The debate continues about whether and when a recession is coming, and what the markers would be. Most of us are in no position to do the analysis ourselves, but you don’t need to be an economist to know that if people are talking about recession, you should do some thinking about what you would do if one occurs.
As a gen-Xer, I am a master of recessionary times: I graduated into one of the worst job markets since the depression and then lived through the dot-com bust.
But if we’re not actually in bad times right now, the question really is: What can you do in a job you have if you want to get ready for a downturn in the economy? Here are four ways to prepare for a job market that might turn sour:
People think that if there are fewer jobs, a wide range of skills makes someone more employable. It’s not the case, though. In a tight job market, employers can hold out for the perfect fit. And if you are not clearly defined as a specialist, then you are not going to be a perfect fit for anything.
Researchers have found that you get the most benefits from specializing after you have three to five years of experience under your belt. So don’t specialize too early – because you won’t have learned enough about what you want. But if you have a few years of experience and you see layoffs looming, try to get on some focused, short-term projects that will allow you to market yourself as a specialist in something when you have to get your next job.
2. Do something great – right now!
Most people have been participants in the last decade of manic job-hopping. Which means most people have followed a pattern of performing well at a company, writing those achievements on their resume, and then making the next hop. This works in a job market where you can control when you leave.
But if you get laid off before you accomplish something significant, you will end up with a dark spot on your resume – a place where you did not do anything particularly notable.
So do something now, fast, that you will be able to quantify as an achievement on your resume – as in "completed X project in X percent less time than anticipated, or saved X dollars by finding more efficient ways to complete the work."
3. Consider graduate school.
There’s a reason why so many generation Xers went to graduate school: There were no jobs in the early ’90s. In a down job market, grad school is a way to enhance your skills when there are no available jobs that will do that.
One of the most popular choices is law school because a law firm provides a clear path (and an A in organic chemistry is not a prerequisite). I have never been a fan of law school as a fall-back plan, however, because 44% of practicing lawyers recommend against going into the field.
That said, law firms have become much more accepting of peoples’ personal lives since the last recession. Many law firms have retooled how they operate to give people more time to have a life outside work, and they have changed their policies to accommodate different stages of life.
Grad school is a treacherous route though: Be careful about spending money for a degree with no career path to follow it. But also, beware of investing in a career path you wouldn’t want to follow.
4. Focus on learning new things – from your work and from a mentor.
The hardest thing to do in a bad job market is keep your learning curve up. If the market goes south, instead of focusing on the perfect industry or the perfect company, focus on developing new skills. And then refocus your career into a more suitable industry or location when the job market gets better.
By cultivating a great mentor in your current job, you can make your position a place where you can wait out an economic slump should one come. So, instead of focusing on the negative predictions of economic doom, focus on the positive conversations that build a solid mentoring relationship, and you will weather the storm better because you won’t weather it alone.