10 essential steps to take BEFORE you’re laid off

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.

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jb
jb
11 years ago

This is an interesting piece and has given me a lot to think about, particularly since I really don’t have an online presence.

There is one statement that I take issue with: “I personally think everyone should prepare financially for being unemployed… for a period of 3 to 6 months”. I wouldn’t limit the scope to six months. I know quite a few good people (who are good at their jobs) who were unemployed for longer than that during the 2001-2004 receission.

rogersdc
rogersdc
11 years ago

jb makes a very good point. Over the last 2 years, I’ve seen friends go for much longer than 6 months without a job. 3 to 6 months may be the “common wisdom,” but it’s not enough any more. It’s hard to get there, but important to be prepared for long term unemployment. This can, of course, take several forms, including creating a job or business to make up for some or all of what was lost.

matt @ Thrive
matt @ Thrive
11 years ago

Well done, Kevin. I particularly like the anecdote about the preschool mothers, as it highlights one of the most important aspects of the changing job market: we have to change not just the way we do our jobs, but the way we LIVE our jobs. As a behavioral psychologist in the working world, it is amazing to me the degree to which people seem unaware of the things their actions signal. It is not uncommon, for example, to hear people complain about their workload or other employees while in the workplace (not at Thrive, of course, but elsewhere). If it… Read more »

Laura Evans
Laura Evans
11 years ago

Excellent post.

As a self-employed photographer, I won’t get laid off per se, but all points apply to my situation. Photo budgets for advertising, editorial, weddings, family portraits – you name it – have been reduced or eliminated making the market much tougher than even a year ago.

And like jb, my online presence is on simmer. Time to crank it up! Thanks for the kick start.

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
11 years ago

This is obviously much easier advice to follow if you are in a career you love and don’t care too much about work/life balance (possibly because you’ve got somebody you can delegate running the home front to, so you’ll still *have* a home life even if you’re not that actively involved with it).

Ryan McLean
Ryan McLean
11 years ago

I like the idea of expanding your skills. I work full time online and am always trying to expand my skills so I can make as much money as possible.
Thanks for the tips, bummer hundreds of thousands of people are going to lose their jobs

TosaJen
TosaJen
11 years ago

We’re on “layoff watch” at our house again — 20% or so layoff announced in the new year, with our manager tell us things look bad for our group/location. We have most of the personal and homefront stuff nailed. I think the op is too optimistic — I remember the 70’s, and 3-6 months is pretty short if you’re looking for a high-paying professional job or starting a job/business during a serious recession. We’re set to weather a few years, with schooling, if necessary. As a former stay at home mom, and a wage-slave with a current SAH-dad, I’m not… Read more »

Neil
Neil
11 years ago

This is some great information. Reading through the list I realize I’m doing many of the things suggested, though I was motivated to do so for different reasons. Of course my objective is to align myself with the ideas in item number ten.

Adrienne
Adrienne
11 years ago

The “mom advice” rubbed me the wrong way too. As a woman who has been on both sides of the “stay at home” fence I know that both partners helping out is what keeps a family together. Sure there are times that the job comes first but if that is always then something is out of whack. Conversely in my job I know that while you want to be seen as a hard worker, the person who is constantly working more hours is more likely to be seen as inefficient rather than industrious.

Subba
Subba
11 years ago

One interesting aside to step # 10….My employer has done 3 rounds off 5% layoffs in the last couple of years, the last one being in November.
Incidentally the folks who were let go in the first two rounds found new jobs relatively easily, but the folks from the last round have been getting no leads at all.

In other words it worked out better for the folks in the bottom 10% than the folks in the next 5%, because of the timing.

Curt
Curt
11 years ago

I would add ..

11. Get Your Own Customers

Start a small business and get the foundation of your business setup with a few customers. That way you have a backup plan already in place.

Vincent Scordo
Vincent Scordo
11 years ago

This is an excellent post with lots of practical advice. I think the following points are especially important: 1. Everyone should prepare for being laid off in their career – in today’s “maximize shareholder value” operating mode, companies look to employee overhead to reduce costs and earn more, so no organization can afford to keep employees who are productive (unless the US moves away from the Anglo-Saxon economic model). 2. Reducing household burn rate is so important and this is tied into living below your means. If you live below your means and can afford to live without working for… Read more »

Chris
Chris
11 years ago

Great call on the blog writing. Today there is so much more that you can do besides just a resume. A blog is a great thing because it reveals much more about the person than a resume and cover letter and shows what you care about and are passionate about. That is very important to a potential employer.

This is a great list. If you focus on these things you will probably get promoted before anything else.

