Written by Trent Hamm, The Simple Dollar is a popular personal finance blog that chronicles one man's road back from overwhelming debt to financial security. Hamm declared the contents of the blog to be in the Public Domain in 2008 and available for sharing when attributed properly. We will share a couple of posts a week.
One of the biggest financial fears that many people have is that they’ll unexpectedly lose their job, which will lead to a downward spiral of financial trouble. For many families, particularly those with children who are also living paycheck to paycheck, that downward spiral will happen very quickly.
It’s a fear that I personally had for most of the first year of my son’s life. Prior to that, I didn’t really worry too much about it at all. After our first baby arrived, though, I began to truly realize how precarious our situation really was. If I lost my job, it would be difficult to find a new one quickly, and our financial situation wasn’t really resilient enough to deal with a quick career change.
Here are 10 strategies that you can employ starting right now to minimize the chances of and the impact of an unexpected job loss.
Step 1: Show Up
The single worst thing you can do as a professional is fail to show up. No one is perfect in attendance, but when you start missing things with any degree of regularity, people start to notice and it’s almost purely negative.
Beyond that, simply being present often puts opportunities on your plate. If you’re the only one out of your department who shows up at a meeting, guess who’s going to get the attention and the recognition from people outside your department and further up the ladder?
Don’t call in sick unless you’re actually sick. Keep a clear calendar and make sure each and every appointment is on there. Interact with people regularly and don’t avoid them so that your presence is clear.
Step 2: Have an Emergency Fund
If you lose your job unexpectedly, the most valuable thing you can possibly have is an emergency fund. An emergency fund is a simple thing – it’s just some cash saved away in a savings account somewhere, waiting for a rainy day.
The key to building a solid emergency fund is to automate it. Set up an account with a different bank with strong online features – say, Capital One 360 – and then instruct that savings account to withdraw a little from your main checking account each week. For example, you might choose to simply have $20 moved each week from your main checking to this emergency savings account. At the end of the year, you’ll have somewhere around $1,030 in this account.
Then, just forget about that account. Only use it when a true emergency happens, like a job loss or a major case of identity theft. Just let that emergency money slowly build and it will take a bit of the fear away from a major unexpected event.
Step 3: Build a Strong Professional Network
Having a positive relationship with a lot of people in your field is helpful in a lot of ways. Those people can help you find a new job quickly. They can provide help with difficult professional tasks. They can share professional ideas. They can also provide a person to hang out with and “talk shop.”
The easiest way to start building a strong professional network is by participating in local professional groups, if there are any. If there aren’t, consider starting one that involves people in your profession in your local area where they can meet up for drinks or appetizers at a local establishment once a week or so.
The other main tool for this is social media. Both LinkedIn and Twitter make it easy to connect with people in your career path. I especially like Twitter for this if you don’t have anyone local, as it’s incredibly good at generating short and sweet conversations on professional topics (that can sometimes veer toward fun side topics, too).
Step 4: Identify and Take On Resume-Worthy Tasks
What is a “resume-worthy task”? Basically, it’s anything you might do in the workplace that you could use as a bullet point on your resume to impress a prospective employer. In my experience, this meant taking charge of a larger project that might take months to really pull off.
How do you identify these tasks in the workplace? The easiest way is to step back and ask yourself what things you do that provide the most value to the business or organization you work for. What is really the most valuable thing you do? Then, look for projects and tasks you can do to make that even more valuable.
Maybe it’s something as simple as cleaning up the products that are on sale in the shop each day or coming up with ideas for how to display them better. Maybe it’s a major software project or a huge documentation project. Whatever it is, always be thinking of what you can do to make yourself and others more productive and maximize your value to the business. Those tasks always look good on a resume.
Step 5: Get Educated – Especially If It’s Cheap or Free
If your employer offers any sort of educational benefits, take advantage of them. Use those benefits to take classes on anything related to your career – and if there isn’t anything, take general business classes. Don’t let those benefits fall by the wayside.
