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Recession-Proof Your Career
Preparing for a recession - stethoscope and money

Preparing for a Recession: Check Vital Signs

By Bob Rosner and Sherrie Campbell

It's difficult to recognize signs of life in a U.S. recession. But before you flat-line, check your vital signs along with your company's. If you're asking yourself what to do during a recession, don't join the death march just yet. We'll offer tips on preparing for a recession in the following four areas:

Some of you have already figured out where you fall on the list. We'll help you build an action plan to address your fears, below. If you aren't sure which flock you're in, keep bird watching, it should become clear soon.

Check Your Company and Department
Asking you to study your company can seem like a request for unpaid overtime, but trust us, this can pay more than time-and-a-half. You work hard, but how much effort do you put into getting an independent view of your company? Do you ask hard questions about the direction competitors or customers may head in the future? Or, as we used to say in Jersey, are you just cruisin' for a brusin'?

When preparing for a recession, ask:

  • How is your company faring during the current U.S. recession?
  • Could your department be in trouble because of the current U.S. recession?
  • Are there any game-changers on the horizon?

Below we've outlined an action plan to address each of these questions.

U.S. Recession Action Plan:

  1. Do due diligence. Most of us take our company's solvency for granted. You can't afford to do that during a U.S. recession. Dedicate an hour each week to taking your company's pulse. If your company is publicly traded, take stock in how it's doing. Call a broker and utilize the free phone consultation, if they offer it, to ask direct questions about your company and its future prospects. Or, go online and look at the free research information provided by online brokers. If your company isn't quite so public, talk to your vendors. Are they getting paid on time? We all love surprises but not from your company in the form of a layoff. You can't eliminate these kinds of surprises, but you can reduce their odds by preparing for a recession and the possibility of layoffs
  2. Do department due diligence. When Microsoft was booming, they announced a layoff of people in their floppy disk division. Even growing companies have parts of the organization that aren't keeping pace. Be sure that you don't get stuck in your company's dying floppy division, or it's equivalent, by constantly looking for departments that are vital. Then look for opportunities to get to know people in the leading departments by serving on task forces or just networking on your own time.
  3. Watch for game-changers. In sports, a game-changer is something that changes the entire direction of a game. At work game-changers can be a huge new competitor, a new piece of legislation that will directly affect your business or a competitor getting bought by a bigger player so they'll have deeper pockets with which to challenge your company in the marketplace. When preparing for a recession, follow business news on the Web, network within your industry and talk to colleagues who are in the know.
Check Geography
In retail the mantra is "location, location, location." However, this mantra might even be more relevant for each of us and our careers during a U.S. recession. Because the economy always has regions that are less hard hit by tough times. That's why it's important to keep your eyes on the other parts of the country to see if there indeed are greener pastures out there for your career.

When preparing for a recession, ask:

  • Is there a region that is prospering despite the current U.S. recession?
  • Have you explored telecommuting opportunities?
  • Is there a cheaper place to live?

Below is an action plan to help you explore your geographic options.

U.S. Recession Action Plan:

  1. Take a geography quiz. Study other parts of the country, or if you are really daring, other parts of the world. Read business sections of different local newspapers. Read national stories talking about different regions. See if you can make a friend in sales who can tell you if sales in another part of the country are doing better than in your backyard.
  2. Check out the cost of living. When preparing for a recession, you can make geography work for you by exploring parts of the country that are much cheaper places to live. PayScale's Cost of Living Calculator is a great tool to use to see if there is a region that will leave more cash in your pocket each month.
  3. Telecommute. Work at a company based in a region that is faring well while living in a city with a lower cost of living. We know a number of people who live thousands of miles from their office. Many companies realize that it's cheaper to have a person work from home. They don't have to give that employee a desk, office space, etc. Explore your options. And there is another benefit, of course. Wouldn't it be nice to not have a boss looking over your shoulder every day?
Check Your Own Vitals
It's relatively easy to get most people to examine their company or their geographical options. It's tougher to get them to take a hard look in the mirror. Do you like your job? Is there something better out there for you to do? Are you bored?

When preparing for a recession, ask:

  • Are you satisfied with your current job?
  • Is there a better job out there for you?
  • Can you improve your skills to become more employable?

In preparing for a recession, take off your rose-colored glasses and take a hard look at yourself, we've included an action plan below.

U.S. Recession Action Plan:

  1. Get happy. Next time you are at a party listen to yourself talk when someone asks you how work is going. Do you get excited like this is a vital part of your life? Or, do you sound like you are talking about someone who died? This is a pretty good indication that you are probably ready to move on to a new assignment. Another good technique to take your own temperature is to make a list of the things you like about your job and the things you don't like. If the list of things you don't like dwarfs the list of likes, it's probably time to start looking for new opportunities.
  2. Talk to people about their jobs. The best way to do this is through "informational interviews." This is where you talk to people who actually do a job that intrigues you. The goal is not to get hired but to get a first-hand glimpse of what it is like to actually do the job that interests you. Ask people what they like, what they don't like and if there are other people you should talk to.
  3. Get better. Most of us have access to corporate training programs, conferences, etc. But we're all so busy that we tend to put them on the back burner. While preparing for a recession, it's important to make the commitment to continually expand your skills. So, on a regular basis (monthly or quarterly) look to develop your expertise. If your company won't support the effort, look for online education opportunities that will give you more options in the future.
Don't Be a Dead Head
Let's face it, your days of looking good in tie-died clothing are in the past. But, unfortunately, our gratuitous references to the Grateful Dead probably aren't. Once you've asked the tough questions, it is important to have a plan for doing something about what you discover.

When preparing for a recession, ask:

  • What's your plan for action?
  • How will you get started?
  • Who will support your efforts?

We're all busy. So it can be difficult to find the energy and time to start pursuing a new option. That's why we've outlined some strategies to help you move forward below.

U.S. Recession Action Plan:

  1. Create your career action plan. Many people have an idea of what they'd like to do. The problem is that they lack a plan to bridge the gap between where they are and where they'd like to be. Rather than searching for samples of career action plans, just answer two simple questions: "Where do I want to be?" and "How will I get there?"
  2. Take the first step. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And that's the key thing to remember about your career action plan; you need to start taking those little steps to move your career forward. Don't get stuck in the entire length of the journey to a new career. Instead, focus on taking little steps each day toward the goal of ending up in the job you were meant to be in all along.
  3. Build a support group. There will be difficult times in any U.S. Recession. That's why it's so important to have people who support your efforts. Sure, a mentor is great, but you also should have colleagues along for the ride who can give you a supportive word or spot an opportunity that you might have missed.

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 website. You can e-mail them at