There's a lot to feel good about in the working world right now: The jobless rate recently hit a 50-year low, and the labor market is tilted in favor of workers. In fact, it may be as good a time as ever to look for a new position.
Still, almost 3 in 10 Americans are concerned about a coming economic downturn, according to a new survey from U.S. News & World Report. "The thing people are worried about the most is a job loss" and a resulting loss of income, says Beverly Harzog, a credit card expert with the site. Among those surveyed, 29% cited job cuts as "the worst potential effect of a recession."
Generally, businesses do shed jobs and either slow or stop hiring during a recession, which causes the unemployment rate to climb. Finding work can become difficult. But making smart career moves now can help you feel more confident no matter what happens, experts say.
"Most of my clients are trying to proactively manage their careers regardless of the economy and don't seem to be reacting to a fear of an economic downturn," career strategy consultant Janet Matta told Grow earlier this year. "This is great, it's exactly where I want people to be: Managing their careers from a place of strength rather than out of fear."
Here are some of the ways she and other experts suggest you do that.
Becoming a more well-rounded employee is always wise, so keep expanding your skill set, whether that means learning to adopt new technologies, continuing your education and earning certifications, or shadowing colleagues to pick up some complementary skills.
You should also take advantage of any training or education programs your employer offers or is willing to reimburse you for.
If you're unsure what skills will be most valuable in your current role, Matta suggests putting in some face time with your manager. Doing so gives you an opportunity to ask for new projects or responsibilities, and then showcase your success.
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Showing your boss how valuable you are can also be helpful in keeping your job. "While the economy remains strong, the work you put into growing your expertise and knowledge base will also help you make a case for a raise or promotion.
And in the event of a layoff, your additional skills could help you land a new position, or you could use them to pivot to a different one.
If or when it comes time to look for a new job, never underestimate the power of a job referral. Applying simply by sending in a resume or filling out an online application puts your chances of being hired at less than 10%, according to experts.
"The number one way companies are filling jobs right now is through referrals," Hannah Morgan, a job search strategist with Career Sherpa, told Grow earlier this year. As for how you can get referrals? Start networking.
"The best thing to do is to start tapping into your network," Morgan says. She recommends reaching out to former coworkers, business associates, and classmates for relationship-building now, so you don't have to approach them out of the blue later looking for career help. They may be able to give you a better idea of what's happening in your industry.
And always be sure to keep your social media profiles, especially your LinkedIn profile, up to date.
A good way to further your networking efforts is to join a professional group or association in your industry.
"Set a regular practice of attending networking events and professional engagement opportunities like conferences, meetups, or professional social events to maintain your visibility and connections," says Matta.
Morgan says that some of the primary advantages of joining these groups are that they often have services, resources, and even job boards exclusive to members.
You will likely need to make difficult career decisions at some point, so you may as well think things through before a potential layoff or other external event forces your hand. Matta says you should think about your professional goals so you'll have some guidelines when or if you need to make a job switch. For example, think about the minimum salary you're willing to accept, or if you'd be willing to work under a different or lesser job title.
Think about other fields or industries you could work in, too.
"Decisions made out of fear are not usually the best ones," she says. "Let your own skills, strengths, and interests drive your career moves rather than your fears."
While you may need to make a reluctant or unexpected move at some point, knowing the professional path you want to take will help you set goals and take steps to reorient yourself, even in the case of a recession.
"Nobody wants to be caught flat-footed or without a game plan," Morgan says. So think about where you want to be, and even if your career does hit a snag due to a recession or some other issue, revisiting your predetermined goals can help you recalibrate.
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