by Karin Maloney Stifler

On the tight rope walk of life, it’s comforting to have strong safety nets to protect against the risk of falling off track.   Typical safety nets are built with life, disability, health, home, auto and liability insurances that protect against catastrophic life events. However valuable, none of these would shield you from the body blow of losing a job. Whether you lose your job or are beginning to look ahead to the next job you want, there is no substitute for planning. An old friend told me early in my career “Never fall in love with your employer, because they will never fall in love with you. You may think they have, but the needs of the business will always trump yours.” Life always requires a “Plan B.”

Safety Net

Despite improvements in the employment statistics over the last few years, there may be new threats to job and income security based on the current global slowdown, falling energy prices, interest rates and an uncertain election. As with all risks, there are choices: ignore it, worry about it, or prepare as best you can. In the spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, here is a five-step emergency protection plan for job loss or even positioning yourself for a career move.

  1. Stay marketable. Devote time, energy, and if necessary money to continuously sharpen your skills. Better yet, learn something new that differentiates you in the marketplace.  Research what your industry values in new hires in your chosen career. Check on your earnings potential at salary.com.
  1. Keep a detailed log of career accomplishments so that you can quickly assemble information to create a resume. A recruiter once told me, “I see many people who know what they did, but very few who know what they accomplished. I can place the latter group”.
  1. Watch on-line tutorials to learn how to build a modern age resume. Today many are submitted electronically and read by machines seeking certain key words. The resume’s featuring these key words and experience levels are then “presented” to the hiring managers for consideration. Before you begin, decide on your target job title and go to a job placement aggregator like indeed.om or glassdoor.com. Find listings for 5 jobs with titles like those you wish for yourself. (It does not matter where these jobs are, as you will not apply to them.) Simply look for recurring keywords in each job description. These words need to be in your resume. Next, look at the qualifications that are being sought, and incorporate them in your resume. (Or reinvest in yourself to get them). These are the crucial steps to getting a search engine to pull your resume out of the “electronic submission inbox” for additional consideration.
  1. Build a top notch LinkedIn profile, and connect with people who could help you advance in your career. LinkedIn is a premier way to network. Over 80% of jobs are filled through people you already know and nearly 50% of recruiters only use LinkedIn. Do not “wing” your profile. Watch some on-line tutorials at LinkedIn.com or on YouTube to learn the new science behind building your profile and maximizing the wonders of LinkedIn.
  1. Be financially ready for an employment income gap.
  • Know how much you spend each month to cover basic life necessities, and tote up the expenses you can temporarily cut.
  • Stockpile cash to cover six months or more of living expenses, and keep emergency cash separate from daily spending accounts. Determine what you can allocate to your transition and how long it will last.
  • Get your own life insurance policy separate from an employer’s group term life benefit. You want to be covered at all times, and not be forced to buy a policy at a bad time age or health-wise.
  • Revisit your investment asset allocation and make sure you’re comfortable with the risk level. If your job/career is not secure, you may want to reduce the percentage of stocks in your investment strategy.
  • Reduce expenses. Aggressively pay down non-mortgage debt, especially high cost credit cards and 401(k) loans that must be repaid if you leave the company. Ask recurring service providers like cellular and cable companies for a better deal. When you contact them, ask to be connected to their “retention” department. The more senior people on those teams can grant your wishes.
  • Make the most of your spouse/partner’s career plan and potential. Two incomes are safer than one.
  • Keep the name of a good employment lawyer in your contacts, just in case you want to negotiate the terms of your exit.

Test your readiness with a “job loss fire drill”. Imagine it happened today and what you would do. With advance planning, you will be better able to rebound from a forced job change, and find your next great career adventure. Best of all, you’ll worry less because you’re prepared and in charge of your future.