Whenever there are talks of a possible recession and reports of mass layoffs, there’s always that fear that you might be next on the chopping block. (And hugs and love to you if you’ve recently felt the dread and sting of no longer being employed. I’ve been there.) As with anything in life, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the best—and the worst—when it comes to your career, especially since the unemployment rate for Black women over 20 rose more than 5%.
While I know it’s already challenging to handle the bare requirements of adulting and survival, there are ways you can practice something called «career cushioning» where you ensure that you’re always booked and busy regardless of the economy or your company’s up-and-down budget restraints. It’s like when you’re dating and keeping your options open. You might like that day job, but you’re always checking for what else is out there and ready to pull the plug if something better comes along or you’re no longer fulfilled.
1. Be sure your skills are transferable and up-to-date.
Any talents that make you unique and top-tier are to be cherished and nurtured. So if you have the gift of gab, play close attention to detail, are super-organized, are great with numbers, have a unique way of presenting ideas, or you’re super-creative, these are all soft skills you can use at almost any job and in almost any role if you leverage them properly.
Transferable skills are those you can use across industries, like effective communication, tech savvy, adaptility, or excellent leadership. Think about our favorite bosses, like Rihanna, Oprah, Courtney Adeleye, or Pinky Cole. All of these women have diverse skills and passions and have not only reinvent themselves, but make money putting their multi-hyphenate talents to good use.
Document what you’re great at and keep track of how that has manifested through successful completion of projects, company results, sales numbers, and other factors that show you’re a competitive and competent professional in your field.
Also, make sure your knowledge and training are up-to-date, that you’re tech-proficient, and if further education is required for an advanced degree, certifications, or updates, you’re on top of them.
2. Keep a side-hustle going.
Not everyone is into have a whole second job or business, but if this is something you’ve been dreaming about doing, now is the time to start. And it doesn’t have to be something expensive, time-consuming, or stressful. If its within your company contract limits and does not serve as a conflict of interest, try doing something different but related to the work you’re already doing.
Need a bit of inspiration? Look to Emmelie De La Cruz, Mercedes Smith, or Melissa Carnagie. They’ve all turned side hustles into thriving businesses.
If you have a hobby or talent you can monetize (like crafts, fashion design, entertaining, or teaching) try doing that one or two days a week or building up a full part-time business around it. This is especially important if you already feel burned out and want to leave your job anyway.
3. Network for job leads—and even interview—while employed.
Oftentimes, people find new opportunities through their personal and professional network, and for those who are thinking about self-employment as their next step, this is especially important. The best client and job leads can come from someone you’ve worked with, go to church with, or a fellow member of an organization.
If interviewing while you still have a job, be sure you’re not breaking any contract rules associated with your employment and check the details on your applicable non-compete agreements.
If there are no issues there, there’s no harm in interviewing elsewhere even if it’s just for the practice or to see what’s out there. Informational interviews are still a thing, so you can try that route as well. Plus, if your company happens to lay you off, you’ll already have recruiter numbers and contacts who were already interested in you anyway, making the process of finding new employment that much easier.
4. Cultivate an intra-company network of mentors, work besties, and advocates.
When we think about keeping our options open, oftentimes there’s a sense that the options have to be outside of our current employer. However, you never know if maybe a better role or opportunity might be at your same company, just in a different department. Also, coming from someone who has been on both sides of a layoff, oftentimes certain people are kept simply due to the fact that they had more supporters and advocates at the company rooting for them to be retained. And even during the times in my career where I was laid off, my network was essential in the quick rebound I experienced each time.
Authentically network and partner with people in multiple departments where it makes sense, and be of service when you can. It shouldn’t be some fake, surface connecting that screams, ‘I’ll use you if I need to.’
Open yourself up to learn new things and meet new people, get to know how others do their jobs (without being too intrusive), network sideways (like our good sis Issa Rae recommended) and stop skipping those company happy hours. Another good way to network is to volunteer for the causes or nonprofit events that your company’s leaders are passionate about.
5. Stay connected to your college’s alumni resources.
After a certain number of years being away from the yard, many of us sleep on alumni services. Big mistake. Sometimes you can get job search aid, find out ways you can advance your education, or connect with others in your industry who might not only be friends but future colleagues.
It doesn’t matter if you graduated two or 20 years ago, being an alumni of your school is still important, and those resources are there for a reason. Tap in today and enjoy reconnecting with your peers while strengthening yet another career safety net.
6. Always think outside the box when it comes to types of jobs and roles you can fill.
If you’ve been known for one job or skill for a long time and have been great at it, it can be hard to imagine doing anything else. And while some of us think we have job security due to the years we’ve given an industry or company, things can change quicker than the time it takes to get coffee from the break room.
Be proactive about how your skills and training can be used for different types of jobs or for a whole different industry altogether. If you love public speaking or making TikTok videos, why not level up and pitch yourself to brands or organizations?
If you’ve made advancements or innovations in your industry or have a fresh take on a trending issue, write a blog or book or try consulting. Also, open up your horizons to working in other markets or even another country, and find ways to be strategic to position yourself to transfer and travel if necessary.
7. Get your financial house in order.
Whatever job you take, be sure you’ve taken advantage of all of the benefits, profit-sharing, retirement funding, and other financial resources available to you so that if you have to leave that company, you can cash in or rebuild your emergency reserves. And don’t sleep on insurance, real estate, or stock market investments.
It’s such a relief when you have a bit of financial cushioning to soften the blow of a job termination, making it all the more blissful for you to simply focus on either taking a break or going for the next opportunity coming your way, refreshed and ready to excel. I once used my severance and savings to consult full-time and travel. It was the best three years of my life.
If you’re not sure about benefits and financial resources at your current job, ask your boss, the HR director, or a professional at your bank about your options. Write down a layoff plan (or create a Google Doc or spreadsheet) and get to know where your money is and how it’s flowing (i.e. that budget sis), so that you can be prepared in case of a sudden job loss. For many of us, a recession-proof career lies solely in having financial freedom, and that’s a real boss move.
Bonus: If you’re unhappy at work or don’t enjoy your career, pivot.
Knowing when it’s time to throw in the towel on that job when things just aren’t working—when you’re disgruntled, bored, stuck, or simply not being challenged—is super-important, especially since those negative feelings will eventually show up in the quality of work that you do. And while performance isn’t the end-all-be-all to reasons why people get laid off, it can be a major defining factor depending on the circumstances. (And if we’re talking about getting fired, sis, you don’t want that smoke. I know some of y’all work in industries where licenses could be suspended or revoked, or you could face fines and jail time due to neglect, underlying anger, or exhaustion.)
Why waste more time at a job or in a field that you don’t truly give a damn about? Being on a road of self-learning and self-exploration can lead you to sustainable career fulfillment despite the poor state of the economy.
Get to know your values, why you do the work that you do, how it affects your wellness, and how it contributes to the quality of life you dream of having, and use that foundational knowledge as your guide to ensuring that you’re always the leader of the pack and winning no matter what.
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