This is a guest post from Kevin Merritt, founder and CEO of blist, a web-based list-sharing and database application.

As a nation we have enjoyed relatively low unemployment for the last five years. At the end of 2007 the unemployment rate stood at 4.6%. By comparison, the U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 24.9% in 1933, during the darkest year of the Great Depression.

In October of this year the unemployment rate grew 0.4% to 6.5%, its highest rate in 14 years. Ten million Americans are now unemployed: 240,000 people lost their jobs in October, and 284,000 lost their jobs in September. That represents the biggest two-month loss of American jobs since 2001. Economists are predicting the unemployment rate will rise to 8.5% by the end of 2009, which means as many as three million more workers will be laid off in the U.S.

Because I’m a CEO who hires employees regularly, a few friends of mine who have recently been laid off have asked me for job-hunting advice. Some have asked me to review their resumes and offer suggestions. Unfortunately these folks are now in job recovery mode and aren’t able to optimally position themselves for landing on their feet.

Personally I prefer actionable advice. As such, I’m instead going to suggest ten things you can do now to be prepared for a layoff a year from now.

  1. Update your skills. It’s easy to become distracted by everything that’s going on today at home and at work. We neglect investing in ourselves. We can get away with that during boom times, but during tough times we need up to date, relevant skills. Start immediately. If you need training, get it — but don’t mistake training for application. Make sure you are practicing your skills professionally on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Reduce your household burn rate. Many people earn more than the market will bear for their services. Stock prices have fallen 50%. Home prices are falling. Salaries adjust due to market conditions, too. When finding a job is tough, don’t restrict the size of the relevant job pool because you can’t afford to work for less than you’re currently earning. We live in different times than our parents did. I personally think everyone should prepare financially for being unemployed once every five years for a period of 3 to 6 months.
  3. Start a blog that contains at least 50% professional material. If you don’t already have a blog, stop reading this one and go start one right this minute. It’s essential. Your blog is your living resume. It shows how you think. It shows how you write. It shows what’s important to you. While it is fine to blog about personal topics, devote half of your posts to professional content. What is that you do by trade? Mentor us through your blog. We employers love hiring mentors — they raise everybody’s performance.
  4. Expand your physical network. Depending on how you’re wired, networking is either a lot of fun or a lot of work. If it’s work for you, have the discipline to start now. Building a network takes time, effort and sincerity. Start attending breakfast and/or cocktail networking events. Set goals for yourself. For example: “I want to have a good conversation and exchange business cards with at least 3 people during this breakfast.”
  5. Update your LinkedIn profile. You are on LinkedIn, right? If not, do that right now. Your LinkedIn profile is a marketing tool. Be honest, genuine and show some humility, but also make yourself stand out in a crowd. Optimize your profile for the five-line preview that comes up when someone conducts a search.
  6. Expand your virtual network via LinkedIn. Future employers aren’t dumb. They’ll detect that you only decided to invest in updating your profile and expanding your network and references after you lost your job. Do it now. Like physical networking, developing your virtual network takes time too. Set goals. For example: “I want to have 100 contacts by the end of the year and 250 contacts by this time next year.”
  7. Start exercising. We all know that discrimination is illegal for most reasons and unethical for other reasons. But if you’ve watched 60 Minutes, you know that’s not how humans behave. With comparably qualified candidates, the attractive, fit people are usually offered the job. What are employers looking for in prospective employees? Someone who will get the job done. If you look like you are full of energy, the perception is that you will get the job done.
  8. Learn to use social media effectively. Learn to use Twitter and Facebook. In addition to starting your own blog, participate in some discussions online by commenting on blogs in your industry. Always link your comments back to your blog. Potential employers will Google you. Show them that you’re thoughtful and have something to say. Conversely, be careful about thinking “it’s just Twitter” before tweeting something that could embarrass you later.
  9. Do extracurricular work that showcases your abilities. What’s better than telling a prospective employer how good you are? Show them! If you’re a software engineer, contribute on an open source project, develop an iPhone application or develop a robust website. If you’re an online marketer, prove your good by showing me that you have a site that gets a lot of traffic. I met a man earlier this year who’s a program manager at Microsoft. He wanted to move into a new role as a marketer, but didn’t have any day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft that showed he could do the job. So he bought a domain and set up a website dedicated to Caribbean travel. Soon it was attracting lots of traffic and ranked high in organic search. It was a great way to show doubters that he was qualified.
  10. Avoid being laid off in the first place. Last but not least, don’t relinquish the pole position. An incumbent has an edge. It’s easier to keep a job than find one. We’re hearing about companies cutting 25% or 33% of their headcount. That means you need to be in the top 67% or 75% to avoid a pink slip. Other than an entire plant, division or office closure, the decisions about whom to keep and whom to let go are based on performance, salary and redundancy of position. Boost your performance by getting meaningful things done. Come in earlier. Stay later. Be more visible. Start sending your boss weekly status reports showing your accomplishments. Exhibit leadership.

My wife participates in a group for moms of preschoolers, and she shared a story with me earlier this week. Each table has four young moms and one “mentor” mom whose kids are now adults. One of the young moms was concerned that her sole-provider husband might lose his job and asked the mentor what she would suggest they do. Her matter-of-fact answer was, “Well, for starters, you can stop complaining when he can’t drop the kids off at school before work and be home by 6:00 for dinner.”

Nobody knows how long the current economic crisis will last or how bad it will get. But it’s already proving to be a much tougher job climate than the past few years, and the next year looks bleaker still. Start preparing today for the possibility of being laid off sometime next year. The earlier you start, the better off you’ll be.

Unfortunately layoffs are sometimes unavoidable. If you’ve been laid off, we at blist hope we can help. We’ve created a website called Land on My Feet. It’s a simple, free, one-page, opt-in site for anyone who has been laid off to enter their name and a link to their Linkedin profile.

Despite economy-wide layoffs, some companies are still hiring, and we’re promoting this site to hiring managers as a free resource to find qualified candidates. Hopefully blist can help you land on your feet.

As always, GRS does not accept paid posts. Though this article promotes Kevin’s sites, I accepted it for publication because it contains great information and links to excellent resources.

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