11 Smart Ways To 'Layoff-Proof' Your Career

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woman in professional dress sitting outside

Your professional identity is always a work in progress. Layoffs and moving on are permanent contingencies for which you should be prepared and can turn to your career advantage. 

What makes sense as you move through your career is to create your guide for building that "layoff safety net" — a thoughtful and serious approach to ensuring that you always retain attractive career options, regardless of the health of your chosen industry, the organization you're with, or the role and function you have. 

You need a game plan to protect yourself by acting ahead rather than scrambling desperately for anything after losing your job or recognizing that you are in an intolerable situation and need to move on.

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Two strategic elements of a fool-proof, career-saving 'layoff safety net'

1. Recognize that economic downturns and layoffs are inevitable

Even the most prestigious and "hot companies" will precipitously cut their workforce based on external factors unrelated to individual or group work quality. Just ask the employees at Meta, Twitter, Google, and Salesforce how it felt to be told you were one big family — only to find out that there "is no why" for the reversal of fortune in this work environment. Your illusion of security sets you back. 

Start with the idea that you build your career legacy daily; develop a good self-assessment of your goals. This does not mean which company and job function you identify within the short term, but which work and roles will best reward you for finding the best fit, how you can add value, and be paid what you are worth.

Jobs are not destinations but posts on your life journey. You can get unstuck and live your legacy forward at work. The author discussed this and other career-related topics at length on the management podcast, Work For Humans with Dart Lindsley

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2. Communication and relationship-building skills are foundational to your long-term security

You are a free agent, not alone but interconnected with those who know you. Build this network of colleagues, associates, and professional circles so you have a team that can interact. Your professional identity and network of professional relationships are always a work in progress. The best time to prepare for a new job is when you are gainfully employed and always preparing for your next appointment, whether it be a different role in the same company, industry, or field of expertise or to transition to what's next for better, more rewarding work. 

Jane saw herself as a people person. She naturally gravitated to the HR function, where an affinity for others and a desire to help and serve fit her aspirations. However, after a few years, Jane recognized the HR function in her company was viewed as an expense to be reduced. The work was mostly administrative, and she did not feel she was growing.

The market was in a downturn. It looked like the company would be cutting employees. Jane believed her department, never highly valued in even good times, was particularly vulnerable to cuts. Jane was sad because she felt her fate and career were in the hands of others who did not care about her future. However, if Jane prepares with these strategies and actions before layoffs, she could turn her life and work in her favor. 

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Here are 11 actions you can take to 'layoff-proof' your career

1. Interview at least twice a year for another job

Knowing what you can qualify for and earn outside your current position is good. Just interviewing without the need to take a job will give you more confidence and enable you to understand better situations and opportunities that may be better for you. You do not need to take a job even if it is offered. 

2. Complete your LinkedIn profile with job skills, recommendations, and affiliations

LinkedIn can be your administrative hub and promotional vehicle to build your reputation and have career opportunities coming to you.

3. Let your manager know you would like to change responsibilities

Give them a chance. By speaking to your management in advance about how you would like your job to change or move to another supervisor or department, you have given them a chance to accommodate you. If you provide notice and they have not responded, you have done the responsible actions to be reasonable.

4. When you leave, offer to train the next person and give sufficient notice (at least two weeks)

This allows management to prepare for a smooth transition. Ask for an exit interview with senior management and provide a frank assessment of what you experienced and how it can be improved. Do not trash any of your supervisors or colleagues. Be positive.

5. Research related work in fields that interest you

You can research platforms to determine the ratings of companies by past employees, the growth prospects, and the kinds of titles and levels of compensation associated. 

6. Build your identity 

Volunteer in your professional association, alum association, and business/religious communities. 

7. Upskill and become proficient in systems and platforms

Determine which systems are commonly used in your fields of interest by reviewing the specifications of the positions you are investigating. Then get certified in those systems by completing online courses offered (usually for free) by those platforms.

8. Create your brand

Start publishing blog posts. Retweet and follow those you respect. They will notice you.

9. Read trade publications and business press for trends and companies that are hiring

You will be able to track opportunities that are most beneficial to your own search.

10. Visit the job postings on companies and sites to see what is available

Once you narrow down your organizations, you can regularly visit their websites for job postings. Start applying to them, and you can become known by their HR departments.

11. Meet with someone in the field or organization that interests you once a week

Individual networking has been greatly enhanced by Zoom conferencing and other online services. So face-to-face meetings can be more convenient for those you seek to meet. Ask for a brief discussion of 15 minutes rather than an hour. Be prepared to ask a good question related to that person's expertise or knowledge of the field. 

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The layoff safety net in action

Jane adopted these best practices months before she gave notice. 

She requested to be assigned outplacement responsibilities, so she could hone the skills to be helpful to those who are laid off or fired.

She requested five colleagues to provide recommendations matching her LinkedIn profile skillsets and objectives, increasing her credibility.

She set interviews with senior executives in organizations and companies she researched to seek their advice and help her understand the roles and functions of positions she might be seeking in their field.

She began to follow and retweet blog posts of professionals she respected in her field who had similar approaches to work as she aspired to.

She researched Monster and Indeed for job postings and signed up for their services to alert her to job openings posted on their site that matched her profile.

She volunteered to work at an HR and recruiters conference. She introduced herself to scheduled speakers, panelists, and conference trade booths of organizations and companies she was interested in. She gathered many contacts who she connected to on LinkedIn.

When she did give notice, she spoke with her boss and offered to train and orient the next hire for her position. Jane also suggested that she would recommend the company and her job well and expected her boss to do the same. She also offered to speak with any colleagues or clients who depended on her work to make sure nothing fell through the cracks.

The best possible outcome

Jane landed a great job at a major recruiting consulting firm to work in the outplacement department. She received a good raise in salary with the opportunity for a review in six months for possible promotion.

Your career will be greatly enhanced with a dedicated life-long effort to build your circles of associates: be prepared to pivot, become a fast learner of skill sets, and continuously improve so you can add value and be richly rewarded for your judgment and experience. Your career can be rewarding and life-enhancing if you know what you want, who to connect with, and how to work smart to stay relevant and in demand.

And if you take a job that challenges you with new responsibilities and skill sets, you have yet to have in your past employment. Remember, you are smart, and you will figure it out.

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Jeff Saperstein is an ICF-certified career coach and memoirist who works with business professionals who feel stuck and want a career transition.