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How to ask in a job interview if a company is going to have layoffs

It’s an awkward question, but if you’re trying to figure out how likely a prospective company is to have layoffs soon, here’s what to do.

How to ask in a job interview if a company is going to have layoffs
[Source photo: Kindel Media/Pexels]

It’s the question every job seeker is dying to ask: “Are layoffs coming?”

And for good reason: Thousands of workers in mediatechlogistics, and many other industries have lost their jobs in the last year.

No hiring manager or recruiter can guarantee that layoffs will never happen, of course—and even the seemingly most stable companies face the risk of job cuts. But with the right approach, candidates can vet an organization’s commitment to its people and set themselves up in a role that’s built to last.


The short answer is yes, says Bryan Creely, the founder of A Life After Layoff, who spent 20 years as a corporate recruiter for companies like Amazon and Ford Motor Company before becoming a career coach. “It’s a very valid question and [a] very valid concern,” he says. There’s also the old adage, “You should be interviewing the company as much as they’re interviewing you” to consider.

But how you frame the question matters. “You don’t want the conversation to go too negative,” says women’s career and life coach Mandy Steinhardt.

You also need to prepare yourself for a non-answer. Some hiring managers may dodge the question out of fear, or because of company policy, while others may not know enough about the company’s current state to answer it properly.


Let’s say you can’t in good conscience pursue a job unless you’re sure it’s going to be around in six months. Here’s the best way to approach the issue.


Researching a company before an interview is common practice not just because it makes you look good, but because it helps you ask questions that get to the heart of any hesitations you may have with a role. And when you come to the discussion prepared, the interviewer is likely to take your questions more seriously.

Start with an organization’s financials. After all, if they’re not bringing in money, they can’t maintain their staff. Browsing websites such as Seeking Alpha or PitchBook, or following the stock market, can give you a sense of a company’s revenue and funding, as well as any upcoming or recent mergers or acquisitions. “When they acquire another [company] or when they become acquired, that’s a key time for them to have layoffs,” Steinhardt says. “In fact, every time I’ve been laid off from a company—which is three [times] now—it’s always been because I joined either as they were acquiring a company or being acquired.”

Employment trackers like WARNTracker and anonymous forums such as Fishbowl or Glassdoor are also great resources for figuring out if the company has had layoffs in the past and how they handled breaking the news to staff.

You’ll also want to get a sense of their growth, goals, and consumer audience. If they’re growing unusually fast or don’t have a clear business model, or their competitors or similar companies are experiencing layoffs, those could be red flags they’re next to make cuts. Additionally, a heavy investment in or lots of talk around AI could mean they plan to replace headcount with technology down the road.

On the flip side, green flags might include a diversified revenue stream, loyal customer base, and/or historically steady growth rate. “If the person you’re replacing got promoted internally, that’s certainly a good sign that they value their employees and continue to move them upwards,” Steinhardt adds.


Before going to the hiring manager, it’s worth trying to get in touch with someone who either works or has worked at the company. “Someone more at a peer level can be much more direct with you, and you with them,” Steinhardt says. They can also shed light on other important factors, such as culture or work-life balance.


When in the process you ask about layoffs depends on how you feel generally about the position, says career consultant Jenny Foss. If you have a lot of options on the table or aren’t desperate to leave your current role, you may approach this topic in the initial phone screen.

“But if you are somebody who wants to ensure that they feel great about you and your capabilities and your fit before you start asking tough questions, I would wait a little further,” Foss says, such as after you’ve gotten to know the hiring team or received an offer.


If you ask a hiring manager, “Do you expect layoffs in the future?” they’ll probably just brush it off or say, “Of course not.” This is why it’s key to ask more probing questions (backed by your pre-interview research) that highlight any risks associated with taking the job.

If the company just had layoffs, for example, you might ask: “What has changed in the business since you reduced staff that’s necessitated more hiring?” Or, if this is a backfill, you’ll want to ask why the previous employee left and where they went to gauge whether they were unhappy or sensed turmoil.

For a new position, you’ll want to know if the company is making a long-term investment, or will cut and run at the first sign of failure. You could ask, “How does this role fit into the company’s broader strategy or goals for the next year or next five years?”

And if the larger industry has taken a hit, it’s important to understand how they’re pivoting (or have pivoted) to stay afloat. For example, you could pose, “What safeguards have you put in place should there be another pandemic/economic downturn?”

Only you can decide if an answer around future layoffs is sufficient, or if a job’s perks outweigh its red flags. When you can, experts agree, be picky. “One bad job tends to follow another bad job,” Creely says.

The opportunities a role presents also often carry more weight than its longevity. “Thinking about how you can grow as a result of coming to this company rather than worrying about, are they going to lay you off, means that you’re just always positioned for getting to that next level no matter where you end up,” Steinhardt says.

Foss suggests if you’re really worried about joining a company that’s unstable, lean into the fear. In other words, think through all the possible outcomes—be it layoffs or something else, like a team restructuring or your boss leaving—and come up with a plan for each. “Play it out to the worst-case scenario and make some decisions well in advance of, ‘If this happens or if this happens again, here’s how I’m going to respond,’” she says.

Steinhardt adds that ultimately, while you can’t control what happens in your next job, you can control whether you let it psych you out of moving forward in your career. “The most important thing you can do is continue to improve your skills, continue to learn, and really dedicate yourself to bringing value back to the company.”

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