It seems like not a day goes by now without a story in the news about unemployment and how people are struggling to find jobs. While much attention in the press has rightly been focused on those looking for work, the economy and employment forecast affect everyone, including the currently employed. Layoffs and outsourcing can come at any time and in any industry, and no job is really immune. A recent Gallup Poll indicated that 3 in 10 workers fear being laid off, similar to the figures from 2009 and double the level recorded three years ago. These are stressful times.
But if you are employed, is there anything you can do to keep your current position secure? Is there any way to recession-proof yourself? In a word, no. Short of earning enough money to buy your company outright and make your position permanent, you can’t guarantee your job won’t be eliminated next week, next month, or next year. And even if you own your own business, you can’t control all factors determining if customers can and will continue to do business with you.
But though there are no guarantees, there’s plenty you can do to make yourself a valuable employee (worth keeping) or an attractive candidate (worth hiring) if you find yourself out of a job.
- Professional/Trade Groups– The best professional/trade groups are fulfilling on multiple fronts, and facilitate ongoing professional development and networking. Research local groups to find a local organization that corresponds to your profession. These days there are groups for almost every major work function (like SHRM for HR, PMI for Project Management, and the AICPA for Accounting), as well as many niche areas. If there isn’t a group covering your field in your geographic area, consider a group you find personally interesting even though you may not know much about the subject. The worst thing that will happen is you’ll give up a few weeknights. More likely, you’ll end up with increased perspective and skills, and new contacts.Once you find a group you enjoy, if you want to take your participation to the next level, consider applying for a leadership or board position in the group. You may not be able to become a President or CEO at your job, but you just may be able to chair the board of your professional group.
- Attend Events – One of my sales colleagues likes to say that people do business with people they know, and they won’t know you if they don’t meet you. Business events and networking socials are great for meeting new people and getting to know people you already know (like your boss) better. Depending on your job and company, try attending a variety of business events, including tradeshows, conferences, expos, and award shows. Your employer will appreciate your versatility and the experiences will serve you well the next time you interview.
- Training – While the right professional groups and volunteer activities provide ample opportunity to develop skills, there may be a particular area you want to hone further through professional training or a certification course. Based on what your organization subsidizes and what your schedule allows, training for you might be as simple as attending informational a few webinars a month that you can squeeze into your work week. For more thorough professional development, you may want to pursue a semester-length professional certification like a PHR or a PMP. Whatever you decide, training will boost your professional skills and make you a more valuable employee and attractive candidate.
- Exercise – Research studies and anecdotal information suggest exercise can increase happiness and confidence. This is likely due to brain chemicals stimulated during exercise and increased self-esteem. Perhaps even more importantly, exercise (along with positive dietary habits) is also one of the best methods of dealing with stress (Emergency Care, 11th Edition, Daniel Limmer & Michael F. O’Keefe), including cumulative stress, or burnout, which builds up over a period of years.Ultimately, if you’re happier, more confident, and less stressed, it stands to reason that you’ll be more effective and relaxed at work and on interviews.
- Resume 2.0 – Of course, keep your resume updated while you’re employed, but also remember that in today’s Internet, a resume should span beyond a single document to include multiple, other online sources. Consider, for example, an online portfolio, a professional blog, posted writing samples, a YouTube channel, or a mini website that tells a story about who you are, why you’re a valuable employee or a can’t miss job seeker. Exhibit A: Matthew Epstein’s Google site at http://googlepleasehire.me/. If you like the idea but worry about the cost of setting up your own website, try a free blog site service using Blogger (blogger.com) or WordPress (wordpress.com) to start.
- Social Networking – Depending on your company’s Internet access policies and job duties, spend some time online and explore social media and how you can use the emerging channels to add value to your job. Read and contribute to industry blogs, engage and network with others, follow conversations and companies, and generate content of your own. The initiative will show you’re comfortable with new media and technology, and willing to navigate uncharted territory.
- Read – “I know that I know nothing” is a well known saying attributed to Socrates by Plato. While that’s an exaggeration and you no doubt are knowledgeable in many areas, there’s always more to learn. Read a new non-fiction book each month to expose yourself to new ideas and perspective. Don’t have time for full-length texts? Try audiobooks, podcasts, or magazines. The point is to continue to think, and absorb and reflect upon new ideas and information. Employers and hiring managers may not always list continual learning as a position requirement, but you can bet it’s an intangible that helps differentiate Employee A from B.
- Volunteer – The hardest part of volunteering may be choosing an organization that’s right for you, because there are so many worthy organizations that need help. Take your time and volunteer for something that feels right to you. At the same time, be willing to try something new that will put you in contact with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. This may seem in contrast to your professional aspirations, but you’ll likely gain new perspective and grow skills you didn’t even know you had.If you think volunteering as a concept is great, but you’re just too busy and unable to commit to an activity on a regular basis, shrink the time commitment and look at micro-volunteering options such as Sparked (www.sparked.com) or Catchafire (www.catchafire.org).
- Pursue a Hobby/Craft – As fulfilling as professional groups and volunteering can be, sometimes there’s nothing like learning a craft on your own and at your own pace. Find something you enjoy and pursue it. Maybe it’s woodworking or scrapbooking, or perhaps you want to learn to garden or tile a floor. Ultimately, it’s a personal choice. And while the hobbies themselves won’t help with recession proofing, your interest in these crafts will make you more interesting and accessible. Hobbies are often conversation starters at job interviews or the watercooler and they also serve to reveal (subtly) the amount of work you’ll put in when you’re really engaged in a project or task.
- Be a Good Co-Worker – Karma doesn’t show up in most employee handbooks and company policies but I’ve come to believe that it permeates every conference room and cubicle. Everyone has highs and lows in life. When you can, help people out and ask others to pay it forward. I can’t promise you this will always come back to you or keep you in your job, but it adds up, and people and employers will take note.
Frank Gullo is the Brand and Business Innovation Manager for the Superior Group, a national workforce solutions firm, and writes in his spare time. His work recently appeared on 12 Most, Computerworld, and the SmartBlog on Leadership. He volunteers in his spare time as a firefighter and EMT. Frank tweets @FrankGullo and can be found on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/frankgullo.