After the pandemic-driven market downturn in early 2020, the volume of M&A deals began to rise again last May, increasing nearly 20 percent monthly between August and November, according to Nasdaq. What’s more, advantageous interest rates and the increased availability of capital could further increase M&A activity in 2021, making it more likely that companies of all sizes will attract potential buyers.

A rash of acquisitions may be good news for investors, but what about you? It's natural for employees to feel unsure and apprehensive if their employer is acquired, especially given the current state of the economy. Here’s a look at the actions you should take (and some mistakes to avoid) after learning that your company is being acquired.

Explore the Acquirer’s Motives and Strategy

Your first concern is whether your role and job will continue to exist after the acquisition is complete. Unfortunately, even if you come right out and ask your boss or HR directly, you're not likely to get an honest or accurate answer.

“That’s because your boss may not know his or her fate either,” explained Mitchell Lee Marks, president of and author of “Joining Forces: Making One Plus One Equal Three in Mergers, Acquisitions and Alliances.” The uncertainty stems from the fact that many acquirers don’t have a strategic plan, at least not initially, he added. 

Although face-to-face gatherings with employees have been eliminated or transitioned to virtual, you will still need to network with people inside the acquiring company. You’ll also need to read the reports and commentary from acquisition analysts and journalists to size up the acquirer, understand their objectives, and how the purchase may affect you.

For instance, if the acquirer is looking to grow by adding new products or services to its current offerings, or needs talent to expand its geographic footprint, the acquisition may actually boost your career. On the other hand, if the acquirer is looking to gain a larger market share in a shrinking sector, there could be cause for concern on your end.

Also, look at the acquiring company’s previous track record, Marks advised. For instance, if the acquirer’s management team has a history of failed acquisitions, shuttering operations or initiating significant staff cuts, your fate may be sealed unless you demonstrate that you can add unique value to the new company.

Conduct a Personal SWOT Analysis

Once you’ve uncovered the acquirer’s objectives and the type of people who will fit into its culture, you’ll need to figure out where you stand. Conducting a personal SWOT analysis can help you identify your strengths, weaknesses and the actions you need to take to keep your career moving forward.

Look for Early Signs of Integration Success

Management doesn’t need to have all the answers before embarking on an acquisition. Ideally, however, they should begin setting up transition teams and planning the integration process as soon as the deal is announced. For instance, pay attention to how new management handles IT integration and compatibility, cultural cohesion, and the identification of must-keep talent.

Unless management involves employees from both companies in making decisions and is committed to following a proven process and success factors, the deal could be destined to fail (like so many do).

Don’t Sit Back

Empower yourself by becoming actively involved in the transition process, noted Sarah E. Brown, startup mentor, author of “Power to the Startup People,” and VP of marketing at Intricately. If you have equity, find out what will happen to your options as well as your benefits after your company is acquired.

View the integration process as an opportunity to learn new things while showcasing attributes that make you a “keeper,” such as institutional knowledge, project management, collaboration and change management skills. Volunteer to participate in a transition team; find ways raise your professional visibility by making presentations or scheduling virtual meetings with leaders of the acquiring company. You may even spot an opportunity to make an impact and create a new role for yourself.

“Listen with your gut when you meet with the buyers,” Marks said. “Does it seem like they are being honest with you?”

As Brown pointed out, in the past, employees of startups acquired by larger companies had to relocate or adapt to a different culture. But because of the shift to remote work, additional opportunities exist to maintain your current living situation and work environment post-acquisition. So why not try to negotiate a new role or a promotion? After all, you have nothing to lose.

Prepare… but Don’t Panic

Even if the situation seems bleak, don’t make any hasty decisions (unless, of course, you’re presented with a dream job opportunity). Whether an acquisition or a merger, the process will probably take months to complete, so you have time to find a new job while you see how things play out.