Even in a healthy economy, not all businesses are winners. Sometimes, even at successful companies that make money, changing priorities can result in adjustments to the workforce.

No matter what the reason, layoffs remain a reality that can impact careers. A layoff isn't the same as getting fired. The difference is that someone gets laid off when their company no longer needs the work they once provided. It can be a cold process -- especially at larger companies -- but if you think you might fall victim to a layoff, there are steps you can take.

A man leaves an office with a packed box.

A layoff can be an opportunity. Image source: Getty Images.

1. First, take a deep breath

Don't work yourself into a panic unless you have solid evidence your position may be in trouble. If a boss gave you a heads up or layoffs have been announced in your department without names attached, then you may have a valid reason to start making preparations. Still, just because there will be layoffs does not mean you are going to be laid off.

Don't panic, but be proactive and rational. For example, if you have seen past layoffs where the highest-paid people are the targets -- and you're a highly paid person -- then it's reasonable to prepare for what might happen.

Be rational and consider every move you make before you make it.

2. Consider a transfer

One of my close friends works for a very large company. He saw that layoffs were likely in the department he worked in, so he began looking at internal transfers. Ultimately, he moved to a department doing a job he did not particularly like. It wasn't an ideal situation, but he avoided being laid off, and eventually he moved again into a job he liked more.

3. Look to leave

It's easier to get a job when you have a job. In fact, research shows that employers are four times more likely to respond to your job application if you are already employed. That means it's important to start your search as soon as possible. Look for a job before layoffs start, and your search may well be shorter.

4. Make a deal

If you were ready to leave your job anyway, look at a potential layoff as an opportunity. Instead of waiting for your employer to take action, approach the company.

Schedule a meeting with human resources or your boss and tell them that you believe layoffs are coming. Offer to leave, but ask for generous severance, extended health benefits, a written recommendation, and other perks. Essentially, you are creating your own voluntary buyout package and helping your boss or human resources make one less tough choice. You may not get the perks you ask for, but if you were going to be laid off anyway, it does not hurt to try.

5. Activate your network

If you know a layoff is coming, make sure your professional and personal contacts know you'll soon be available. You don't have to be particularly subtle: You're looking for a job because you're expecting your current employer to let you go soon. Spread the word and you might be able to get some interviews or interest before the ax falls.

Don't just wait

The worst thing you can do in the face of an imminent layoff is nothing. At the very least make sure you get your resume in order, prepare a basic cover letter, and line up your references.

Keep your attitude as positive as you can, and remember that getting laid off is not your fault. You didn't get fired for something you did wrong. You fell victim to your company's mistakes, or market conditions that were not your fault.

Don't waste time feeling sorry for yourself. Take the steps you need to make sure you land on your feet, and turn a negative into a positive.

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