We know that being laid off can color the way you perceive your next job—you’re much more likely to quit it—but how does it change the way future employers see you?
The answer is that it depends. Having a layoff in your past can help you or hurt you, depending on the personality traits of the person looking at your resume.
After spiking by 20 percent during the recession of 2008 through 2010, the country’s layoff rate is back to normal, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But layoffs are still common in many industries. Since 1994, more than 30 million people have been laid off. It’s not a rare experience for people in the working world, and it forces them back into job search mode.
One study by a group of researchers from Purdue University aimed to figure out how laid-off job hunters fare compared to those who haven’t been. It asked participants to evaluate the resumes of two fictional job applicants applying for a position as a bank manager. One applicant had been laid off from his last job “due to unforeseen economic conditions” at his last company, the other had recently relocated and was looking for a job in his new city.
The participants were asked who they would choose for the job—the laid-off candidate or the relocated candidate. They were also asked a series of questions to evaluate how fair they believe the world to be: If they think that people generally get what they deserve, that people’s efforts are noticed and rewarded and that society is fair, for example. (The full list of questions is a test used regularly in psychological research to gauge this type of worldview.)
Overall, the relocated candidate was given preference by the group, the researchers found. But once they broke the numbers down by the lens through which the participants see the world, that changed. The people who were more inclined to think the world is an unfair place said they’d prefer to hire the person who has been laid off. They sympathized with that applicant more than the one who had relocated. Those who were more inclined to believe in the fairness of the world thought he must have been laid off through some fault of his own, despite being given the information that he’d lost his job due to budget cuts.
Being laid off is lousy for your feelings of self-worth and can even impact your physical health. But if it happens to you, it doesn’t mean your career is over or that it won’t go in the direction you wanted it to. It might just come down to the type of person you end up connecting with during your job hunt. Cast a wide net, and you’re likely to find a hiring manager who gets what you’ve been through.