Momma
Momma
11 years ago

What great advice. As always, even if I’ve implemented most of those things already, there was something more that I could do. re: the stay at home mom advice. I think it’s dead on. Seriously. I’m the sole breadwinner in our house right now (not for lack of trying on my husband’s part) and it’s completely frustrating for me to know he’s been at home all day taking care of stuff there and to receive the call to pick up the kids (which means I have to rush out of the office a la Fred Flintstone) or to get the… Read more »

Aman
Aman
11 years ago

This might be a great set of tips for the white collar workers, but usually the hardest cuts are done for blue collar workers who don’t have the ability to network via online sites or blog for that better. Now, if you are a blue collar worker who feels that job cuts might be on the way as your company reorganizes: -start reducing your expenses immediately, cut down your cellphone plans and extra cable, netflix, etc as a temp way to lower DTD costs. -if you have the finances, enroll in a community college night class or two. The things… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
11 years ago

I wonder if this post isn’t advice for those in large cities, but not necessarily for the rest of us. In my small city, there aren’t a lot of networking breakfasts and cocktail parties… and this post seems addressed to those in middle management or above, but layoffs are just as (more?) likely among those whose jobs don’t require a “card” — how many secretaries, administrative assistants, retail clerks, manufacturing line workers, etc have cards to exchange?. Similarly, I wonder who is going to actually be reading all those new blogs. It’s not easy to produce a good blog (JD… Read more »

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
11 years ago

On the parenting front, it seems to me there’s a difference between asking for help with chores and asking the working parent to be involved in the children’s daily lives. Although when the children are so little they require constant supervision to keep them from killing themselves, help with the chores isn’t unreasonable either. My father always ate breakfast and dinner with us, and when we were little he often put us to bed. Between dinner and bedtime, he’d be up in his study working, but he knew what was going on in our lives. You can’t just put that… Read more »

ThatGuy
ThatGuy
11 years ago

This guy has software development tint. In many profession blogging would not make any sense. Could even be harmful as personality in certain corporate entities can and will be used against you. Plus who wants to read about proper A/R management?

-ThatGuy

Shara
Shara
11 years ago

There are challenges to both blue collar and white collar jobs. Blue collar people might not network the same, but white collar probably need a larger emergency cushion because the jobs are more specific. I can’t do just any job in my field. I have to find a job within my specialty within my field or I’m just not qualified. When DH was job hunting (in the same field) he found about one job per month to apply to in our area, and took him about a year to get a job. If he had been out of work he… Read more »

ExpatKat
ExpatKat
11 years ago

Lots of great advice here. It’s so important to be adaptable and be proactive in today’s marketplace. Don’t just wait for the axe to fall. On the ‘mom advice,’ don’t judge her comment by your own situation. Many people with high paid executive jobs and kids at home do have their lives ‘completely out of whack.’My husband is the sole breadwinner and his job requires him to travel extensively. As we have 3 kids, I have to deal with everything at home 24/7.I clean my own home, cook every day and have never had a manicure or a spa in… Read more »

matt @ Thrive
matt @ Thrive
11 years ago

I’ve been a vocal advocate of blue collar folks (my family is entirely blue collar, prior to my brother and I) and I’m surprised to see people saying that you can’t use the internet to get a blue collar job. See my gas station attendant example in the second post – I’ve hired and been hired for blue collar positions, and displaying knowledge, drive, and initiative is just as important (if not more so) than for white collar jobs. There are lots of ways to blog about your industry. Even if you’re simply adding a few lines of commentary to… Read more »

Jane
Jane
11 years ago

“if you’ve got a partner who is bringing in all the income, you need to figure out a way to make sure the home stuff is taken care of.” In my opinion, the “home stuff” is everyone’s responsibility, not just the one who spends the most time in it. I don’t think I should feel bad about asking my husband to run errands either after work or during his lunch hour. My job taking care of a baby is just as demanding and perhaps more so than sitting at a desk all day. He actually gets a lunch hour –… Read more »

Velvet Jones
Velvet Jones
11 years ago

This post got me thinking. First of all, I don’t believe everything here is useful for everyone, and I’ve got reservations about some the suggestions. I find it curious that some are still toting the idea of “living your job” however the millions and millions of millenials coming into the workforce are a direct challenge to this line of thought. While they embrace social networking (btw, in their eyes, blogs are dead and emails are something quaint…like the typewriter), they fiercely believe in having a life completely their own and outside of work. I can embrace the idea of having… Read more »

cherie
cherie
11 years ago

I think it was a great, helpful article. I especially appreciated this part: “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.” I stopped practicing law to stay home and raise my kids and feel lucky to be able to do so. Having had the same career as my husband has gives me insight into understanding why he needs to spend so much time away from home. I urge other stay at home parents to try to put themselves in their spouse’s place when… Read more »

