small moment, where you think, ‘Is this the right career field?’ because marketing and communications is always the first to go. And they’ll always re-hire for those positions.

After getting laid off a few times, I wouldn’t decorate my office anymore. It took me a long time to even put up a calendar. In my first job, I would decorate with photos and quotes. But there’s nothing like decorating your little cubicle and then having to box up all your things the day you’re let go. I was like, ‘Ok, I’m not going to do that again.’ 

This generation gets blamed a lot for job-hopping, but a lot of the time, we’re forced to! Getting laid off also made me not put so much emphasis on a manager-level position. For me it’s, ‘Am I enjoying the work? Am I not crazily stressed out?’ It really changed how I view work and what my values are. 

Where I’m working now, I’ve been there for two years, and I have an amazing supervisor who found me on LinkedIn. So, if people see me so active on LinkedIn, it’s because it really helped me out to find a new job. That’s my advice: have your resume updated, and let your network know (tell them what kind of job you’re looking for and give them your resume). Also, don’t underestimate Facebook groups! And stay in touch to thank people who have been there for you. 

Finally, let yourself have fun. Especially if you end up in long-term unemployment. It can affect your mental health, and it can affect your friendships. Go outside, sit on the swings while everyone else is at work.” — Nicole, 36, Maryland

“They literally said, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I’m not a fucking soldier.”

“I have been laid off twice now, and I just started my new job this week. Because I knew how to navigate the process, the applicant tracking process and negotiation, I had a recruiter reach out to me. I was able to get a 40 percent salary increase. 

I work in the tech industry, in marketing. The most recent time, I knew the layoffs were imminent. I had coworkers who were in-the-know, who saw the signs. If you see executives leaving, hiring when the capital isn’t there, those are bad signs. 

We got laid off right before Memorial Day weekend, and our health insurance literally ended that Tuesday. And I got two weeks severance after working there for eight months. I’m pretty sure everyone got the same package, across the board. They let 70 people go, 25 percent of the company. 

They canceled the main all-hands call, and the next day, I woke up to a 9 a.m. HR meeting in my calendar. So I knew, ‘This is happening.’ I sent myself all the documents. My Slack and email got shut off during the call, and right after the call my laptop got disconnected.

Luckily, I’d already been looking and interviewing here and there. I was in events, and this was during the pandemic, so we were just starting to pivot to virtual. But I didn’t know it would happen as quickly as it did. There were no goodbyes or anything. As soon as everyone got laid off, there was no resource. Everything was fully remote.

My first time getting laid off was right when COVID first hit, April 2020. Single handedly the best circumstances. They were incredibly transparent. That day, they started a goodbye channel on Slack so that people could say goodbye. I loved that. When I got laid off the first time, my manager and an HR person were there and it was very much an emotional thing, and it wasn’t like a cold, ‘Thank you for your service.’ This most recent one, they literally said, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I’m not a fucking soldier.

I was there for about a year, but so was my manager who was amazing and was there far longer than me, and they got laid off too. So I was like, ‘Ok this is not my fault.’ 

I did the LinkedIn post, I was very intentional about that, I wanted to do it in a positive way. I became very, very well-versed in recruiting. I joke that I’m a freelance recruiter now. I kept a pulse on best practices and really made that my job while I was unemployed.

I took a month off, but after that, I had never tried so hard at anything in my entire life. There was not a single week that I didn’t have a resume and cover letter, sent an InMail, did a first-round interview, a second-round interview. It was insane. I got so close. I probably had 20 third-round interviews that didn’t lead to an offer. I learned that you can’t just hit ‘Apply.’ There are definitely better ways to do it, because of how the system works. 

It was so hard, because everyone got laid off. And on top of that, people who still had a job were like, ‘I want a new job!’ So, even if you were the best of the best, there was someone better than you competing for the job. It took me almost a year, two months shy of a year, to get a new job. 

There were definitely times when I was like, ‘WTF, this is just ridiculous.’ But I was getting unemployment, which was actually higher than what I was getting at my actual job. I was willing to do almost anything, entry-level sales and assistant positions. The market was just horrible. Because of COVID, so many businesses were having hiring freezes or doing pay cuts, and there was a shortage of marketing roles because no one was prioritizing that. So I thought about doing people ops, or recruiting or sales. I was willing to do almost anything. 

I followed Madeline Mann on YouTube and Instagram. I learned almost everything that I know about any potential scenario: how-to questions, LinkedIn keywords, etc. But the biggest thing is not selling yourself short. Never give your salary expectation number too soon. Say, ‘I’m looking for the total package, what’s your range for this role?’ I would say, 80 percent of the time, they will give you what you’re asking for. Negotiating is huge. And always send thank-you notes!” —Susannah, 26, Los Angeles, CA

“I got laid off, and a month later, I woke up in the ER.”

“In late 2019, I was working for a global beverage company in their Santa Monica office. I had been working for them for almost three years. I started as a student employee in college, then an internship, and then a full-time role in October 2019. And then, of course, March 2020 comes around. In the beginning of March, things were going well. They weren’t announcing any layoffs. I was a new employee on a very small marketing team, essentially marketing for teams that sell the beverage into bars, restaurants and hotels. I thought we were safe because we were such a small team. Nope.

My boss, who I had a really good relationship with, called and said, ‘Hey, I have really bad news. Global has decided to lay off everyone who’s in your entry-level role. I was able to bargain with them and get you a month to figure things out.’ I was so in shock. Then he said, ‘I know you’ve always wanted to start your own side-business, so why don’t you start your own business and we’ll just contract you and pay you out of a different budget for the same work?’’ I’m trying not to cry, so he gives me my end date, and I kind of spent the rest of the day moping around. I loved the company and thought I was going to stay there my whole career, which was naive. 

The next day I started planning to launch my own business. My degree is in social media marketing, so I decided to start my own agency and also do some graphic design. My ex-employer was my first client.

It was stressful, it was peak COVID, and I lost a bunch of weight and I thought it was just because of depression. It was LA, and everyone thought it was, like, plague central. There were weeks when we were told not to go to the grocery store.

On May 16th, I woke up in the ER. My roommate found me unresponsive. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. The doctors were like, ‘How are you alive right now?’ My blood sugar was 800, right now it’s 150. 

I texted my former boss, who’s my client at this point, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m in the hospital. I have been diagnosed with this lifelong chronic illness. I lost 50 pounds.’ So, I got out of the hospital, and that whole summer, I was working on launching my own business. I had a lot of connections coming in, and my former team was so supportive, so I got a lot of referrals. 

Sometimes I joke, ‘Did I just not realize that unemployment existed?’ I already had paying clients, so there was no reason to do the traditional job hunt. 

Then I experienced really heavy social media burnout. I love the Girlboss newsletter, I’m always like, ‘relatable AF.’ The one last week was about social media burnout. This is insane!

So here’s where I am now: I decided to take a break from my social media agency and now I’m working on tools and resources for social media managers, along with graphic design (which is what I love).” — Alice, 25, Temecula, CA

Note: Most names have been changed.

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