Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
In my childhood home, we always kept a couple of kerosene lanterns. I was irritated by them. We never used them and they collected dust. It was my job to clean them and I hated it. Plus, they were incredibly fragile. As a roughneck kid, I had to be very careful not to shatter them and spill all that smelly lamp oil. This would have resulted in even more cleaning for me to do.
I didn’t see the purpose of keeping those old lanterns until one winter night when the power failed. My mother carefully felt her way through the darkness. She easily found our old lamp and struck a match to it. I was grateful to have that light. I was glad we had kept that old lantern for just this sort of emergency situation.
In employment today, we also have to prepare for dark times. Few of us have long-term employment contracts. Even if you are working a regular job you might as well consider yourself an entrepreneur with one client—your current employer. At any time that client, your employer, could leave you. You always need to be prepared with a “Plan B.”
What would you do if you lost your job tomorrow? If you have a Plan B already prepared, you’ll be way ahead. Losing a job brings intense emotions. Panic, grief, anger, shock, and denial are all going to come crashing down on you. If you live prepared for this possibility, you won’t have all that emotional baggage holding you back as you search for your next job.
I have interviewed many candidates who experienced an unexpected job loss. Their number one concern was how they were going to pay their bills with no income coming in. When a job loss strikes, most people assume they will be covered by unemployment benefits until they find a new job.
This shouldn’t be your fall back plan. Unemployment benefits generally pay only about half of your previous salary. And there are maximum caps. For example, in Florida the current max is $275 per week. Yes, you read that right. If you worked in Florida and your salary was $1000 a week, your unemployment benefit will only be $275. In Texas, the cap is $454 and in North Carolina it’s $350. Since your unemployment benefits are much less than your customary salary, you are going in the hole each week.
The duration of these benefits is also limited. You can receive unemployment benefits anywhere from 12 to 26 weeks depending on your state of residence. Many workers find their unemployment benefits exhaust long before they have locked in a new job.
You need to have your own emergency fund. This will allow you to supplement your unemployment benefits. Your emergency fund will also enable you to continue your job search after your benefits end.
Start with saving up three month’s net income. Then double that so that you have six months income in reserve. If you have this emergency fund, you won’t go into full blown panic mode if you lose your job. It will save you a lot of anxiety should the unexpected happen.
Plan B may require that you go into survival mode. Think this through now. Know which bills you can defer. School loans often have this option. Sometimes you can arrange to make interest-only payments on loans. Some credit unions will let you go into forbearance for several months on your mortgage. There are also federal programs, like HARP that can modify your mortgage. Check into these options early on because the application and approval process is lengthy. Don’t wait until your savings are exhausted and you are behind on your payments. You can always cancel your application if you find a new job sooner rather than later.
Remember in college when many of us joked about living on peanut butter sandwiches and Ramen Noodles? You might want to consider this again. You can save a lot of money by changing the way you eat. Most of us can reduce our grocery bill if we really want to.
I know a family who always keeps their pantry brimming with staple items. When one of the wage earners was laid off, they lived almost entirely off their storage for a year. It couldn’t hurt to keep a well-stocked pantry. It’s never a waste if you store things your family will use.
So, the first step of your Plan B should be to have at least three months cash reserve built up. You should also develop a running plan of how you could reduce your expenses. This will buy you more time to look for work without getting stressed out.
Many people equate networking to begging for a job. They hate the thought of networking and don’t do any. This isn’t the nature of networking at all. Networking is meeting people and building relationships with contacts who could help further your career—and you theirs!
Start with your colleagues at work and your social contacts. Then branch out by joining community organizations and clubs. Join professional organizations and attend meetings. This is true networking. You will meet people from other companies. Learn about their jobs and their employers.
And please, don’t start a conversation by asking about a job opening. Start by listening. See what people are saying about their employers. Read about companies in your career field and follow news about them.
Keep an eye out for announcements from your local Chamber of Commerce and state Department of Commerce, as well as press releases from your state Governor. Often, new employers and company expansions are announced this way. If you lose your job, you’ll already have an idea of where to start instead of being thrown into a giant pit of the unknown.
As you meet people, find out where they work and what their career goals are. Offer assistance if there is anything you can do to help them. If you have a business acquaintance who may need their skills, or vice versa, offer an introduction.
Keep your ear to the ground. Listen for information that you could use to your advantage. If you discover someone just got promoted or took a new job, then you know there’s an opening in that organization. A job someone else left could be just what you’re looking for. Start networking now. The ideal time to begin networking is while you are an active employee.
Always keep your LinkedIn and social media accounts up to date. Make sure they are professional looking and include updates of recent training or conferences you have attended or taught. Don’t post anything you would not want an employer to see. Only say positive things about your career and your current employer. If an offer floats your way and you’re not interested, discretely pass the info along to appropriate contacts within your network.
Be active in the community. Not only is it good karma, but you’ll meet people you may network with later on. Don’t burn any bridges. You never know when one of your contacts may be in a position to help you. Remember that social media takes a while to build up. Don’t wait until you are really searching. Develop friends and followers now.
Enhance your Career Reach
Give your employer a full 100%. There always seems to be someone who is working longer, harder and smarter. Make that person be you! This goes a long way towards job security and advancement. And should you be faced with losing a job, you’ll have the kind of work ethic that top employers demand.
Develop a relationship with a good recruiter. There are lots of good recruiters. But, unfortunately, there are some who are really unscrupulous. A good recruiter can serve as a career coach and also help you with job negotiations. Do your research and build a relationship with a great recruiter you can trust.
Strive to enhance your skills. Take classes that are industry-related, but also take classes in soft skill areas. Perhaps a course in public speaking, effective writing, or business accounting would add to your skill set. Remember continuing education classes, free online courses, or additional certifications show an employer you are willing to learn and expand your horizons.
Don’t vegetate in your current job. In addition to taking classes, perhaps you could TEACH courses. Community colleges are always looking for adjunct faculty. Volunteer to teach at community centers, homeless shelters, women’s shelters or veterans organizations. Volunteer to present in area schools for career days, etc. Teach basic reading skills. Volunteer to tutor or read to children at school. This gives you verifiable public speaking and communication skills that are valuable to employers. Teaching shows prospective employers you have initiative, leadership skills, and professionalism.
Don’t Fear Losing a Job
Don’t be paranoid about losing a job. Just know it can happen and be prepared. It’s like having Band-Aids in your medicine cabinet. You might not need them now, but at some point you probably will. Be sure you have a viable PLAN B to rely on if you lose your job. Here are five points to remember.
- Build up a 3-6 month emergency cash reserve. Know ways you can cut your expenses and be willing to go into survival mode if you need to.
- Always have an updated resume on hand. Keep LinkedIn and other social media updated. Start networking now and build lots of contacts in your career field.
- Always give your employer your full 100%. Be willing to share your work knowledge and be eager to learn. This enhances your job security and advancement opportunities.
- Expand your career reach. Be sure you keep your skills up to date and show a pattern of continued education. Enroll in courses and take certification classes. Look for opportunities to teach classes or do public speaking. This shows professionalism and is great for networking.
- Research now and befriend a good recruiter. There are lots of good recruiters and a few who are devious. Be sure you are ready to call on a good recruiter—one you have built a relationship with and can trust.
Ready to Start?
Think about these five “Plan B” elements. Notice they have one thing in common. All must be implemented prior to losing a job. Act now and start implementing your Plan B! It’s the smart thing to do. You should always hope for the best, yet prepare for the worst.