By Daniel Burke
2022 is quickly becoming a major economic tragedy for big tech companies, with many claiming to be at their lowest point in decades. This has led to a huge increase in layoffs by these companies. Some businesses have dropped as much as a fifth of their staff, with one extreme case cutting half of its employees earlier this year. To make things worse, this is a global issue. While many of the massive layoffs discussed in the news occurred in the United States, there are reports from all around the world of tech companies cutting employees and freezing hiring. This marks a distinct shift from the past couple of years, when big tech organizations had so much money that their staff counts were skyrocketing to keep up with the booming market. So why did things change so suddenly and, more importantly, why should you care?
Navigating Layoffs as F-1 International Students or H-1B Visa Holders
The great layoffs of the tech industry should matter to you because those companies are some of the most common sponsors for H-1B visas. Over the past few decades, a sort of mutually beneficial relationship has formed between big tech companies and foreign workers. Many tech businesses were heavily reliant on people searching for H-1B sponsorship to fill up their staff.
When it comes to Tech talent in the US, the number of graduate students in Computer and Information sciences has more than tripled since 1998. This student population has become more and more critical to the economy due to the skill shortage in the US.
Unfortunately, due to job cuts and hiring freezes of many large tech companies, a large number of visa holders have been laid off and their clocks have started ticking. There is a 60-day grace period to find a new sponsor or they will have to leave the country. This grace period can also be cut short if the end of the laid-off person’s authorized validity period on their petition approval would occur before 60 days had passed. For example, if your I-797 petition approval would end before your 60-day grace period, the grace period would be shortened to the validity period listed on the I-797 approval notice.
Also worth noting is that what you are required and able to do during the 60-day grace period is heavily dependent on what type of visa you have (i.e. H-1B, O-1, L-1A, etc.) One of the best things you can do at a time like this is to arm yourself with any and all tools available. If you are an F-1 International Student who’s working on OPT and got laid off, please make sure that you stay engaged with your International Student Services Office to ensure you are not out of your F-1 status. If you are an H-1B holder, please ensure that you reach out to a skilled immigration lawyer with good reviews to discuss your options. Please also start looking for a community of international students to be part of so that you don’t need to feel you’re going through this alone.
Advice for Job and Visa Seeking During the Tech Layoff Era
Job seekers during this massive layoff era need to keep in mind that the competition in that industry is going to be more intense as there are more experienced candidates available in the job market.
That is not to say that it is impossible to get into the tech industry, or to get a visa sponsorship through a tech company during these volatile times. It just means that it is more difficult now than it was.
Is the US Job Market Failing?
On Friday, November 11, 2022, during the ICAway Weekly Group Coaching Session, Coach Kwan discussed facts and data about the current job market and helped her F-1 international students navigate job searching during this massive tech layoff era.
Coach Kwan first reminded the students about the job market we experienced back in 2020, when life as we knew it changed. There was suddenly a massive pandemic. Everything had to be shut down. It was all very scary. At ICAway, we are empowering our students for job searching. She monitored the number of job posts on LinkedIn on a weekly basis to make sure that the students were well-informed about what industry is hiring.
From this graph, you can see that in 2020, the number of job posts on LinkedIn is usually below 1 million jobs a week. There were only 11 weeks that they were above 1 million job posts. The bottom of the job opening was at 608,000 posts per week nationwide.
The job market during the pandemic was the lowest in the decade. However, many of her students at ICAway were able to find their dream jobs like Shazman Khan, an international student from India. He only had a few years of work experience back in India and it wasn’t easy in the beginning looking for jobs as an international student. But After he rebranded his LinkedIn, a recruiter from Amazon reached out to him without him applying for that job online. Shazman finally secured his dream job as a program manager before his graduation in April of 2020. Fernanda Garcia, a non-STEM international student from Ecuador, whose internship got rescinded due to the pandemic, finally turned around the situation and earned her full-time job with a great salary in the Financial Services industry.
The question is what about now? Are we at the bottom of the job market like during the pandemic?
The answer is no. The number of weekly job openings on Nov 11, 2022, was 1,889,039 jobs on LinkedIn. However, we can see that compared to the number of weekly job posts in the tech industry back in Nov 2022, the number of new job openings in the Tech industry dropped to 82,800 jobs that week which usually stays above 100,000 job posts a week since 2020.
Outsized Growth of Tech Companies Spurred on by the Pandemic
At that time, tech companies managed to profit off of the situation. The answer to how they did it is surprisingly simple: it’s because they saw more use than ever. Think of what the coronavirus pandemic caused you and most others to do. People did not want to go out unless they absolutely had to. Most in-person jobs either shut down or greatly reduced their staff to try and keep up with the sharp decrease in customers. Everyone that could was staying home because the outside world no longer felt safe. This naturally led to an increase in a number of services provided by big tech corporations. Schools went remote, so students were buying computers, laptops, and smartphones that could support software like Zoom. More people were ordering food and groceries via delivery through applications like Doordash and Instacart to reduce the risk of infection. Online markets like Amazon saw more use as people became less willing to make purchases in-person.
Fast forward to late 2020 and 2021, and suddenly these tech companies that were facing the same economic troubles as most businesses were seeing more use than they had in years. This led to an explosion in their staff size as they created many job openings to keep up with the booming industry. These tech companies also spent much of their seemingly unending fortune on advertising on online platforms, such as Google and Facebook, which were also seeing more use during the pandemic era. In short, during the pandemic big tech companies were the most successful they had ever been. The question becomes, then, what changed? What happened in 2022 to cause these unimaginably rich tech companies to suddenly turtle up and downsize?