For starters, seeking further education is a very clear indicator of your desire to work hard and self-improve, which is something that shines every time that you’re trying to get a job. Further education in your field can only increase your value as an employee, too, and it can also expand the range of jobs available to you if you’re exploring similar fields to your own.
If you’re not sure what your employer offers for educational benefits, ask. Unless you’re working in a very small shop (and sometimes even then), this will almost always be received well by your boss because you’ll be seen as taking some initiative to improve yourself. If this results in a free or very inexpensive opportunity to take classes, then it’s a big win for you.
Step 6: Keep Your Resume Updated
When things are going well at work, updating your resume seems like a silly idea. Don’t fool yourself. Even the strongest business can unexpectedly collapse if things rapidly change. Even the greatest project can have a big cut in funding.
Because of this, it never hurts to keep your resume fresh. Whenever you’ve completed a major task at work that might be relevant to your resume, add it immediately. If you’ve completed coursework that might be relevant to your resume, add it immediately.
The worst thing you can do is not touch your resume for years, find yourself suddenly unemployed, then be unable to come up with specific tasks or other things you’ve completed that could help your employment prospects. Keep it updated as you go and you’ll never have to worry about it.
Step 7: Be a Leader
Whenever there is a problem at work, don’t be afraid to step up and offer a solution for it without immediately having to go to the boss. Suggest a plan that can fix the problem and propose it to everyone involved, making it clear that you’re simply trying to make things easier for all involved.
Sure, sometimes it won’t work and sometimes you’ll still have to go find a manager anyway. However, most of the time it will work and when it does, you’ll gain respect from the people you work with and they’ll naturally come to you for help. This makes you much more essential in the workplace and much more difficult to let go.
It can be scary to speak up and stick your neck out there, but if you can actually come up with a plan that fixes a problem, don’t be afraid to do so. The benefits almost always outweigh the risks.
Step 8: Be Candid with Your Boss Regarding Job Expectations
Some jobs have a formal performance review system. Some do not. Regardless of which situation you find yourself in, it’s still worthwhile to know what your boss is expecting of you.
My suggestion is to do what I used to do at my previous employment. Once a month or so, I knocked on my boss’s door and simply sat down for a chat with how things are going regarding the projects I was working on. Was everything going well in the eyes of my supervisor? Is there a problem out there that I’m not seeing or handling well?
This served two purposes. One, it showed my boss that I cared about my job and wanted to do well. Two, if there actually was a problem, this served as a very early warning sign about that problem before it grew into a crisis. I could fix the problemnow before it developed into something bigger.
Step 9: Avoid Being a Negative Influence at Work
If you don’t have something positive to say at work, don’t say it unless you’re specifically asked to by a supervisor. Just don’t. There’s no benefit to anyone in reiterating the negative attributes of other people. Those attributes are clear to all – and if they’re not already, they soon will be.
Instead, focus on positive things when talking with others. Instead of talking about how horrible that guy from accounting is, talk about how amazing that guy from HR is. Instead of complaining about the long hours, focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.
Spreading negativity makes the whole office worse and often gets you labeled as a negative person. That’s not an attribute that will foster strong and lasting professional connections, nor will it foster professional stability.
Step 10: Start a Side Gig or Two
The final step you can take to ensure financial stability no matter what happens with your job is to not rely just on your job for income. Simply seek out other ways to earn income, whether it’s from a part-time job, a small side business, or something else entirely.
This achieves several things at once. For starters, it directly provides more income for you so you can build an emergency fund and pay off debt faster (both of which are great for your financial health). It also gives you outlets for other professional areas you want to explore, and it opens the door of possibility to an unexpected success (like The Simple Dollar was for me).
Write a book. Record some Youtube videos. Make something and sell it on Etsy. Get a part-time job. Take on some freelancing work. All of these options add financial and professional stability to your life.
The more steps you take to improve your professional stability, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to weather any professional storm. You’ll be able to handle job losses with ease, rebounding quickly into your own field or branching off into something new. The ability to do this provides incredible financial and professional stability, which can do nothing but help you over the long haul.