Vulnerability is having a moment on the platform as mass layoffs hit the tech industry.
By Shirin Ghaffary and Rani Molla
When Rob Fishman, a former account executive at a tech startup, was laid off in January, he wasn’t sure how to talk about it.
Even though tens of thousands of tech employees at startups like his — and at major tech companies like Google, Meta, and Microsoft (which owns LinkedIn) — were being laid off, there was still, he said, a stigma attached to talking about it.
But he wanted people to know he was in the market for a new job, so he decided to post on LinkedIn.
Fishman wrote a lighthearted, self-deprecating post listing out everything he did on the day he was let go (For instance, read the email that he was laid off, call his fiancé, wallow in self-pity for a while, drink a large margarita, drink another large margarita, edit his résumé).
The post ended up getting more than 40,000 views, nearly 500 likes, and, most surprisingly, a bunch of offers of support from people he’d never met.
“It was complete and total LinkedIn strangers. Just completely altruistic people. Not hiring managers,” said Fishman, who said he had six job interviews in the two weeks after being laid off — and all of those opportunities came from LinkedIn.
In the past several months, as changing economic conditions, overhiring, and stock market drops have led to mass layoffs in tech, media, and other industries, vulnerability is having a moment on LinkedIn. It’s true that, early in the pandemic, many people turned to LinkedIn to share stories about how lockdown was negatively impacting their jobs. For the most part, though, the professional social networking site has long had a reputation for being a place where people go to boast about their career accomplishments, posting “hustle porn” and inspirational platitudes. Now, the tone has shifted. People are sharing their personal layoff stories more prominently on LinkedIn, especially if they’re tech workers.
Recode spoke with over half a dozen tech professionals who never regularly used the platform but are suddenly finding it more relevant for their professional and even personal lives. They’re using LinkedIn to announce they’ve been laid off, find out who among their former colleagues was also let go, and connect with industry peers who are sharing job leads. Importantly, they’re applying to jobs directly on the site.
Suddenly, LinkedIn has become a very popular social media platform for tech workers during this economic slump, and that’s reflected in the numbers. Web analytics firm SimilarWeb found that monthly traffic to LinkedIn grew more than 60 percent from January 2020 to January 2023, and from December 2022 to January it went up 17 percent. LinkedIn saw record user engagement last quarter, and a 10 percent increase in revenue year over year. As of early February, 18.6 million people have added an “open to work” green photo frame to their LinkedIn profile photos, up from 6 million in February last year (users first got the option in 2020), according to LinkedIn.
“It was an unwritten assumption before that job-seeking has to be as private as possible,” said Rohan Rajiv, director of product management for careers at LinkedIn, reflecting on the mood at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 when a wave of Covid-related layoffs hit a number of industries. “I think what has changed is that this has become more the norm now. There is a complete destigmatization.”
The recent growth in layoff talk is also part of a seismic shift for a whole generation of tech employees who have only known abundance, perks, and seemingly unlimited growth in their sector. Suddenly, many of them are out of a job and realizing they need to pivot — maybe even away from tech. And for many, LinkedIn is a starting point to make that change.
Why people want to talk about being laid off on LinkedIn
For many tech professionals who once rarely used LinkedIn, the platform has become a helpful place to share about their situation, especially after they’ve been cut off from internal work communication channels like Slack or workplace listservs. They’re also turning to the platform at a time when some industry people who used to build a professional presence on Twitter seem to be using that network less.
Before the current tech slump, if you worked at a Big Tech company or hot startup where job security was high and cash was free-flowing, you probably didn’t feel the need to post regularly on LinkedIn to boost your career. Everything changed after this recent wave of layoffs.
Neha Krishna worked for eight years at Google, hiring graduating PhD students for the company. She said she was always a top performer on her team who felt well-rewarded for her work. She loved working at Google.
“I was absolutely living a dream,” Krishna told Recode.
Then, in late January, she was laid off along with 12,000 of her colleagues — via email. She was quickly cut off from Google’s many internal communication tools, like email groups and meme-sharing sites where she could talk to her coworkers.
Without access to those channels, Krishna didn’t have a good sense of who was let go and which teams were most affected. So she went on LinkedIn, where she saw post after post of former colleagues sharing that they too had been laid off. She was surprised by the breadth of the cuts and the fact that even well-respected company leaders had also lost their jobs.
“It’s comforting to know that you’re not alone, and it has nothing to do with you. It’s more the company,” said Krishna. “When you get into that mentality, I feel like it’s easier to go and publicly announce that, ‘hey, I was laid off too.’”
While other social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok are also popular with tech workers, Krishna and several other industry professionals who recently lost their jobs said that LinkedIn seemed to be the place they could actually network.
Many said that Twitter — which famously leans snarky — didn’t feel supportive or like a place where many people would earnestly help each other find jobs. On TikTok, some tech workers have been posting videos documenting their life before versus after being laid off — but those videos aren’t leading to traditional networking opportunities the way LinkedIn posts often do. Krishna said she uses TikTok and Instagram a lot but sees them more as places for socializing with friends and entertainment rather than seeking professional support.
