I have been "laid off" 3 times during the past 4 years. "Laid off" is in quotes due to the circumstances making it hard to tell if it can be called a layoff or not.

  • First "layoff" was me getting relieved off a group of freelance devs due to budget constraints.
  • Second "layoff" was for a small startup due to the same reasons as above. This is uncertain if it counts because they were in the process of registering the business when I was there and I don't remember any contracts being signed.
  • Third layoff was legitimate as far as they go. I got most of the documents for it.

I was in the first and third jobs for at least 1 year each while the second lasted less than six months and I was unemployed for 7 months after the "layoff".

With those being laid out,

  • Would the first two instances be really considered layoffs? I've always said they were in interviews.
  • If so, would having multiple layoffs in my employment history have a negative impact on my career or future job searches? I've read here that one layoff wouldn't hurt, but it doesn't say anything about multiple instances.
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    I'm not sure why you would think these weren't "layoffs". Why are you wondering if they are? Have you read: What is the difference between being fired and being laid off? ? Also note that if you were on fixed-duration freelance contracts, that a non-renewal is not a layoff. – Lilienthal Mar 28 at 10:50
  • I would interpret "damage any prospect" as very final, i.e. "I won't ever be employed again!". I assume you rather mean "could this have a / any impact on my job search" ? – Lilienthal Mar 28 at 10:52
  • In some professions, it could be quite common to only be in a single job for 1-2 years. Is there any more info you can provide in that regard? – Kozaky Mar 28 at 10:53
  • @Kozaky OP tagged this software industry so these could indeed be normal, but what we really would need to know for his particular circumstances is what the rest of his resume looks like. Revenant, could you clarify how long you've been in these (or previous) jobs and what jobs you've held since? – Lilienthal Mar 28 at 11:12
  • @Lilienthal first comment: I wasn't exactly on a contract. We were paid monthly like employees as opposed to per project. I was wondering if it counts as a layoff because it happened in a freelancer group rather than an actual company. – Revenant Mar 28 at 13:35

Multiple lay-offs in a short span of time can make your job search harder because it's a problematic career pattern. Multiple short stays typically indicate one of the following:

  • you're a job hopper
  • you're a bad employee and end up fired or forced out
  • you're bad at finding a good culture / skill match with your employers or aren't doing your due diligence
  • you're an average performer so are the first person who's cut in a lay-off
  • you're simply unlucky

You're presumably in the final group so you'll want to try and make that clear in your cover letter when you're applying for a job as most interviewers will tend to reject the other groups before the interview stage unless they have a small candidate pool. This pattern of job hopping, whether intentional or not, can harm your career. More on that in my answer to "How will a history of job-hopping affect my career or job search?".

But all of this only applies to you to some extent. Three jobs in four years isn't always considered job hopping, particularly in fast-moving industries, and a lot depends on the actual employment durations involved here. A quick lay-off after 2 months will result in questions but not an automatic rejection. And if you have a track record of long stays with just a turbulent middle section where you changed jobs three times is more likely to be considered interesting rather than problematic.

So if the pattern that you have on your resume is one that might cause people to interpret it negatively, you should pre-empt the questions or automatic rejections that will follow. Probably the best way of doing this is to make a reference to it in your cover letter. Some variation on "after going through a few employers who were struggling through unexpected layoffs I'm hoping for a more stable position" would work very well. If you get a (phone) interview any manager worth their salt will ask you about those jobs but if they don't you should probably bring it up, citing financial struggles. You can then segue into asking about the company's plans for expansion / growth as a professional way to get some info on their financials. If your interviewer is noticeably uncomfortable or cagey at that point you should consider that a red flag and a potential sign that your run of bad luck might continue if you sign on with that employer. :)

Finally you also want to be seen as doing a lot of research and contemplating on your end to demonstrate that you're doing your due diligence in this job search. That will not only come across as more confident and professional, it's also something you have to do for yourself. You should strive to be in your next job for at least two years, ideally more, to correct the pattern you currently have on your resume.

