Recently, it seems that all you find is gloom and doom news about the current state of the economy. Economists are predicting weak job growth in the coming months, oil and gold prices are hitting record high’s, the housing industry is in its worst slump in recent history, and according to The Wall Street Journal, the stock market is in its longest funk since the 1970s, currently trading right where it was nine years ago. The effect isn't just domestic. Some international markets are down as much as 50% in the last year.
These events are making many people question their job security, and for good reason. In February, employers slashed more than 60,000 jobs - the most in any one month within the last five years.
To ensure you're not caught off guard with an abrupt pink, we spoke with a number of career coaches who offered advice on how spot an imminent layoff before it happens - and what to do to prepare.
How to Detect The Signs of a Layoff
"The first signs are usually hiring freezes and budget cuts," says Dawn Quesnel, professional career coach, former executive recruiter at two of Boston's premier agencies, and founder of Career Life Balance. Other signs can be a reduction of support staff, termination of temporary or contract workers, travel cutbacks, restructuring, and an increased number of projects that are suddenly cancelled. More specifically, "If you work in sales, you can see if the quotes are down or below normal," explains Quesnel. "If you're an engineer, less new installations as a result of fewer new customers can be a telltale sign."
If you work at a public company, the signs can sometimes be within the press itself. Meg Montford, executive career coach and founder of The Career Coaching Club, suggests reading periodicals and online reports about what's happening in your industry. "Staying in touch with the trends can sometimes reveal trouble before it hits." Montford also advises reading your company's 2007 and 2006 annual reports. Is your company growing, staying still, or moving backward? Another option is calling upon the advice of a stock broker, many of whom offer free consultations.
If your company is privately traded, Quesnel suggests doing some research. "You can sort of poke around and check with your vendors to see if they're getting paid on time." The number of people who have resigned from your company in the last year is also something to take notice of. Who's leaving, where are they going, and is the number more than normal? "If your former coworkers are moving to other companies in your field, that may mean that other companies are doing better than yours," says Montford.
Remember to stay vigilant and listen to the water cooler rumors, but take them with a grain of salt. Often they are no more than just rumors.
How to Prepare
1. Keep Your Resume Clean and Pressed
If many of the above signs are pointing to a layoff , the first thing you want to do is update your resume and get a copy of all of your personnel files and records. "If you feel a layoff is coming, approach HR and say that you were spring cleaning, came across your record file and want to make sure that you have everything up to date and copy the file for them," says Quesnel.
2. Maintain Your Professional Network
All the career coaches agree that staying connected to your professional network is critical to a fast rebound. Afterall, 60 to 80% of all jobs are gotten through networking. Quesnel suggests keeping in touch with your network at least two times a year to keep it warm—quarterly is even better. Julie Cohen, career coach and founder of Julie Cohen Coaching, says "Your friends, colleagues, past employers, mentors, and former classmates can all support you when you're looking for a new job. Stay in touch with them and offer value/support to them even when you're not in the job market. It will always pay off down the road."
3. Build an Emergency Reserve
Experience a layoff without an emergency reserve and you'll be eating at McDonald's every meal. Quesnel suggests having at least a 6 month cushion worth of living expenses. Montford recommends 6 to 8 months in a liquid savings account. "Never tap into your retirement account. You can be taxed heavily for doing this, not to mention hurt your own retirement down the road," Montford explains. Hopefully, if you do get laid off, you'll also have a severance package, but the more you can sock away, the more peace of mind you'll have if the axe falls.
4. Update Your Certifications
Always stay current on your industry and its trends. If you learn that your current certifications are becoming dated and less in demand, consider taking a class and updating some of those certifications. It's a whole lot easier to do it while you're still employed than when you're living on reserves and looking for a new job.
5. Actively Job Hunt
Nothing beats being prepared. And it never hurts to actively, but quietly, keep your eye on the job market. "Be aware of other companies who are possible future employers," advises Cohen. By doing so, it's likely you can rebound from a layoff in as little as a week or two. This can save you thousands of dollars and a limitless amount of stress.
Montford cautions, however, "Be careful about sharing your job search activities with co-workers, even those you feel you can trust." When it comes to job security, it can be every man for himself. Another suggestion from Quesnel: "When negotiating your severance package, find out if there is an opportunity for you to contract." Along those lines, it's a good idea to diversify your income streams. Many professionals today do freelance work alongside their day job.
In the end, if a layoff is imminent, the best way to increase your odds of sticking around is by stepping up and offering to do things above and beyond your standard responsibilities. Working Sundays is a sure way to recession-proof your job. "The worker who is the most congenial, collaborative, and committed is the one less likely to be the first out the door," says Montford. Quesnel suggests calling attention to the value you are and have been to the company. "Never assume that your employer knows your impact and your value." One idea is to thank your boss for the opportunity to work on a recent project that you excelled at. This will remind him how good of a job you did and thereby increase your odds of continued employment should you boss have to start wielding the axe.
Above all else, make friends with change. Learn to accept change as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. "Life is all about change, and that includes work," says Montford. "This change can give you the chance to evaluate what was missing from your last position and what you want next," adds Cohen. And remember, it can help to consult a career coach. Working with one after a layoff can help you get back into a shiny new job sooner rather than later.