Now, Krishna regularly posts or comments on other people’s updates on LinkedIn. She hasn’t found a new job yet but, like many others, Krishna said it’s comforting to be on LinkedIn so she can swap notes with peers, get job referrals, and even give advice to other tech workers who have also recently been laid off. She said she was pleasantly surprised that people still working at Google found her on LinkedIn and offered to refer her to other positions.
“I truly believe that human beings naturally want to help others,” said Krishna. “People no longer think, like, ‘oh, you know, I have my job and I should just stay quiet or stay put.’” LinkedIn is a space where people feel it’s socially acceptable — and even encouraged — to lend a hand to former colleagues.
Not everyone wants to be professionally vulnerable on LinkedIn
Even though LinkedIn has become a place where people are more comfortable sharing, there are limits to the vulnerability people show and what kinds of posts are successful. Not every layoff post gets attention, and some lead nowhere. And for some, the pressure to post on LinkedIn can itself become a major source of stress.
After Rob Fishman posted his LinkedIn note about drinking margaritas and wallowing in self-pity after losing a job, he wrote a follow-up post about the upsides of sharing his layoff situation on LinkedIn and encouraged others to do the same. That post went viral, too.
A recently laid-off tech industry peer, software architect Robb Miller, wasn’t having the same experience.
Miller’s posts about being laid off — which were also vulnerable but more straightforward and less humorous — didn’t attract much attention. They hadn’t connected him to any job leads. So he decided to comment on Fishman’s latest post, saying as much.
“I was being a smartass. I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s sweet that you [Fishman] are yelling from an ivory tower, but the rest of us weren’t getting this kind of traction,’” he told Recode.
Ironically, Miller’s comment on Fishman’s viral post ended up catching the attention of LinkedIn strangers who did connect Miller with some job leads — so in a way, it turned into another LinkedIn layoff success story (although Miller ended up accepting a job offer shortly after from a different lead).
But it also shows how successful networking on Linkedin after a layoff isn’t a given. It can depend on the whims of the algorithm and how well your post is primed for engagement, just like many other social media platforms.
Kayla Lazenby started using LinkedIn a lot several years ago when she wanted to transition from being a teacher to working in education technology. She successfully used the platform to find a job at a startup. When she was laid off from that job around Thanksgiving last year, she said her layoff post landed on the LinkedIn feed of an executive at another tech company. Even though she didn’t know that executive, they were impressed by her resumé and ended up hiring her.
Lazenby said it helped that she already had a strong presence on LinkedIn. She was more than just a “casual consumer” but instead an “active user” who shared her story and personality on the site. Her experience shows how, for many, sharing about being laid off on LinkedIn isn’t just about being authentic: There’s a strategy to it.
“None of the people who are doing this are foolish about the fact that they’re doing this on a public forum that will be seen by future employers,” said Emily Rose McRae, a director of research at Gartner who leads the firm’s future of work research center. McRae said she noticed that most laid-off tech employees are careful not to publicly slam their former employer, even though tensions were high around the mass layoffs. “It’s still LinkedIn; it’s still primarily a professional network.”
Gabi Weinberg, who works part time at tech venture firm Atento Capital, said that even though there’s less stigma attached to being open for work than before, he prefers to use LinkedIn in a more private capacity by sending direct messages to companies he’s interested in working with.
Weinberg said that if you’re not working for a big-name company like Google or Facebook, your layoff could be seen as less publicly “marketable.” He also said he personally didn’t feel comfortable sharing as much publicly on the platform as some others.
“It seems more culturally appropriate to share if you were laid off at a big tech company, whereas, if you’re at a mom-and-pop or smaller company, it’s not the same,” he said.
Other people Recode spoke to acknowledged that the feeling of having to post on LinkedIn can be a burden during an already stressful time.
“I think there’s a pressure built around LinkedIn, that you say you’re open to a job and if you’re not scrolling 24/7, you might miss that one post, and you miss an opportunity to apply,” said Lazenby, who said she gave herself a day to be sad and ignore social media after being laid off before she posted about it.
A big question, though, is what happens when people get tired of talking about layoffs and stop offering help — what Gartner’s McRae called “compassion fatigue.” Already, some LinkedIn users Recode talked to complained about the constant stream of sad news about layoffs appearing on their feed all the time. Or what happens when there’s no longer an economic downturn and people find new jobs and have less of an incentive to use LinkedIn?
While LinkedIn is finding more ways to keep people on its site — showing them more news and investing in career influencers — it is still a social network framed squarely around careers.
“Our vision has been for economic opportunity. We’re not here for the extra clicks,” said LinkedIn’s Rajiv. “The easiest mode of expansion would be cat videos, right? That’s not the goal. The goal is to help people grow, learn, and find their next job.”
So far, that goal seems to be working out well for LinkedIn — at least during this period of great economic uncertainty in tech.