Four Signs You’re About to be Laid Off

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By the time UBS announced it was getting out of most of its fixed income business and laying off a third of its investment bankers, it was already too late for the thousands of employees getting the ax. But for those who saw it coming, and took pro-active measures to find employment elsewhere, they are the relative winners in an industry caught in contraction.

What are the signs your job may be in jeopardy?

1. Revenue and Profits are Falling.

“The numbers are usually a pretty good place to start,” says David Sanford, Executive Vice President of WinterWyman, an executive recruiter based in Boston. “If things are moving in a downward direction and not it’s not just one quarter, but rather you’re seeing a trend, then that’s one sign business is off and something bad is going to happen. Either there’s going to be layoffs or somebody is going to come in and take you over.”

At UBS, the signals were coming for some time. UBS posted a pretax loss of 2.87 billion Swiss francs at its investment bank for the third quarter of 2012, following trading losses of $50 billion in the financial crisis and one rogue trader loss of $2.3 billion last year.

2. Culture Shifts

Another sign is a shift in a company’s personality. If in the past, there was an open flow of information and strong internal communications, and suddenly there’s silence and more people are meeting behind closed doors, that’s another signal.

“When bad stuff happens companies will tend to get quiet,” says Sanford. “They don’t want to send out the wrong message so they don’t send out any message, so if the flow of information from the top starts to slow down, that‘s a signal things are not going well.”

3. Market Share is Falling

When a company’s so-called value proposition is no longer all that valuable, it may be time to start looking. For the uninitiated, your value prop is what makes you stand out from the pack, what makes you different or better. When that’s no longer the case, start thinking about moving on. Take UBS. It was one of the top investment banks performing in the global arena until a few missteps with customers and regulators, along with a substantial trading loss, knocked it off the stage and competitors began gnawing away at its business.

“If your product is no longer the hot product, then there’s a signal somebody is going to pass you and in essence eat you for lunch,” says Sanford.

4. Your Boss Acts Differently

“If you have a good relationship with your boss, and the boss has gone silent, that’s a signal,” he adds. “Or if you ask him, or her, a question and suddenly they seem evasive or curt, that too is a signal there’s going to be some bumps in the road.”

When you see two or three of these signals it is time to get out proactively.

“The biggest mistake you can make is waiting too long to make a move,” says Sanford, “Most bankers will wait because they’re hoping against hope that this is going to pass and that they’re going to be okay, that something miraculous is going to change. So they hang on. Others will sit there and simply refuse to see the signs because they don’t want to see them. By the time you do, it’s too late and you’re already whistling past the graveyard.

”You are in a much better place to find your next job if you are employed,” said Sanford. “If you’re gainfully employed, then somebody thinks you’re doing a good job. But when you’re out of work there’s always the stigma, whether it’s legitimate or not, that you weren’t good enough to keep your job. It is a huge advantage to be looking for your next job while you are employed.”

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