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I work in a student position for a software development company. Lately I've noticed my work volume seems to have slowed down, and no new projects seem to be coming in. I've also been asked a lot if I would be graduating soon, to which I have responded that I wouldn't. The same thing happened late last year when a major contract was dropped and most of the student workers were laid off.

No one has said anything about layoffs, but given how suddenly the layoffs occurred last time, I'm a little concerned. We're on a skeleton crew now, and I don't think I'm a bad worker, but I'm really the only one who doesn't do anything no one else can do. If the company is looking to trim the fat again, I think I'm going to be the first candidate to go.

I'm not sure if I'm just reading too much into the situation or if there actually is a risk of me being laid off. I know my job is safe until the end of the semester, but I can't be sure about afterwards. I would like to ask my manager so I know if I should start looking elsewhere, but I don't want to give the impression that I'm ready to abandon ship. I like my job and where I'm working, and even if they told me that they'd be letting me go at the end of the spring semester or at the start of fall, I'd be willing to keep working until then. Am I overreacting? Would expressing my concerns and asking if my job is at risk be seen as unprofessional?

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    You don't need to ask him, all the signs are there, get out before you're let go. – Retired Codger Apr 20 '17 at 20:17
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It wouldn't hurt or be unprofessional to ask, framed with the historical context that you've given. Having said that, if they didn't give anyone a heads up last time, don't be surprised if you get some kind of non-answer mumbo-jumbo, or, when the boss says "No, you have nothing to worry about" they drop the hammer on you anyway.

The problem is that, until they drop you, they need you to do certain work. If the position is going to be downsized and you are proactive and leave just ahead of that, then they are in the very difficult position of having to backfill for a very short period of time - either expensive temporary/contract rates, or distributing your work to others who probably have pretty full plates. Certainly hiring a new employee for such a short timeframe is not feasible.

The best situation for the company is to keep you working right up until the moment they don't need your labor, but not a minute before or, more relevantly to you, past that.

So, you can ask, but I wouldn't put any weight into the belief that you're being told the truth, necessarily. You're not reading too much into it. You've seen this pattern before, you've assessed your own work volume and uniqueness of the position, and they've been asking probing questions that impact the future of that position.

Start searching, as if you've been told your job is in jeopardy and there's a strong chance it will be eliminated. Since you should proceed in that manner, regardless, there's really no reason to ask to confirm your suspicions. You are much, much more employable if you are still currently employed, vs. being between positions.

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    +1 Also, the signs are pretty clear: No new work, less items on his plate, and a history of these being signs in the past. – Retired Codger Apr 20 '17 at 20:46
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    @RichardU - Agreed. That voice in his head should be listened to. – PoloHoleSet Apr 20 '17 at 20:47
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    Always look for another job. – user8365 Apr 21 '17 at 14:20
  • Your boss usually knows of layoffs before you do. However, twice in my career my boss was only about an hour ahead of me :-( – gnasher729 Dec 27 '17 at 21:43
  • @gnasher729 - good point. "Hey, I haven't heard anything bad" may just mean boss is also not in the loop. – PoloHoleSet Dec 27 '17 at 22:24

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