With company layoffs polluting the news across the workforce, if you’re a job seeker, it’s natural to be curious about them — or even fearful. So how do you know if you’re joining a company that may be in danger of layoffs? Are the companies you’re interviewing for prepared or financially stable enough to avoid this?
While it’s unlikely an interviewer will be completely candid about a company’s economic state or plans to prevent layoffs, you can ask some strategic questions to get a better picture. Here are our top tips for how to approach the topic of layoffs in an interview.
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Before the Interview
Do Your Research
Data about company layoffs are sometimes publicly available — you just need to know where to look.
First, check databases that track layoffs for the company name. If the company is larger, you may also be able to find news stories about them. A simple Google search of the company with the term “layoffs” and filtering for news results can clue you in.
You can also get smart with your searches on LinkedIn. Search for the company’s name and filter for posts to see ones that mention the company; often, laid-off employees will post asking for job recommendations, or employees that remain at the company might write a post to help their affected former coworkers.
This research helps you prepare for any interview conversation with knowledge about the company’s previous history with layoffs. You don’t want to ask if the company has ever done or considered layoffs if that information is publicly available and searchable.
During the Interview
Address Past Layoffs
If the company has publicly announced layoffs — either in the news or by former employees on LinkedIn — you can opt to ask about them, but do so strategically and politely. For example, you can ask questions like:
- I saw this company had some layoffs in 2022. Are you able to address why those layoffs happened?
- Are there more layoffs planned? Does the company have any strategies in place to prevent future layoffs?
“The company should have a message they can share with potential candidates or current candidates,” Elisa Pineda, senior recruiter at Forage, says. “As a candidate, I suggest asking but choosing your words and tone wisely. Layoffs affect even the people that stay, and they can be a little touchy, but [recruiters] should freely explain or let the candidate know they do not have an answer.”
Focus on the Economy
Instead of addressing layoffs directly, you can focus on general economic conditions that may affect the company. Focus on company growth and strategy by asking questions like:
- How has the company been affected by macroeconomic conditions, if at all? What are some ways the company has reacted to these trends?
- How much do you expect to grow in the next 12 months? The next 24?
- What strategies do you have in place to deal with worsening economic conditions?
While Pineda says candidates can ask about economic conditions in an interview, they shouldn’t expect the recruiter to have an answer. Instead, the answer might have to come from someone else on the team, like the hiring manager.
“Not all recruitment teams are involved in budget or similar departments, so that team may not have a good answer, but they should guide you as to who would have that answer,” she says. “Let the recruiter know you will be asking that question in the next round of interviews so the next person you ask will have an answer for you. You can also offer to send an email with your questions after the interview so they can forward it to them.”
It’s not that the recruiter doesn’t want to answer your question, but rather that they might not be the best company representative to do so. A good recruiter, Pineda says, will reach out to their colleagues to get the information you’re looking for.
“We would not want to lose someone over a question we do not have an answer for,” she says.
Ask About Your Role
One of the best interview questions to ask is what the company’s plans are for your role. This question allows you to see how this role fits into the company structure and whether the team has already thought about the role’s long-term growth and development. If they haven’t already been answered in the interview (or the job description!), ask questions like:
- Why are you looking to fill this role right now? Why did you prioritize this position over others?
- How does this role interact with other roles on the team? How does this role contribute to the company’s strategy?
- How do you see this role evolving in the next year? The next two years? The next five?
- What growth and development opportunities are available in this role?
In terms of layoffs, these insights can help you understand how your role fits into the team and contributes to the company’s mission. By asking questions about development, you’ll also learn how the company does (or doesn’t) promote internal growth and advancement opportunities.
After the Interview
Express Your Enthusiasm …
Asking tough questions is important, but you don’t want the interviewer to get the wrong idea. If they’ve answered your questions to your satisfaction and you’re interested in continuing the interview process, make that extremely clear in your follow-up thank you email. For example, you can mention that you’re thankful for their time and for answering your questions.
… Or, Let Them Know You’re Not Interested
“It should not be looked down upon to ask [questions about layoffs],” Pineda says. “If you get a bad vibe asking as a candidate, that may be a red flag for you.”
Consider whether not getting the response or answers you wanted from the company would be enough to make you decline their job offer. If so, withdraw from the interview process by letting your recruiter know. Be polite and clear in your response — you don’t need to tell them it’s because you’re worried about the company’s economic future.
Prepare for more tough interview topics:
- How to Answer: ‘What Are Your Reasons for Leaving a Job?’
- How to Answer: ‘Why Do You Think You Are Qualified for This Position?’
- How to Answer: ‘What Motivates You?’ in a Job Interview
- What Is a ‘Good’ Weakness for a Job Interview?
- Interview Questions, Answered: ‘What Is Your Greatest Strength?’
- How to Answer: ‘Why Are You Applying for This Position?’
- What Are Your Career Goals? How to Answer This Interview Question
- Interview Questions, Answered: ‘What Are Your Salary Expectations?’
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