How to Not Get Fired or Laid Off in Corporate America

This post is about how not to get fired. It will not teach you how to be great at your job and excel in life. Just how to know if you’re at risk of getting fired and what to do about it. Eventually I’ll write some other posts about being awesome at your job.

How To Not Get Fired or Laid Off

The easiest way to not get fired is to recognize that you might get fired and start interviewing for a better gig instead. Then you can change jobs on your own terms, make more money, and hopefully not get fired from your new company, department, or team. The rest of this post is dedicated to teaching you how to know if you’re about to get fired, and then what to do about it.

A couple things that should be obvious

  • Don’t have sex with the intern (or skintern as one friend terms it) in the office supply area.
  • Don’t have sex with your boss in the bathroom.
  • Don’t vomit on the CEO at the Christmas party.

Basically, don’t be an idiot. If you’re an idiot, the rest of the advice in this post can’t help you.

Lesson 1: It’s not about you.

Not getting laid off or fired is actually fairly straight forward if A) You’re not an idiot (see above) and B) You are situationally aware of your environment. Let me explain:

Most of the time that someone gets laid off  in corporate America it’s not personal, it’s structural. It’s not that your boss doesn’t like you, but rather that the brand new gizmo R&D spent 4 years and billions building is a piece of junk and kills children in third world countries.

If you have a clear-eyed view of the structural environment around you, then you can see whether you are at risk and take steps to fix it. The good news is that it’s easy to figure out what’s going on. Here’s a step by step way to figure out if you’re likely to get fired. Because I like naming things, I call it “The Job Security Pyramid.”

Lesson 2: The Job Security Pyramid

How the pyramid works is simple. You answer the questions to progress up the levels. If at any point you stop progressing up the levels before reaching the top, then your job is at risk and you may be about to get fired. Sorry, that’s just how it works.

Job Security Pyramid

Pyramid Level 1: The Company

This question is first because it’s actually the most important. Companies that are growing and making lots of money can carry a lot of dead weight. Hopefully you aren’t dead weight, but if you are, a good company is actually a pretty good place to hide. Here is how to tell:

  • Is my company in a growing sector or industry?
  • Is my company the top 1 or 2 company in that sector?
  • Does my company have some unique advantage over the competition in our sector?
  • Is my company  participating in the latest and best trends in its space?
  • Is my company run by trustworthy and dependable leaders?
  • Do people pay my company on time?
  • Does my company pay its bills on time?

In short, would Warren Buffett invest in this company?

If your answer is “yes” to all or most of these, then proceed to the next level. You are probably not getting fired.

If the answer to a bunch of these is “no,” then I can pretty much guarantee your company is going to lay people off. It just will. It’ll cut costs and someone (maybe you) is going to get fired.

Pyramid Level 2: The Department

Is my department or function within the organization healthy? How to tell:

  • Does my department generate more money than it costs?
  • Is it integral to the strategic future of the company?
  • Is my department close to the revenue engine for the company? Translation: do we help create cash for the business.
  • Is it led by people who are trusted by executives?
  • Are the leaders directly tied into C-level leadership?
  • Is your department hiring?
  • Has your team been meeting whatever public, numeric performance measures management uses?

If you answer answer is “yes” to all or most of these, then proceed to the next level. You are probably not getting fired.

If the answer to a bunch of these is “no,” then it’s time to update your LinkedIn photo. If you’re in Austin, I know a great photographer.

Pyramid Level 3: The Team

Is my team a high performing team within our department? How to tell:

  • Does your team know accurate gossip and company news before other teams?
  • Is your boss on a path to be promoted?
  • Do other departments say nice things about your team during bullshit sessions?
  • Has your team been entrusted with a special or pet project lately?
  • Has your team been meeting whatever public, numeric performance measures management uses?
  • Does your team make or save more money than it costs?

If you answer answer is “yes” to all or most of these, then proceed to the next level. You are probably not getting fired.

If the answer to a bunch of these is “no,” then it’s time to get a new interview suit. I’ve heard Suit Supply and Knot Standard are nice.

Pyramid Level 4: Your Performance

Am I good at my job? How to tell:

  • If I quit, would it take more than 12 weeks to replace me fully? (Be honest.)
  • Is what I do aligned to the strategy of the company and how it makes money?
  • Am I trusted with special projects on a regular basis?
  • Am I relied upon to hit ‘unmissable’ deadlines when others might be equally qualified?
  • Have I suggested and then taken an initiative to a successful conclusion in the last 3 months?

If your answer answer is “yes” to all or most of these, then proceed to the next level. You are probably not getting fired.

If the answer to a bunch of these is “no,” then it’s time to print up some resumes. Have you tried thick linen paper? It’s nice.

Pyramid Level 5: Your Personality  

Do people like me? How to tell:

  • Do people come to me for help solving tricky problems?
  • Do people confide in me on their work issues and needs?
  • Do I get invited to do stuff outside of work by my coworkers?
  • Do I participate in stuff outside of work with my coworkers?
  • Am I friends on social media with my coworkers?

If your answer answer is “yes” to all or most of these, then you win! You are almost definitely not getting fired. You can probably ask for a raise.

Lesson 3: Things Change

Did you make it to the top of the pyramid? Awesome. Congratulations. Now go ask for more money….

… but not so fast.

First, put a reminder in your phone or something to go through the pyramid in 3 months and then again every 3 months for as long as you work in corporate America. Never forget that things change. Competitors make new moves. Bosses change. Technology changes. You and your performance change. The all star employee in the all star team at the all star company can get fired 6 months later. It happens, and more often than you think.

Conclusion

Hopefully this helps you know where you stand and not get fired.

If you’ve thought real hard and are pretty sure you’re at risk, don’t despair. There’s a lot you can do about it. We’ll discuss all those things in future posts, but for now take some simple advice – if you didn’t make it to the top of the pyramid, start thinking about how to get there, or start looking for a new gig.

Not tomorrow. Today.

First Post – Why this blog exists.

Hi,

My name is Brian Kotlyar. I am completely normal.

By some people’s standards I’m successful (I have a good job, I own a home, I have a positive net worth, I’m reasonably healthy, and for the most part people appear to like me).

By some people’s standards I haven’t done much (I’m not rich, I’m single, I can’t compete at a world class level in any sports or hobbies).

Why do I think I have the right to blog / your attention?

Well, for some reason people keep asking me for advice. I’m going to take that as an indication that what I say is at least somewhat interesting and valuable. Also, this stuff is free, and if you don’t want to read it you don’t have to.

On this blog I will write about how to get out of your 20s in decent financial, psychological, and physical shape.

So that:

A) I can share it with people that might need help.

B) I have some record of things I thought to laugh at and/or appreciate on my death bed.

That’s about it.

If you have anything to tell me you can reach me on twitter @bkotlyar or via e-mail at brian at briankotlyar dot com.

Love and kisses.