Carla
Carla
11 years ago

I have a question about #3 “Start a blog that contains at least 50% professional material” I do have a blog but what I blog/write about has nothing to do with my current day-job occupation, which is a Project Coordinator for an architecture firm (support role). Besides that and my previous positions as an Administrative/Executive Assistant, I don’t really have much to offer. Having been laid off four (maybe five) times in eleven years, I try to keep my resume sharp and ready to go. The main problem was, it took me over a year to find another job at… Read more »

rubin pham
rubin pham
11 years ago

cut down your expenses on food, housing and transportation.
prepare your own meals at home.
take the bus instead of driving and save on gas, insurance & maintenance.
if you are a renter, look for cheaper apartment elsewhere.
if you are a home owner, try to refinace your home now that interest rate has dropped.

JACK
JACK
11 years ago

With all due respect, the blog writing suggestion is downright silly. Unless your job is writing, it will have no bearing whatsoever on your hiring (although maybe a negative one). I can’t think of a single circumstance where I’ve hired someone where I would have give a darn about what they wrote on a blog other than to see if they were violating confidentiality obligations or were a downright loose cannon. Bottom line: if you are going to use a blog as a job strategy, be darn sure you want your potential employer to judge you based on your blog.… Read more »

Steve in Montreal
Steve in Montreal
11 years ago

I’m worried about the layoffs coming at my company. We don’t know when or who but it will be soon. After reading this issue, I’m wondering about using some of my emergency fund to take a 3 month management class. The price will severely reduce my EF but there is a chance that the course will help my CV. It will take some serious thought.

matt @ Thrive
matt @ Thrive
11 years ago

“With all due respect, the blog writing suggestion is downright silly.” I’m be curious what you hire for, Jack. Both what positions and based on what criteria. Velvet Jones suggested that you only blog if you are passionate about your work, and to the extent that that is a genuine signal, there is a darn good reason I hire someone who blogs about their work: precisely because it shows they are passionate about it. If you have the choice between an employee that doesn’t care about what they do and one that does, can anyone really say they would hire… Read more »

RenaissanceTrophyWife
RenaissanceTrophyWife
11 years ago

Good advice– however I think that you should weigh his social media suggestions carefully, depending on the nature of your occupation. If you’re in a position where you deal with sensitive information, blogging about work may imply lack of discretion to a future employer. Just be careful. For professionals, the LinkedIn suggestion is far more valuable than Facebook or Twitter. If you’re in a very social field like event planning, Facebook and Twitter may garner you more exposure. As a quasi-early FB adopter (when it was college-only!) I feel it’s ballooned out of control with the amount of add-ons. If… Read more »

me
me
11 years ago

Wow, how dare he write what he did about SAHM’s. I did NOT have my children alone and I don’t see why I should raise them alone. I am a young SAHM and I want to tell other women like me to IGNORE that advice. My advice to you is to get YOURSELF in a position where you are financially able to support you and your children if your husband wasn’t in the picture. You do not have to be a martyr and if your husband is ignoring his home responsibilities he has no respect for you or the WORK… Read more »

Julia
Julia
11 years ago

Fantastic guest post! I do think that it takes a serious commitment to keep a blog going, and may be tough when the work you do is not easy to write about. However, you could join an existing blog that has many contributors, or you could write guest articles on existing blogs. Create a web presence for yourself (web page, account on an existing blogging service, etc). When you comment on blog articles related to your work, link back to that professional profile. However, stay aware that it can then be easy to find your comments on various blogs via… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
11 years ago

This is incredibly biased towards media/web/software jobs. I would imagine that the vast majority of employers *don’t* actually google their applicants before interviews, even if it’s common in these fields. Should GM go bankrupt, does Mr. Merritt actually think that the laid off assembly-line workers who are able to go find work at Ford or Toyota are going to be the ones with work-related blogs? I have never worked on an automotive assembly line, but I’d imagine the blog post about how you stamped another 700 truck fenders today is not particularly riveting. That said, it *is* good advice in… Read more »

Beef Up Your Piggy
Beef Up Your Piggy
11 years ago

Great post! I like all the pointers that are not obvious as well. I like the exercise one and the networking ones. This is just a day and age where people have to be pro-active for themselves. Thanks!

