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Recession-Proof Your Career

Be Ready for a Recession with a Backup Career Plan

By Bob Rosner and Sherrie Campbell

Some things just naturally go together: Naomi and Wynonna, Magic and Kareem, recessions and layoffs. That's why it's so important during the current recession to have a backup career plan. Even if you think your job is safe. Especially if you think your job is safe!

The questions and advice below should give you new options to explore if your career goes from a best-case, to a worst-case scenario. Or they may just help you discover an exciting new direction for your career.

  • DON'T limit your possibilities.
  • DO a new career plan.
  • DO start your own business.
  • DO have something to pay the bills.

So let's take a creative look at your past, present and future to create some new options that you could pursue in the event of a career meltdown, or job burnout.

Don't Limit Your Possibilities
Did you know that in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (another can't-put-down publication from the U.S. Government's Department of Labor) there are 28,800 different job titles listed? Think of all the job titles that you are capable of filling. Most people could probably think of 10 job titles that they could fill. That would leave 28,790 jobs out there for you to explore. The questions below should help in your search.

Checkup Questions for your Backup Career Plan:

  • What are you doing when you lose track of the time?
  • What job has always intrigued you?
  • If you could get paid to do anything, what would it be?

The goal here is to expand your career plan possibilities. So ask the questions to expand how you view yourself and your skills.

Career Action Plan:

  1. Make a list of your areas of interest. Most of us define ourselves far too narrowly. For example, let's say you're an accountant, specializing in accounts receivable for the trucking industry. Expand your horizons. Start by asking yourself, "What am I doing when I lose track of time?" It's the classic career counselor question, but it does get right to the heart of your interests. Do you just love to pour over baseball statistics, wander through museums or work in your garden? Make a list of your top areas of interest.
  2. Make a list of jobs that intrigue you. We are in the career biz, but there are so many jobs that intrigue us: translator, bouncer, mathematician, helicopter pilot. The list could go on and on. What jobs intrigue you? If there was a show on the Discovery Channel about different jobs, which jobs would be must-see watching for you?
  3. Describe your fantasy job. If you could get paid to do anything, what would it be? It's probably a good idea to eliminate getting paid to sleep, eat, etc. A fantasy job should be based on something intrinsic to the job. So, before you experience job burnout, get out a blank sheet of paper and start writing down your dream job to-do-list. Once again, you might even surprise yourself.
Do a New Career Plan
Just because you are doing a specific job now, doesn't mean that you'll have to do it for the rest of your life. You don't want to suffer from job burnout. Pardon a Monty Python moment here, "And now for something completely different." Let's explore totally new career possibilities.

Checkup Questions for your Backup Career Plan:

  • What new career would fit best into your old career?
  • What industries could you transfer into?
  • What are your transferable skills?
  • Have your researched recession proof jobs?

Before you can dive into a new career, you should spend time exploring your options. The action plan below is designed to help.

Career Action Plan:

  1. List your career "cousins". Cousins? Yes, you read that correctly. We want to push you to explore career options that are in the same family tree as your current job but aren't a twin, or exactly the same kind of job. A great tool to do this is PayScale's GigZig career plan explorer. It gives you the chance to list the jobs you've had and then draws on other people's actual career paths to offer you connections to jobs that you would probably never have thought about pursuing.
  2. List your industry "cousins". There are industries that are related to yours that could be a great place for you to land. Consider them other trees in the same forest. But how do you find them? We'd suggest that you talk to vendors. See what other businesses they work with. There might be a connection that you hadn't thought of. Also explore other industry publications at your library or online. Finally, stay current with business publications. Don't lose sight of the forest because of the tree you're in.
  3. Identify your transferable skills. Some of your skills are totally unique to your current job or industry. But you can usually count those skills on one hand. Most of your skills apply to other industries. For example, customer service. Name us an industry that doesn't have customer service positions. If you think in terms of transferable skills you'll quickly see that you've got a lot of expertise that can be transferred to a new job or industry.
  4. Research recession proof jobs. There are many organizations doing research around recession proof jobs. Research recession proof jobs and industries that are interesting to you. Checking statistics on career changes can also shed new light on career opportunities during a recession.
Do Start Your Own Business
Between the two of us, we've started six corporations. That's a pretty good indication that we've got the entrepreneur gene. Just because you haven't started your own company doesn't mean that you can't. Or won't. Use the questions and action plan below to see if there is an entrepreneur inside of you.

Checkup Questions for your Backup Career Plan:

  • Are you suited to entrepreneurship?
  • Are there entrepreneurs you can interview?
  • Do you have ideas for a business?

The following action plan could help to point you in the direction of a great new business opportunity, and prevent a bad case of job burnout.

Career Action Plan:

  1. Talk to former colleagues. Running your own business is very different from working in someone else's. You've got to be self-motivated, focused and able to make rapid-fire decisions. One great way to see if you've got the stuff to start your own business is to talk to people who've actually worked with you. People you can trust. Ask them to honestly evaluate your entrepreneurial potential. Don't be bound by what they say, but simply consider it feedback.
  2. Talk to many entrepreneurs. Seek out entrepreneurs who will give you the honest truth, not a whitewashed PR view of being and entrepreneur. Ask them what they like, what they don't like, what they found surprising and what they'd change. Ironically, most entrepreneurs love to talk to people thinking about starting up their own business. You just might find that your major challenge will be shutting them up.
  3. List more than one business you could start. Many people have one business idea rattling around in their head. We want to push you deeper. Push yourself hard on this one. Brainstorm. Go online. Really challenge yourself to come up with multiple clever and sustainable business ideas that you could pursue.
Do Have Something That Pays the Bills
When you have bills and a ballooning mortgage, it deflates your thoughts of taking a risky leap of faith into a new career or business. That's why it's so helpful to have a dependable money-making gig that you can fall back on to support yourself if your current job falls victim to the recession.

Checkup Questions for your Backup Career Plan:

  • How have you earned money in the past outside your occupation?
  • Can you be a consultant?
  • Are there moonlighting opportunities for you?

Below are strategies that can hopefully put money in your pocket when you are moving your career in a new direction.

Career Action Plan:

  1. List ways you've earned money outside of your current profession. In college almost everyone we knew had a bankable skill. Some were lifeguards, night watchmen or fitness instructors. But as our careers move on, we tend to move away from having a dependable way to earn money outside of our main profession. We don't believe this is a good thing. Explore ways that you could earn money, whether it's dusting off your waiter skills or getting re-certified as a teacher.
  2. List consulting opportunities. If you have expertise, there is often someone out there who will pay you for your insight. Obviously, your company wouldn't be excited about you offering your consulting skills to your main competitor, but there are often consulting opportunities out there that won't result in a lawsuit. Talk to vendors, coworkers and industry pals to explore who would be willing to pay you to get a peek inside your head. Look on Craigslist to see what kinds of skills individuals are offering to corporations and what kinds of skills corporations are soliciting.
  3. List moonlighting opportunities. There are websites that list short-term project work like iFreelance.com. Explore what's out there. Also, consider picking up a shift or two with another employer outside your regular gig. Most of us are single-shift people, but there are second and third shifts for many businesses. So, exploring additional income opportunities doesn't have to mean cutting into your current work day.

Bob Rosner and Sherrie Campbell author the weekly internationally-syndicated workplace911 column. Bob's a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. Sherrie's a work relations expert and award-winning comedian. Together they offer 12 years of quick, intuitive and humorous column responses on their workplace911.com website. You can e-mail them at bs@workplace911.com.