After losing their jobs at one of Seattle’s biggest tech companies, some workers find themselves facing an unexpected question: Do you want to return to the company that just let you go?
There’s a catch. Those offers, from third-party recruiters eager to place workers at the companies they just left, are for contract positions rather than staff positions. They would come with an end date, a lower salary, no benefits and no stock options.
For workers the messages range from insensitive to insulting.
“We all just got the shock of our life, the last thing I need is for you to continue to ask me to go to a company that just let me go,” said one former Microsoft worker who was laid off in March and asked to remain anonymous during the job hunt.
Another worker who was laid off from Amazon in January and also asked to remain anonymous out of concern for future job prospects said they’ve heard from several recruiters looking specifically for people with Amazon experience.
In one response, the former Amazonian passed this message to the recruiter: “Tell Amazon if they want an engineer, they can just not fire me later this month.”
Tech companies, including Amazon and Microsoft, often supplement their own recruiting efforts with third-party firms that help find interested and qualified candidates for new roles, particularly contract positions. These recruiters haven’t stopped even as those same tech companies continue to lay off workers. Amazon has cut 27,000 jobs since November while Microsoft has announced plans to eliminate 10,000 roles this year.
Because companies and recruiters cast such a wide net, workers who were recently cut are still getting caught in the pool of potential candidates — whether they want to be or not.
After the pink slip, came a crush of recruiters reaching out to offer new positions, said the former Microsoft worker. One recruiter continuously told them “you’d be perfect for Microsoft.” The worker said they had to explain to the recruiter three times that they weren’t going to move from a full-time role to a contract position.
“I loved what I did. I loved the company,” the worker said. “I don’t have anything negative to say. If something internally came up, I would have been open to it — but I do have a sense of pride. There’s no way I want to go back … making half the amount.”
From the recruiter’s point of view, reaching out to workers with past experience at the same company makes sense — even if they’ve recently been laid off.
Lawrence Dearth, the president of staffing company Insight Global, said the average recruiter is simply hoping to make contact with a talented individual. After the initial contact, they’ll ship the worker’s resume out to 10 to 15 different companies.
“Maybe one of them was the company you just got laid off from, but there could be 14 others,” Dearth said.
On top of that, tech companies often ask recruiters to find workers who have already worked at their company, particularly when hiring for a contract position that would require a worker to get up to speed quickly, said Nabeel Chowdhury, senior vice president at recruiting firm 24 Seven Talent.
That’s what happened with the former Amazon worker. One recruiter sent a message that began “Reaching out to see if you might be open to returning to Amazon on a contract position?”
A spokesperson for Amazon said the company may engage contract workers to support short-term or project-specific work, or when specialty skills are required. Contract workers are not meant to replace full-time employees, the spokesperson added.
The company could not comment on the specific message received by the former employee based on the information provided by The Seattle Times, the spokesperson said.
Since it first froze hiring in November, Amazon has said it will continue to hire in some cases, including to backfill some roles and to grow teams in “some targeted places,” according to a note from Beth Galetti, Amazon’s senior vice president for human resources.
Amazon has prioritized placing employees who were impacted by the layoffs into open roles, the spokesperson said.
Microsoft declined to comment for this story. The company has long relied on contractors to help supplement the work of its employees. At one point several years ago, Microsoft had more than 70,000 vendors. It’s not clear how many contractors Microsoft works with today.
Companies think of full-time and contract roles as two different buckets of the budget, said Albert Squiers, the managing director at Fuel Talent and a recruiter who works mostly with software engineers. Companies might turn to contractors amid layoffs because “at the end of the day, the teams and the products still need the work done,” he said.
“Employees are, in most cases, the most expensive resource,” Squiers said. The top objective is to get costs and spending under control.
When contacting workers who have been laid off — or those who are worried about job cuts coming — recruiters face a range of responses, Chowdhury from 24 Seven said. And it’s especially hard to gauge how someone might respond to the first message.
Some people respond, “thank you so much for reaching out, I need a job, let’s talk today,” Chowdhury said. Others say, “You are so insensitive, I just got laid off.”
A severance payment that may tide workers over for a few months could also impact their response, Chowdhury added.
“I think everybody’s trying to do their best, and everybody’s trying to adjust,” he said. “It is easy when you’re moving quickly to forget empathy sometimes. That will usually cause some stress one way or the other.”
At 24 Seven, the recruiting firm that works with Big Tech companies, response rates from job seekers have gone up. Usually, about 35% of people respond to recruiters’ messages. These days, it’s closer to 50%.
On the other hand, companies that used to send over 20 open positions each week are now sending zero.
“It’s definitely been a bit of a shift,” Chowdhury said. “But we also recognize that that shift is cyclical. The entire economy is going to come out of it, we just don’t necessarily know when.”
Just as they’re navigating recruiters, some workers are tiptoeing around postings for “ghost jobs,” open positions that companies advertise online but might not actually have any intent to fill, according to a survey last year from financial consultant Clarify Capital.
Another former Amazon employee who worked at Prime Air, the company’s drone delivery service, believes they fell into a ghost job trap.
After losing their job at Prime Air in January, the worker went online to start their job hunt and saw their exact job posted on third-party job search platforms.
A spokesperson for Amazon said those listings are not legitimate, noting that the roles were not posted on the company’s own jobs site.
But for the worker, seeing their job listed as a possible open role was another hit after the shock of being laid off. The experience, they said, “put just a nasty taste in my mouth.”
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