Tech layoffs are dominating headlines this year—a stark contrast to the rapid growth that was happening two years ago. As of May 2023, an estimated 184,000 tech employees have been laid off, in addition to the 164,000 let go in 2022. Research suggests that recruiters were among those hit hardest by staff reductions. According to one analysis, tech companies that laid people off eliminated around 50% of their recruiters and 48% of their HR staff, compared to 24% of operations staff and 10% of engineers.
Unfortunately, I’m all too familiar with recruiter layoffs. Back in 2022, I was in a comfortable place in my career. I was a Lead Robotics Sourcer at Cruise and on track for a promotion; I had a lot of good things going for me. But then an opportunity arose: I was offered a job at Meta as a recruiter in the company’s Reality Labs Research division.
After much deliberation, I took the plunge and accepted the offer. But once I joined, I quickly realized that there wasn’t enough work for me to do and that the company had overhired. Sure enough, I was let go during the first round of layoffs late last year.
That wasn’t my first experience with mass layoffs, though. I’ve also been on the other side of the fence. Six months after joining Cruise, everyone on the robotics recruiting team was laid off except me. It was a humbling experience—and one that came with a healthy dose of survivor’s guilt.
Whether you’re still standing after a layoff or feeling the sting of being let go, it’s a difficult and challenging time. As a recruiter who’s been on both sides, I want to share some tips that helped me get through it all. I think they’ll be of use to any recruiter, tech or not, dealing with the harsh reality of layoffs in 2023 and beyond.
Moving Forward: Strategies for Coping With a Layoff
There’s no way to cushion it: Getting laid off feels like you got the short end of the stick. It can be a devastating blow to your finances, self-esteem, and sense of stability. But there are practical ways to soften the impact.
Lean Into Your Strengths
One thing I did after my layoff was assess my skills and build on them. For example, I’m a self-described robotics nerd, so I’ve decided to specialize in recruiting for robotics positions. This concept is known as “niching down.” The more specialized you can be while still wearing many hats, the more attractive a candidate you are. I’m also knowledgeable in areas such as change processes and diversity initiatives. That, combined with social skills that allow me to easily communicate with executives and candidates at all levels, helps position me for a role in my area of expertise, and eliminates some of the worry about where to go next. When you already know your strengths as a recruiter, it makes the job hunt less daunting.
Set Yourself Apart
Another way to stand out is to identify areas of interest related to your specialty. For example, while robotics is my focus, I also love to analyze recruitment processes and brainstorm ways to improve their efficiency. This interest inspired me to search out new learning opportunities: I attended industry events and took free LinkedIn Learning courses about the recruitment process. I also reached out to universities where I had contacts to see if I could audit classes, which I did. I was also able to speak to robotics students at University of California, Berkeley, about how to land jobs in the field postgraduation. Now I can mention this classroom experience and training in interviews, which helps set me apart from other recruiters.
Jump-start Your Personal Brand
Your personal brand is your unique selling proposition. A good first step is to optimize your LinkedIn profile. Ask your clients and candidates for recommendations. You’ll also want to create and share informative content to establish yourself as a thought leader. I’ll often reshare posts I find interesting to stay on people’s radars—this leads to conversations in the comments that can connect me with even more recruiters. One of the benefits of my layoff is that I’ve also had time to appear on podcasts and be a source in articles, which helps build my personal brand. At some point, I may want to transition to another field, like coaching or mentoring. Focusing on my brand is a great way to broaden my opportunities and establish a strong foundation for the future.
Managing the Fallout: Dealing With Survivor’s Guilt
At Cruise, I learned what it felt like to be a “layoff survivor.” I was relatively new to the company and so I felt many emotions, including relief and guilt, when I survived the cuts. At the same time, it was a chance to prove myself. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some tips to stay grounded and seek out opportunity post-survival.
Stay Humble and Positive
In some ways, being a layoff survivor is luck, so it pays to be humble. Express gratitude and show empathy to the people who were let go, and do what you can to offer support and maintain your relationships. They’ll appreciate that effort if you reconnect down the road.
Remembering why you joined the company in the first place can also be beneficial after layoffs. For instance, I joined Cruise to enhance its corporate brand and improve the candidate experience. Staying focused on the positive work you’ve done can provide motivation and positivity as you move forward with your role at the company. Don’t forget your career goals and aspirations—they’ll help you stay on track.
