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Make Your Career Recession-Proof

Lindsay Tigar  |  January 13, 2023

With a shaky economy, protecting your income is vital. Take a deep breath and read this to make sure your career is ready for a recession.

If you follow the news closely, you may feel a bit of whiplash. While new jobs are being added, unemployment continues to fall. Many companies are announcing their funding and growth, while an estimated 189K (and counting) tech employees worldwide have been laid off since January of 2022. Pair this with increasing interest rates and sky-high inflation, and it makes sense that many companies are reducing spending, pausing hiring plans, and preparing for what seems to be an imminent recession, says Amanda Augustine, a career expert for TopResume. 

This overall feeling of dread and anxiety has trickled down into professional mindsets, too. As Augustine shares, the TopResume Index of U.S. Job Seeker Sentiment, which tracks how job seekers feel about job-market conditions and overall job security, came in at 89 in September. That’s a 12.8 percent decrease from the previous year and the lowest score recorded since the index was first calculated in April 2021.

If you are worried about your current position or the state of your industry, take a deep breath. While you can’t predict the future, you can take meaningful steps to ‘recession-proof’ your career. Here, a guide from experts:

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Understand your company’s priorities during a recession

To understand how to make yourself indispensable, you need to have a clear picture of what your company’s priorities are, says Ryan Agresta, the CEO and founder of Candidate. This will look different for all businesses, and is highly dependent on their growth stage and market. As Agresta says, for some, this might be simply maintaining revenue at a more manageable burn rate, and thus, they will look for skilled employees who can seemingly multi-task for their bottom line. For others, it might be more focused functionality, which means they’ll spend more time developing a product or nurturing client relationships to make the most of what they can during an economic downturn. 

“If there is functional alignment — such as the company will focus on product development and you are a software developer — then you can focus on individual efficiency,” he says. “This ensures that you are at the top of the list of employees that will be kept if the company needs to make cuts. This might include getting feedback on your tools and processes, experimenting with new technology and working styles, or thinking about new ways to manage your time even more effectively.”

Improve the bottom line

Even if money matters aren’t exactly your cup of tea (or expertise), Augustine suggests identifying ways to cut costs or drive revenue for the overall company or within your department. This can look like many things, like negotiating a lower rate with a vendor, canceling unnecessary subscriptions or reducing the number of seats, and so on. “Taking steps to save the company money will certainly help safeguard your position during a possible layoff,” she adds.

Set up interviews

If you feel like you or your department might soon be on the pink-notice list, it’s time to take action. Begin conducting meetings with leaders across your company, urges career coach Dr. Kyle Elliott, MPA, CHES. “This is an opportunity to not only learn about their functions and priorities but also stay abreast of changes across the organization,” he shares. “If layoffs do happen, it’s helpful to have allies that may be able to bring you into their organization.”

Learn new skills

One of the most meaningful ways to protect your gig is to learn something new. As Chris Sinclair, the chief people officer at Bayard Advertising, puts it, the broader your skillset, the more valuable you are to an employer. 

“For example, in a recession, brand marketing that aims to build awareness becomes less in demand than performance marketing that aims to drive direct response,” he says. “As a brand marketer, becoming cross-trained in performance marketing could be a good idea so that when brand/awareness dollars are scarcer and your employer may less value those roles, your other skills can come to the forefront.

Find a coach or mentor

Sometimes, when you’re in the thick of your career, working diligently to meet your goals and benchmarks, you may feel like you’re drowning. This not only leads to burnout, but it could make you lose productivity when you’re trying to impress your superiors. To help, Sinclair suggests investing in a career coach. “Seeking guidance from a coach or mentor outside your company can help you think through your strategy and provide you fresh perspectives when future or recession-proofing your career,” he says. “They can also draw on a different set of perspective experiences and, critically, a different professional network to help you build relationships that will be useful should you need to uncover opportunities outside your own network of contacts.”

Prepare for the worst

No matter how much prep work, skill-building, networking or improvements you make to your performance, job security is not guaranteed. This is always true, but particularly during an unpredictable recession. Therefore, it’s crucial to not only take steps to safeguard your job but also to prepare for a job search, should it come to that, Augustine says. 

To get started, she suggests gathering information from company files that will provide good fodder to update your resume and LinkedIn profile. “Start reconnecting with your professional network and exploring online job boards to better understand what the market looks like,” she adds. 

No one wants to be laid off, but the more you think ahead, the more prepared you will be to make your next move brighter — and hopefully, greener. 

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