First, let’s look at the statistics to give a better understanding of the situation. Keep in mind that while all of these events, many are fairly recent, even occurring in the past few days or weeks. Twitter cut approximately 3,700 jobs, effectively halving its workforce. Meta, the parent organization dropped roughly 11,000 employees. Despite the big number, though, that was only about 13% of their total staff. Lyft cut the same percentage, but only actually dropped about 700 jobs. Stipe dropped roughly 1,100 employees. Coinbase fired around 1,100 as well. Shopify expelled about 1,000 workers. Netflix ejected 450 jobs in two phases: 150 in May and 300 in June. Microsoft axed about 1,000 people, but is a big enough organization that it only lost about 1% of its total workforce. Snap cut around 1,000 jobs, which made up roughly 20% of their total numbers. Robinhood did two waves of expulsions this year: 9% of their staff in April, then 23% in August. Chim cut around 160 jobs earlier this year. Tesla, which is notably now managed by the same CEO as Twitter, Elon Musk, dropped around 10% of its employees. The biggest layoffs from any tech company, though, come from Amazon. They axed roughly 10,000 employees and also shut down a majority of their facilities across the United States. So the question remains: what happened?
There were a number of reasons the higher-ups of these big tech companies gave for their actions, but close inspection reveals several in common. Twitter CEO Elon Musk claimed that Twitter was losing millions in revenue each day. Lyft CEO Logan Green and President John Zimmer were concerned about a predicted recession and rideshare insurance costs. Stripe CEO Patrick Collison made reference to rising inflation, a predicted recession, higher interest rates, energy shocks, tighter investment budgets, and sparser startup funding when giving reason for the company’s actions. The CEO of Coinbase, Brian Armstrong, feared a possible recession and sought ways to manage costs for a company that was growing too quickly. Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke claimed to have misjudged how long the pandemic-driven e-commerce boom would last. Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev blamed inflation. Amazon claimed that their decisions were made based on slowing sales.
There are two ideas that occur in most of these explanations: the end of the tech boom and an uncertain economic future. Let’s break these down. The tech boom, as explained previously, is when major e-commerce groups gained enormous amounts of profit during the pandemic. This was caused by an increased need for the services they provided.
Now that life is returning more to the way it was before the pandemic, though, that increased need is going away. Suddenly many of these tech companies are seeing their sales drop by a significant margin and are trying to do anything they can to minimize losses caused by this change. This is representative of a pattern throughout economic history: for every rise, there must be a fall. What can be learned from this is to be cautious when an organization suddenly strikes its rich and gains a massive profit seemingly out of nowhere because that success is not going to last. The idea of an uncertain economic future is a bit more complicated. You may have noticed that a certain word was thrown around in a few of the CEO’s responses: “recession.”
A recession refers to any time in which there is a significant decrease in economic activity for an extended period of time, such as months or even years. Symptoms of a recession can include a rising percentage of unemployed people and decreases in retail purchases. Many believed that the pandemic would cause a recession in the United States, and in many ways it did, but not all were affected. Big tech companies even managed to grow during that time, but now that is over so they have to make changes to survive the new economic conditions. These changes have become more intense due to the prediction of a recession during 2023, regardless of whether that turns out to be true. So, to summarize the reasoning behind big tech companies’ sudden shift in practice, they grew greatly during the pandemic but now that that is over the companies are paying for their extravagant choices.
Your Strategy to Look for Jobs in the Tech Layoff Era
Given all of the volatility in the tech job market, how can one possibly hope to get hired?
Remember if the large tech companies are not hiring, there are other industries that are hiring. Careers in public, health and financial services are all relatively stable and recession resistant. For international students, your strategy remains the same: find jobs that are hard to fill in the U.S. such as data analysts, scientists, and engineers.
What about the company size? According to research done by the ADP, industry-leading online payroll and HR solutions, small and medium-sized companies have been greatly increasing their number of employees while large companies have been downsizing.
ICAway students still receive job offers during this tech layoff era. What are the formulas they’re using? Two keys to success in the United States job market: career branding and networking. Having a brand will help you showcase your skills and abilities to meet your target employer’s needs. Networking skills will help you engage people to advocate for you and help you get a position at your desired workplace.
Many hiring managers that we speak to say the same thing about candidates who stood out.
They do research about the company and the role. Know what a company’s goals are and understand how your role will contribute to the company’s mission. The information gained from such research can be incredibly useful in an interview since you will know what the interviewer is looking for in a candidate and be able to show your interest in the company. Aside from that, you can also find out if the company has a history of sponsoring visas, laying people off, finding economic success, or any number of other important things. Networking could be an intimidating process for any international student. However, when you change your mindset from pitching yourself to being interested in the person you’re talking to, the intimidating networking process could turn into a meaningful process. 80% of jobs out there are in the hidden job market and networking will help you tap into this hidden job market.
This tech layoff era will make it even harder to get results when applying online as there are many experienced candidates out there. When you submit a resume, employers will only be able to see the skills and experiences you have put on there. However, when you network, you will get the opportunity to share your stories that go beyond a piece of paper. Don’t limit your opportunity by only applying online.
Aim to be more than just another nameless job applicant. Being recognizable to other people, especially those higher up in the company than you, can be greatly helpful in getting promoted and in not getting laid off. Remember that when a company hires you, they are hiring more than just your skillset. They are hiring YOU! So make sure to show them that they made the correct choice.