Be Proactive at Work
When the layoffs happened at Cruise, I was the only recruiter left who specialized in robotics. I used that opportunity to network more deeply with leaders on the business side. I was a remote employee at the time, so I’d reach out to them on Slack and ask questions about their recruiting challenges and the state of the organization. Being proactive made me stand out and it was also a great way to expand my office network.
Know Your Worth
When we went from five recruiters to one, my workload increased significantly. While it was a stressful time, it taught me something important: You have more leverage than you think you do. I consciously chose to prioritize projects from hiring managers who made an effort to partner with me. When communication between you and a hiring manager is consistent, your work is more visible—they’re paying closer attention. When you nurture these partnerships, you earn respect and boost your profile in your company.
Recruiters Are Still Necessary
Recruiting is a hard job and there’s not always a lot of internal support for recruiters during hard times. There are also growing concerns around things like artificial intelligence (AI). Recruiters might be asking themselves, Am I even needed anymore?
It’s important to remember that recruiting—like all areas of business—is constantly changing. It might be a while before the tech sector rebounds, but when it does, there will be a new world of opportunity for people in talent acquisition.
As someone who’s been in recruiting for a long time, I have some thoughts about where we’re headed, and some words of encouragement for recruiters who feel like this is the end of the line.
AI Will Not Replace Recruiters
In a recent survey by Tidio, nearly 69% of college graduates said they believed AI could “take their job or make it irrelevant in a few years.” AI might sound scary to recruiters who are already dealing with job insecurity, but try to see AI as an asset, not an enemy. When utilized thoughtfully, AI-powered hiring tools can provide valuable insights and make your job easier. These tools can scan résumés, analyze candidate data, perform background checks, and more—but AI won’t fully replace recruiters anytime soon. Human interaction is a key element of the job. You need real people to perform interviews and recommend candidates to hiring managers. AI will play an important role in recruiting going forward, but it can’t fully manage the whole experience like a person can.
Recruiting Is a Cyclical Industry
Recruiting is tied to interest rates and the economy. When interest rates rise, it’s more expensive to borrow money. So, to control costs, companies slow hiring and shift internal recruiting projects to outside agencies. Right now, there are a lot of internal recruiters being let go, which means that agency recruiting will grow. Then, in the future, companies will feel like they are paying too much for agency resources and will bring recruiting in-house again. And on and on. Despite the ups and downs, I always tell people that if they’re open to bringing a business-minded outlook to recruiting, it is a worthwhile profession to pursue. It’s something you never can get enough of if you love it the way I love it.
There’s Hope for Newcomers
If you’re interested in recruiting, don’t let the layoffs discourage you. There are so many pathways into this industry, and we still need you. I always recommend agency recruiting as a great place to start. For one thing, you’ll learn the nuts and bolts of recruiting. You’ll also discover whether you have the resilience you need to succeed. Agency work is tough because you don’t have a brand name to associate with the job opportunity, so getting responses from potential candidates is more difficult. But the challenges are what make it a great training ground. You’ll learn pretty quickly if recruiting is right for you.If you’re interested in recruiting, get in there now, learn the basics, train like hell, and when the economy rebounds, you’ll be primed for a long-lasting career.
Finding Opportunity in Turmoil: Changing the Industry for the Better
After 17 years in recruiting, I can honestly say that it’s still my passion—even during these times of economic turbulence. While it requires resilience and grit, it’s also an industry that allows you to practice empathy and relationship-building.
In the future, I think recruiters will play a more visible, strategic role in organizations as more companies recognize that the recruiting experience is a competitive differentiator. We can do better brand-building as companies if we listen to feedback from candidates during the recruitment process and treat them more like customers. Companies listen to customers and they should listen to candidates too. When candidates are treated with greater care, companies will attract more top talent while improving their brand and profitability.
As for me, I look forward to being part of that change. I got into this field because I like to help people. And I’ll stay in it because that’s still what drives me. It’s a scary time, yes, but these recruiter layoffs can lead to greater innovation if we see every setback as a learning opportunity and use it to evolve ourselves and the industry for the better. I’m excited to see what comes next.