As companies implement layoffs employees are sometimes pitted against each other to fight for their jobs. A little preparation can go a long way in saving your job, and setting you up for your next role.
For most people the job application process ends the day the job starts. Some companies, however, have been known to make applicants re-apply for their jobs. This has been common when PE firms take over and look to trim fat. Given the shifts in the economy (rising recessionary forces) and changes to the labor market (e.g., AI, supply chain) this may become more common as the BBC wrote recently.
The BBC article went on to describe it as The Hunger Games, but that’s only because the article's author is Gen Z. My Gen X cohort would no doubt prefer Beyond Thunderdome (“two men enter, one man leaves”) or Highlander (“there can be only one” . . . or maybe two or three depending on the size of the new budget).
Regardless of your personal preference for post-apocalyptic workplace battle motifs, it won’t be pretty. You will be pitted against co-workers and even friends. The battle-weary winners may not feel much like winners. To be fair to the companies, if they need to let workers go, there’s something to be said about letting employees have a voice in the process and not simply having them sit under the Sword of Damocles, powerless to defend themselves.
When such a reapplication process does happen, you are applying for a job not unlike the regular interview process. However, a subtle difference is that this time they know you. During your original interview they had your resume and a few hours of conversation by which to judge you. Now they have years of productivity and interaction. This may help or hurt you.
If your boss walks into your office today and says you need to justify your value to the company today, then you’re already behind.
Often, you’re not applying for your old job, you’re applying for the new version of the same job. They may have different expectations of the role going forward. In this, your reputation is a headwind or tailwind. For example, in many companies being known as a consensus builder is an asset. If, however, the new culture of the team is one of moving fast and asking for forgiveness over permission, that reputation can work against you.
In this endeavor it’s important to understand first the definition of the new role. Don’t just assume it will be the same. Even if you’re told it is the same, seek to understand how the company, business model, and/or culture will be different going forward. Next, work to understand how you are perceived in your company. Assess the gap between the re-hiring team’s perception of you and what is needed in the role going forward. That is your gap to overcome between now and the rehire decision.
I’d like to tell you to avoid gossip or casting aspersions on co-workers. The reality is, at some companies that is the right strategy to get ahead. Personally, that would cross a line for me, and I’d walk away from the company rather than engage in that approach, but I’m in a position to be able to do that. You must decide where your own line is drawn and if what you need to do to stay in your company is something you’re ok with.
The key to being successful in all this is long-term preparation. If you’ve read my writing on networking then you know the time to network is not when you need a job, but rather years beforehand. That’s when you build your network so when you need to employ it, it’s ready. There’s a similar approach here.
If your boss walks into your office today and says you need to justify your value to the company today, then you’re already behind. Many of the topics I cover in The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success that No One Taught You are ones you’ve heard of, e.g., Leadership, networking, communication. The skills covered in Chapter 2. Working Effectively are ones we never talk about. These are the subtle ones that may or break your career in unseen ways and this is a prime example.
You need to, today, understand how you’re adding value. It may be to your team, your manager, your department, the company, and/or its customers. Don’t focus just on the value of the role, but the value of each task you perform and the value of you yourself doing it compared to someone else who could be in that role. Anyone can sit in a weekly meeting and give a status report, but how you manage the project to minimize risk adds specific value. I’m a CTO and there are plenty of other CTOs out there. These days I’ma little rusty at coding and if someone needs a CTO to spend a few hours in the code every day, honestly, there are better qualified CTOs than I. However, I’ve created more patents and have more experience with AI/ML than most CTOs. If we combine that with my experience with cybersecurity or certain industries now there’s a clear value proposition where I stand above other very qualified and effective CTOs-–just for different circumstances. But if the company doesn’t care about creating patents or expertise in cybersecurity, then those advantages start to fade compared to other CTO options the company has. I better bring value with my leadership, or teambuilding, or network, or other skills—technical or non-technical—to justify why I’m the best option.
You may have only a few days to make your case to keep your job; having this all worked out ahead of time may be what saves your head in the office, too.
I don’t have to email this out to the team, although there are subtle ways I can signal it over time. Now when it’s time for me to justify my role, during a rehire process, I’m not blindsided. I know my value proposition. Importantly, I still need to see the value they want going forward, since it may not fully align with the value I’ve brought in the past. Still, I’m not coming at this from square one. I have a process for understanding my value and a starting set or value. That may not seem like much but in the race to the Cornucopia if you’re even a few seconds ahead of the other tributes that can be the difference between life and death. You may have only a few days to make your case to keep your job; having this all worked out ahead of time may be what saves your head in the office, too.
Even if the day never comes when you have to fight to keep your job, this process will help you. Once you understand how you create value, you can unlock how to create more value. It's those people who get promoted. In other words, this approach will not only help you keep your current job, but also help you get your next job at the company, ideally a promotion.
I’m not necessarily advocating the process of asking employees to reapply for their jobs. Ideally, companies should have all employees think about their value proposition so they can generate more value during their tenure. It has some of the upside with less of the Highlander sword fights (plus Bonetti's defense works better in rocky terrains, not office cubicles). But as with so much in career development, even if your company doesn’t take the initiative, you should on your own. May the odds be ever in your favor.
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