Your skills, goals and personal career plan can guide your professional life, but you should also prepare for potential redundancies, a change in responsibilities, or even a promotion. A strong career "insurance policy" can give you the confidence to make the right choices. Here's how to build one.
What Is a Career Insurance Policy?
We first heard the phrase when career expert Hannah Morgan described it last year, and we'll walk you through building your own in this post. Hannah describes it as a way to financially and professionally protect yourself against the possibility of losing your job. In other words, doing all the things required to make sure you land safely if fate pulls the rug out from under you tomorrow. We're taking the original idea and piggybacking on it to include some ways to prep you for any career or job shift, not just the unexpected kind.
A career insurance policy can help take some of the weight from your shoulders and ensure you have the basics — money, your professional network, your skills and an escape plan all taken care of, so you can focus on deciding what you should do next.
Step 1: Protect Yourself Financially with an Emergency Fund
Insurance policies work because you have a pool of resources to tap into if disaster strikes. This is no different: layoffs can happen even at the most profitable companies, and job situations can change drastically. The first thing most of us agonise over in times like these is how we will pay the bills. Picture: Danielle Elder
Alleviate that worry right now by starting an emergency fund. How much you should put into it depends on your needs. Most people say you should stash enough cash away for three to six months of regular bills, expenses and purchases that you would normally make. Start with the basics, then move up to incidentals. Don't try to plan for everything, and keep your money somewhere it will work for you. At the end of the day, if you can make your emergency fund grow on its own, you will be better prepared for an emergency such as a job loss or illness.
Your emergency fund isn't just in case you lose your job though. If your work environment gets so terrible that you want to leave, that fund makes it easy to walk away without having to wait and be miserable while you search for a new job. It also gives you the head space to leave a job and take your time in finding a new one.
Step 2: Make Yourself More Valuable by Diversifying Your Skills and Experience
One of the best things I ever did for my career was make a move from one part of my field (systems administration and support) to another (technical project management). After a few years, I found myself capable of moving in either direction. Granted, I had a job that let me keep my old skills honed while working at the new ones, but if you're facing a career change, a possible promotion or a layoff, don't let yourself get caught up knowing how to do only one thing. The best time to learn something new is when you don't need the skill. Picture: Elvert Barnes
Being good at one thing just isn't enough anymore, but it can be worse when that one thing you're good at is suddenly no longer in high demand. There are plenty of ways to pick up new skills. Take night classes, go back to school for an advanced degree, take up an apprenticeship or pick up a part-time job. Your skill doesn't have to be a something as big as a degree either: pick up a new language, or learn a new programming language or tool, or explore a new hobby. Consider an internship or volunteer to pick up those desirable skills.
Make a commitment to keep learning and regularly pick up new skills that benefit you professionally. You may even be able to turn those hobbies into a paying job — a way to diversify your income streams so you're not so heavily reliant on the job you have.
Step 3: Protect Yourself Professionally by Beefing Up Your Network
Getting a job these days has just as much to do with who you know as what you know. Companies everywhere get thousands of applicants each day, and the best way to get a leg up on the competition is to have friends in the right places who are willing to lend you a hand. We mentioned using the "Layoff Test" to beef up your network or thinking about the 10 people you would reach out to for advice or support if you got laid off tomorrow. If you can't think of 10 people, your professional network probably sucks, but you can do something about it. Here are a few ways to improve your professional network now while you're gainfully employed and not necessarily looking for a new opportunity. Picture: Warren Goldswain/Shutterstock
- Reconnect with old coworkers or managers you haven't spoken to in a while. Offer your help to them, see what they have going on professionally. The first rule of professional networking is to stop thinking of it as professional networking: all you're doing is making friends and extending your help to people who may need it. What goes around comes around. Ask those old contacts out for coffee in the morning or for lunch and catch up. You should never need to IM or call an old coworker because you're interviewing and need a reference from an old job.
- Get involved in industry groups or trade associations. Most of us incorrectly assume that the only people we can and should network with are previous coworkers or managers — people who know how we work and can vouch for us. That's all well and good, but if a company lays off your entire department, your friends will need help as much as you do. Join a professional organisation (for example, even though I haven't been a full-time project manager, I'm still a member of the Project Management Institute) or trade group dedicated to your desired craft. Go to meetings, seminars or dinners and meet people. Listen to presentations. Learn something new, and meet people who have something to teach you.
- Make personal connections with people you admire. If the idea of huge industry gatherings or busy cafes is too much, this piece on networking for introverts might help. You probably already know a few people in your field — or your preferred field — whose work you admire. Reach out to them personally to get to know them. Let them know you're interested in their work and would love to talk to them about it. Meet them, talk and make a personal connection. Offer your help if they can use it.
Remember, "professional network" is really code for "friends who help each other professionally when they can". That's all — there's no magic or secret handshake. Be sincere, be willing to help other people, and others will do the same for you.
Step 4: Keep Your Résumé and Social Networks Updated, and Learn How to Promote Yourself
The first thing that many of us do as soon as we think about leaving a job or have lost a job is update our résumés and our profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook,and job boards where we have our résumés saved. It's an unfortunate necessity, but if you wait until you're leaving (or have been let go!) to add your most recent job to your résumés, you're doing it wrong.
Set aside an hour one night to make sure your résumé is up to date — everything from your contact information to your current job title and responsibilities. Make this a regular task. If you have a personal site where you host your résumés or portfolio, update that as well. It's worth the effort of doing now while everything is fine. Picture: CharlotWest
At the same time, learn how to promote yourself without being sleazy about it. You have desirable skills and experience that any employer would want, so flaunt it. Give anyone looking for more information about you something great to look at and find when they search for you online, or reach out to their colleagues about you.
Step 5: Turn Your Hobbies, Passions or Extra Skills Into a Second Income Stream
A single income stream is risky, and the fact that most of us are entirely dependent on our one jobs is one of the biggest reasons job uncertainty stresses us out. Pending layoffs, reorganisations, any small change can very literally take our livelihoods away. Back when getting a job meant you'd have it until you retired, that wasn't a big deal, but now, getting laid off can lead to financial ruin. Instead of leaving it up to fate, diversify your income streams. Picture: Koshyk
We're not saying work multiple jobs just because you can, but you should consider finding ways to turn your interests into alternative income streams. If you like to write, consider freelance writing or starting your own blog. If you're technically inclined, consider offering to repair friends' and neighbours' computers for a fee. It's not easy, but it's a great way to fill your emergency fund a little faster and make yourself a little less reliant on the whims of one employer. Then you can think more clearly about whether a layoff is coming your way, or whether a promotion or change in primary jobs is best for you.
Ideally, all of these suggestions will help you build a kind of bulletproof "career armour" that will help protect you from sudden changes and make difficult decisions a little easier. You will have the basics covered, and you will be prepared for most common eventualities. More importantly, you will be ready to tackle whatever comes your way with confidence. That is the best thing insurance can possibly offer.