Minimizing the Impact of Job Loss

Lehman Brothers by Bert van Dijk on Flickr!Over the last week, several people have written to me in a panic, asking what they should do if they think they’re about to be downsized at work. Given the current economic conditions, I don’t blame them a bit for worrying – I’ve never seen such an obvious trend towards a recession.

There are a few really good tactics for preparing yourself for a possible job loss – in fact, it’s good to do all of these things even if you don’t expect the axe to fall any time soon. You never know what the future might hold.

Five Useful Tactics for Protecting Yourself Against Downsizing

1. Learn how to live frugally

Spend some time finding out where you can cut corners – and practice it. Cut out as many unnecessary expenses as you can and only add them back in if you find a strong, compelling reason for them.

2. Start building a solid cash emergency fund

Drop some cash in there as soon as possible, then set up an automatic savings plan to scrape $20 or $50 each week from your checking into your savings. This might provide a needed cushion in the event of a sudden job loss.

3. Develop a clear spending plan

Put a cap on your spending on non-essentials like food, entertainment, clothing, and so on. Put those credit cards up for a while until things are well under control.

4. Hack away at your debts

Develop a debt repayment plan and hit it hard. Make it a part of your spending plan. Clear away some debt now so it doesn’t make your life nightmarish later if you were to lose your job.

5. Always keep your resume polished

Always. Here’s how I do it.

Those are indeed good tactics to apply when you’re worried about losing your job, but they don’t help you very much in terms of planning what you’re going to do next in your career. A well-managed career can roll right through a sudden job loss with barely a blink.

Planning Ahead for That Next Step

No matter where you’re at in life, you should always be planning ahead for the next step in life. Build a strong foundation and just about any step you might realistically want to make becomes quite easy – and even if a piece or two of the foundation fails, you’re still in good shape.

In my experience – and in most of the better career books I’ve read, such as Never Eat Alone and Love Is the Killer App – a good career foundation is made up of five pillars.

Pillar 1: Knowledge

Never stop learning about what you do. You should spend at least an hour each day purely on building your knowledge, either in terms of the things you directly work on or the things you want to be working on in the future. Read challenging stuff – and go through it at a slow speed, so you know it. Try new things. Push yourself, always.

Pillar 2: Communication Skills

Take every chance you can to present to others and to talk in meetings. Polish your ability to communicate with others. Join a group like Toastmasters and work on your public speaking ability. Work on your conversation skills every time you have a chance to talk to someone, until the ability to converse well with a complete stranger is very solid.

Pillar 3: Tangible Accomplishments

Don’t worry about the day-to-day minutiae. Instead, focus on doing the best job you can with your big tasks. Don’t expend your mental effort cataloguing the stuff in the supply closet. Instead, throw your effort into big projects that really show off what you can do. Your bosses, coworkers, and peers won’t talk about how great you were at managing the coffee pot – they’ll talk about that two year project you knocked out of the park.

Pillar 4: Relationships With Others

Take every opportunity you can to build relationships with others both in your workplace and outside your workplace but in the same industry, and also with people up and down the board in terms of seniority. When you hear a cry for help and can help easily, do it. The more positive relationships you’re able to build with people, the stronger your reputation grows and the more valuable you become to others.

Pillar 5: Ethical Behavior

Always behave ethically. Never backstab people. Never talk down to people. If you can’t think of something good to say, don’t say it. If you’re called upon to criticize, never criticize without the person you’re criticizing hearing what you have to say – if you won’t say it to their face, don’t say it. Whenever you have an ethical choice, take the high road – it’ll never trip you up.

The Pillars Work Together

What’s interesting is that if you put significant effort into building all of these pillars, you’ll find that they constantly work together to propel you even further. Your knowledge is often a great way to help out others, building relationships with them. Your ethical behavior helps others begin to trust you, as do your tangible accomplishments. Your communication skills almost always help with building relationships with others, and it also helps with building up knowledge.

If you invest your time, talent, and heart into these five pillars, you will become a valuable person within your workplace and perhaps even within your industry. If you’re in that position, if your company fails (or if you just want a new challenge), you’re still in great shape because you have a clear, established value that other competitors will want and you’ll have tons of connections to get your foot in the door.

Don’t just do the basic things to protect yourself against a devastating job loss. Work to make your career more independent of the pain of losing a specific job.