Last In, First Out? Not Necessarily - 6 Ways to Avoid the Chopping Block

Aug 29, 2023

When a candidate is considering a career change, there is often one concern that holds them back: “What if I become a victim of Last In, First Out?” It’s a common belief that if there are economic headwinds or a company hits a rough patch, it’s inevitable that they will lay off the most recent crop of hires. This phenomenon is also called “Last Hired, First Fired.” But the truth is, if a company has an A-player on their team, most are going to do everything in their power to retain that person, even in difficult times – regardless of when they were hired.

So what makes an “A-player,” or someone companies won’t be willing to let go of? The definition of a top employee varies from company to company and industry to industry, but there are a few characteristics and habits that can help make any employee an invaluable asset:

Do: Build Strong Relationships

One of the best ways to become an irreplaceable employee is to build great relationships at work. During the average employee’s life, they will spend 90,000 hours at work, and that commitment is much easier to manage when you work with people you like. Get to know your coworkers, managers, direct reports, and even employees in different areas of the company. When you make an effort to get to know the people you work with, they notice, and it can increase the likelihood that they’ll want to continue working with you. More importantly, strong working relationships can help improve employee engagement, productivity, and retention by ensuring that employees are happy and feel supported at work.

Don’t: Be a Poor Teammate

Every job, even individual contributor roles, involves teamwork. Whether you’re working with a team on a project, consulting with an executive on an initiative, or sharing office space with someone, it’s important to be a positive, supportive, and helpful teammate. Avoid bringing a “that’s not my job attitude” to work, engaging in office gossip, or being inconsiderate to your coworkers or others. No one is perfect, but if you make an effort to help the people around you and have a positive attitude, you’re more likely to be retained even when cutbacks are needed.

Do: Be an Ideal Team Player

Organizational health expert Patrick Lencioni defines the “Ideal Team Player” as someone who is hungry, humble, and smart. In short, “hungry” employees are eager to learn, grow, and take on new challenges; “humble” employees have low ego and are happy to share credit and put the team first; and “smart” employees are able to work with others effectively and display emotional intelligence. In any industry and any role, employees with these qualities help their teams thrive, and someone who is hungry, humble, and smart can easily become indispensable to their organizations.

Don’t: Neglect the Fundamentals

It’s easy to get caught up in ways to be a high performer and successfully navigate complex team dynamics. But in your quest to be excellent, don’t neglect the fundamentals of career success: be punctual, work diligently, and master the technical aspects of your job. In short, remember that professionalism and having a strong foundation of skills and successes in your role are critical components of being an A-player, so don’t let those fall by the wayside as you pursue higher-level successes.

Do: Make Money, Save Money, Solve Problems

Companies want employees who can make money, save money, and solve problems for the organization. If you’re new to an organization, you may not have had a lot of time to prove yourself and make significant, tangible contributions to the company’s success. However, if you have a proven track record of accomplishing those goals in previous roles, your current employer likely hired you for that strong potential – and will want to retain you for the same reason. In every job you have throughout your career, do your best work, and pay attention to the times when you are able to make money, save money, and solve problems. Keep your resume and project lists up to date with your accomplishments so that your potential will be clear to employers even if you’ve only been with a company for a few weeks or months.

Don’t: Panic

In a situation where layoffs are possible, it’s important not to assume you’ll be affected. If you come to work with a negative outlook on your career, your work and attitude might suffer, and that concern might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, no matter what the economic or workplace climate is like, the best thing you can do is show up every day, work hard, and be confident that you’re a valuable asset to your organization. After all, even if you are laid off, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world so take steps to prepare yourself but don’t let your fear affect your job performance.

Many candidates worry that “Last In, First Out” is a hard-and-fast rule that companies will follow in the event of financial challenges. In reality, however, most companies are going to want to keep their best employees, even if those employees are relatively new. By observing these six do’s and don’ts, employees of any tenure can feel more secure in their roles, and candidates can be more confident in taking on new job opportunities.

About the Author

Todd Chandler

Todd joined Kimmel & Associates in 2007. His relationships have allowed him to successfully complete high-level executive searches for many leading construction companies, as well as Fortune 500 companies across multiple disciplines of the construction industry.

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