November 2, 2023

I was recently laid off by my startup. What should I do?

Sifted’s new advice columnist, Zoe Hewitt, talent director at Sequoia, answers your questions

Zoe Hewitt

4 min read

"I was recently laid off by the startup I was working for. What should I do to make sure I can land another role at an early-stage company with a big mission?"

Being made redundant is disruptive, unsettling and upsetting. But sadly redundancies have become part of life in European tech, with more than 40k people laid off since the beginning of our current economic downturn.

If it happens to you, it’s important to spend some time processing the transition and what it means for your path forward. It’s not uncommon for confidence and career clarity to take a knock when a job at a company you loved suddenly comes to an end.


Before jumping into role applications, I recommend taking a moment to reflect and rebuild. This ‘pre-work’ is not just a feel-good exercise; it will almost certainly help you put your strongest foot forward. 

As crushing as it feels at the time, every ‘no’ moves you closer to the next right opportunity

It’s important to build a strong career narrative. In hiring markets where there is a surplus of available skilled talent, it is more important than ever to make yourself stand out from the crowd.

Don’t rely on a CV to tell your story. Rather, aim to build a crisp, compelling elevator pitch on who you are and what you do best. Sit down somewhere outside of your normal environment and run through your entire career to date, with something to take notes on.

Your aim is to distil some key narrative anchors:

  • Themes: find the common link between companies you’ve worked at and roles you’ve held that spans beyond your domain/function expertise. For example, for my own list, I might jot down: discovering outlier talent, building 0-1, founder support, network building, coaching.
  • Experience and impact: highlight the biggest achievements and inflection points that you’ve had along the way. Be specific and focus on examples that illustrate building skills and impact in an early-stage environment.
  • Strengths: identify your spikes — the things you are exceptionally good at and get energy from. There are a number of free online strengths-finders that you can explore such as the High5 Test. Your non-strengths don’t need to feature in your pitch, but it’s worth mapping your gaps as you will almost always be asked about these in interviews.
  • Purpose and values: reflect on what is important to you in life. This will help you filter which company missions will stand out and align with you personally.

On the role search itself, start with who you know. For better or worse, network introductions and references carry a lot of weight in the startup ecosystem. Comb through your LinkedIn and reach out to people who might be connectors to opportunities.

Founders and people who work at VCs can be particularly strong contacts to re-engage. Share your newly tightened elevator pitch so that you’re top of their mind. 

Be ultra-targeted in your research and outreach. A good place to start is by searching the technology, business or consumer trends that interest you most and finding market maps that pool interesting companies into a landscape. Portfolio pages on VC websites is another place to view many companies at once.

If you’re looking for a more personalised experience, recommendation platforms like Otta may be helpful. Don’t be afraid to send a cold email to the founder/CEO of a company that interests you. Avoid generic cover-letter style emails and instead send a short, personal pitch and ask for a 15-minute intro call. You’d be surprised how many times you will receive a response. 

How to talk about redundancy 

Most companies in the tech sector are aware of the wider context that has led to recent redundancies, but it’s also a good idea to prepare how to address this question in interviews. Speak clearly about the business mandate you were hired for, how that changed over the course of your tenure and the reasons why.

For example — you were hired to launch a new market, but expansion plans were put on hold after the company needed to reduce burn and focus on its core market, eliminating the need for your team.

Highlight your impact along the way — even the projects that were not seen through to the end. Sharing how you navigated tougher times reframes a failure narrative to one that showcases your resilience and grit.


Lastly, don’t be disheartened by rejection. In hiring markets like these you should expect it to take a while to land the next role.

It requires real effort to drum up a pipeline of interesting opportunities — I often say that finding a job can be a full-time job in itself.

As crushing as it feels at the time, every ‘no’ moves you closer to the next right opportunity. 

Zoe will be answering questions from Sifted readers each month. Have something you want to ask? Reach out at askzoe@sifted.eu

Zoe Hewitt

Zoe Hewitt is talent director at Sequoia.