  • 1
    I think this is a good answer - I would just add that there's a healthy dose of perspective in terms of the career path. If I'm hiring for a "permanent" position in a long term stable team, this pattern is going to be a problem. If I'm hiring a contract, or at a startup, or for a team that has a lot of churn as the workload goes up and down, this candidate would seem quite normal, and perhaps even MORE desirable than someone who is used to sitting in one dev shop for 10 years at a time. So: the employer's perspective will shift based on what they're looking for. – dwizum Mar 28 at 15:41
  • @dwizum Very true, just like it will also depend on the manager (and mostly the candidate pool) whether they'll give candidates the opportunity to explain the pattern. I go into that in more detail in my answer on this question: How will a history of job-hopping affect my career or job search? – Lilienthal Mar 28 at 18:26

Would the first two instances be really considered layoffs? I've always told them that they were in interviews.

In the first 2 cases I would say that you worked as a freelancer on 2 separate clients. You weren't 'laid off', the project simply came to an end.

If so, would having multiple layoffs damage any prospect of being employed again? I've read here that one layoff wouldn't hurt, but it doesn't say anything about multiple instances.

Yes, multiple layoffs raise questions as people ask whether the layoff was from redundancy (which is fine) or being fired (which is a red flag).

  • As for the third one, when I was talking with management about this they said they didn't meet certain sales goals hence they have to cut corners. They also assured me that it had nothing to do with my performance, so there's that. – Revenant Mar 28 at 10:51

Will multiple lay-offs hurt your job prospects? Yes.

Once when I was involved in hiring someone, I came across a resume where the person had 3 months at this job, 9 months at that job, 6 months at the next, etc. I think the longest he had stayed at one job was a year. And my immediate reaction was, I don't know why he spends so little time at each job, whether he quits because he gets bored easily, he gets fired for incompetence, or what. But whatever the reason, odds are that if we hire him, he's going to be gone in 6 months. This was for a highly technical position where it would take the person months to learn the job, so he probably wouldn't even be productive before he was gone. Not worth it. I tossed the resume in the "no" pile.

The problem is that an employer doesn't know the real reason why you no longer have a certain job. If the company ran into financial problems for reasons that had nothing to do with you and had to lay people off, fine, not your fault, bad luck. But often companies fire people for incompetence but put it down as a layoff as a nice gesture so the employee can collect unemployment insurance and doesn't have a firing on his record. Of course if you were really fired for stealing from the company or physically assaulting a co-worker or some such, that will look bad, too.

In your case this is water under the bridge, you can't take back the layoff's now. The best you can do is to have good but simple explanations ready. WorkerWithoutACause says to describe the first two as "the project came to an end". Assuming that's even halfway true, yes, that sounds way better than "I got laid off". If you have a good explanation that you can sum up in a few words, like "project ended", I'd put that on your resume. I'd have an explanation ready if someone asks in an interview. But unless the interviewer asks for details, I wouldn't get into it too far. It can easily sound like you're making excuses. A simple, "the company got into trouble because of the recession and they had to lay a bunch of people off" is about as much as I would volunteer.

If I were you I would try to make my next (or current) job longer term to make the resume look better. Like if I had three jobs in a row that for whatever reason I stayed less than a year at each, I would try to stay at least 3 or 4 years at the next job. Even if I absolutely hated the job, I'd knuckle down and stick with it for a few years. Then when i felt I finally had been there a respectable amount of time and got a new job maybe I'd have a party, but whatever.

I once had a job that I quit after a month. Shortest time I was ever on a job. Down the road I just left it off my resume. Job before ended in August, next job started in September, I just put month and year on all my job dates so it wasn't clear whether the gap was almost 2 months or a couple of days. No one ever asked. Not saying you can do that exact "trick" here, but sometimes just being creative in how you present things can help. I'm not suggesting lying, I'd never flat out lie on a resume, partly as a matter of principle and partly because it's very bad if and when you are caught. But you don't have to volunteer negative information.

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