Bean
Bean
11 years ago

I really have to question the advice about the blog. In my profession, it’s quite suspect to have a blog that I can google. I do run a Google search on all prospective hires, and have opted not to hire more than a few who had questionable things posted on their blogs. If you are going to start a blog, never ever complain about your current employer on it. Also, be sure that your understanding of the industry is actually on target. A couple prospective employees had work oriented blogs, but were so off target in their assessments of the… Read more »

kick_push
kick_push
11 years ago

great post JD

i never heard of LinkedIn before.. i might have to check that out

i cut off all my networking sites over a year ago (facebook, myspace) for personal reasons.. but i might have to start them up again in 2009.. sometimes it’s know what you know.. but WHO you know

Aman
Aman
11 years ago

One thing to add to my initial post: Why is it that during down times, many employees dont prepare for the worst case of being let go? Its getting harder to bounce back into a well paying job and many are being forced to find positions that pay less. I have a very good friend that I went to MBA school with and he was making about $300K/yr working downtown Toronto investment bank. As soon as he was let go, he was forced to list his condo for sale and break his lease on this BMW because he did not… Read more »

kick_push
kick_push
11 years ago

oh and the exercise part.. i would agree 100% with that

i’ve been on a regimen for over 2 months now and it has changed my life.. not just appearance.. but the way i feel

health is your #1 asset

Sean
Sean
11 years ago

I think the section about spending more time at work and “living your job” goes against what a lot of current research is showing. Successful companies of all sizes are starting to realize that balanced employees are far more productive than employees who work long hours. For employees who work long hours I would be asking: 1. Are you working efficiently during normal hours? Or, are you staying late because you are inefficient and must work more hours to complete the same work that an efficient worker can finish without staying late? 2. When are you going to be taking… Read more »

Alex
Alex
11 years ago

In another life, having conducted background checks and pre-employment screening for a variety of employers (including my own) as part of my job, I would suggest that the social networking/blogging debate is not industry-specific, but more age related. Even in software engineering, for example, the 45 year old JavaScript developer may not have a blog, while the 20-something likely does participate in some form of social networking. Also, I would say that many recent graduates just now entering the workforce have a varied view on blogs, e-mailing, and so on. While LiveJournal-like blogs about your daily life may be antiquated,… Read more »

Liz
Liz
11 years ago

I think these are all great ideas! I was wondering though, for those that have started blogs in their professional field, has anyone ever been successful using it on their resume?

Chelo Marroquin
Chelo Marroquin
11 years ago

First off this article takes on a tone for 2 parent homes what about those of us that are single parents. While many of these tips are very practical some you need to fit to your situation. The comment from the preschoolers mentor table (which is not a bad idea) is obviously from a 2 parent household with one parent being at home. Being laid off and a single parent “being laid off” takes on a whole different challenge not only do you need to bring home the bacon. Once you start working again you also need to be able… Read more »

Karen
Karen
11 years ago

I read the part about the young mother differently than it seems a lot of people did. I took it to mean that the advice was more in the case the husband DID get laid off – then he’d be around to drop off the kids, etc. because he wouldn’t be off at a job.

Jeff@MySuperChargedLife
11 years ago

I think #10 is the best tip on the list. I recently wrote a post suggesting that now is the time to bring more value to your employer by becoming an innovator. Maybe your readers would enjoy it:

4 Steps To Make Yourself An Instant Innovator

Hope it helps!

B.G.
B.G.
11 years ago

Just wanted to add my thoughts about the Stay at Home Mom advice to suck it up and not complain when her husband works long hours and doesn’t help with the home. Okay, maybe in the context of a recession, this is barely tolerable advice. But as a stay at home mom who routinely sucked it up so my husband could work long hours, including most weekends, I really think this advice, frankly, is hideous. I am now facing divorce and life as a single mom in the worst economy after spending several years as a supportive wife taking care… Read more »

Craig
Craig
11 years ago

I think the best tips are to get more involved with social media tools. I have gotten more tips and advice in Twitter in the past month than from reading books over the past years. Networking is key and the tools help out a lot.

JACK
JACK
11 years ago

“I’m be curious what you hire for, Jack. Both what positions and based on what criteria. Velvet Jones suggested that you only blog if you are passionate about your work, and to the extent that that is a genuine signal, there is a darn good reason I hire someone who blogs about their work: precisely because it shows they are passionate about it. If you have the choice between an employee that doesn’t care about what they do and one that does, can anyone really say they would hire the employee that doesn’t?” Matt, I interview and hire lawyers. Trust… Read more »

kick_push
kick_push
11 years ago

what is twitter?

Craig
Craig
11 years ago

http://twitter.com/. It’s a micro-blog where you communicate in blog style, but posts can only be max. 140 characters. It’s a great way to network with others in your industry or random people from every walks of life. A lot of link sharing, advice, tips, answers to questions can be answered once you develop a rapport within your network. I have been using it for a month and am slowly trying to build my network and get my name out there. It also can be addicting and fun and a way to procrastinate. If anyone is using twitter and would like… Read more »

Jill
Jill
11 years ago

What about those of us who are graduating college and entering this job market in the next year or so? Would these same tips apply? This is all very nerve-racking!

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