How to Survive a Recession

Surviving a recession businessman

How to Recession-Proof Your Career

Some experts believe is a recession inevitable. In the last recession—which kicked off in 2008 and lasted 18 months—some 2.6 million American workers lost their jobs. And so, it’s no wonder workers across the country are worried, career experts say. 

“The current economic situation is rapidly evolving as the novel coronavirus outbreak continues to spread. In a time of uncertainty and fast-changing events, economic data can quickly become obsolete. It’s more critical than ever to have the latest insights on how current events are shaping the economy today,” writes Senior Economist and Data Scientist Daniel Zhao. “Job openings were steadily increasing in the first two months of the year, before reversing course at the beginning of March 2020.  However, a sustained slowdown in job openings would be a long-term risk to the labor market and the broader economy.”

But there is some good news: We’ll walk you through what to expect in the event of a recession, from what jobs might be safest to how to build a back-up plan and what you can do if you do lose your job.

Jobs That Are Safe (and Jobs That Aren’t)

While it’s safe to say most jobs aren’t truly recession proof, some career fields may be safer than others if a recession hits. “Anyone in medical care is considered pretty recession proof,” says Jill Jacinto, a millennial career expert. “It’s a service people will always need—especially as Baby Boomers continue to age and require more of them.” In that sense, Jacinto says that people who work as doctors, therapists, nurses, pharmacists, and senior care providers may be the safest. 

In addition to jobs in the healthcare industry, “government positions, the financial industry, IT, and technology are … more recession-proof industries,” says career coach Hallie Crawford

Jobs that typically aren’t safe, on the other hand, are retail and service-based, Crawford says. (In fact, she says, these are often the first industries to be hit by a recession.) What’s more, “if we look back at the recession ten years ago, the hardest hit areas were architects and construction, travel agents, event planning, and real estate,” says Jacinto. “This makes sense since people are scaling back from buying homes and cosmetic home improvement projects when money is tight. They also are forgoing vacations and large-scale events.” Of course, Jacinto adds, “people working in media also got hit with massive layoffs since advertisers were shrinking budgets.” 

Chamberlain also told NBC that “there was some very weak job growth for some blue-collar sector jobs,” such as transportation and mining, which may make these jobs less recession proof.

Skills You Should Hone

Whether you work in a field that’s more (or less) recession-proof, it’s smart to hone certain skills that will be valuable no matter the state of the economy, our career experts say. After all, as Jacinto says, “the people who tend to survive layoffs are the ones most adaptable to change.” 

So, your first step, she advises, should be to learn or take courses on the newest skills needed for your particular job or industry—even if your work isn’t requiring you to do so. You should also practice being the “yes” person, Jacinto says—the one who is proactive about taking on projects and making your boss look good. (Making yourself indispensable is a good idea all the time.) 

Crawford says that tech skills, regardless of where you work, are important to hone. “Knowledge of technology is always going to be a must-have,” she points out. Plus, project management skills are skills that can transfer to almost every job and industry, and they can be highlighted on a job application. “Every organization will need people to manage projects effectively,” she explains.

How to Build a Back-Up Plan

Having a back-up plan will give you peace of mind and a clear path to follow should a recession hit. Jacinto recommends that your backup plan include strengthening your network and personal brand. “Check in with your network and develop new relationships,” she says, “so if layoffs hit, you’ve already done the meet-and-greets and can ask for job recommendations and referrals.”

You should also “mentally prepare yourself for having to accept less money, benefits, or—the most likely outcome—taking on more work during a recession,” says Crawford. In recessions, companies may try to do more with less, and your job—or a new job—may look very different than you envisioned. “Consider ways to be more efficient with your job, in case you are asked to take on an additional workload,” Crawford suggests. You should also think about ways to reduce your spending, too, she suggests, so that you’ll be financially prepared for whatever may come.

Talking to Your Boss About Recession Concerns

If you’d like to speak to your employer about potential recession risks, you can—but carefully. “You should not flatly ask, ‘Will I be getting laid off?’” warns Jacinto. “Chances are that your boss has no idea—and more importantly, you want to position yourself as a strong employee.” 

Instead, Jacinto and Crawford agree that you can broach company and economy issues in a one-on-one setting and in a way that doesn’t address your job specifically. You can ask: “How the organization is doing knowing the current state of the economy, and if the company or your department should do any planning for a possible recession,” says Crawford. “Your boss will likely not want to alarm any employees to a chance of staff reduction, but taking a proactive stance and opening a possible conversation for a plan of action is a positive way to address it.”

You may also want to set up a time to present to your boss how valuable you are the company, Jacinto says. “Put together a presentation that walks them through your day-to-day projects but also your accomplishments year to date,” she says. “How many new clients did you add? Have you increased ROI or decreased budgets? Letting your success speak for itself subconsciously tells your boss you are essential to the business and not the person they should mark to leave.”

What to Do If You’re Laid Off

If the worst should happen and you are laid off during a recession, you may have some options. 

Now is the time to review your employee handbook and study your company’s policy on layoffs and severance, says Jacinto. “You might be owed a nice amount of money, and better for you not to leave it on the table,” she says. You may be entitled to unemployment, payment for unused vacation days, and more. If the handbook doesn’t make it clear, schedule a meeting with HR. 

Crawford encourages you to find out what insurance benefits, if any, you’ll be entitled to in the event of layoffs. If they aren’t provided, you may want to check out COBRA for the short term. 

If you’re laid off, it may also be smart for you to ask your employer if there’s an opportunity for you to work as a consultant or contract employee, even part-time, says Crawford. “If the layoff is permanent, ask if they see any chance to be re-hired in the future, if they are willing to give you a recommendation on LinkedIn, and if they are willing to be a reference for you,” she says. “And ask for any connections or referrals they may have to other organizations for possible jobs.” The company may be able to point you toward a great opportunity—or at least in the right direction. 

Learn More!

Now that you know more about how to survive a recession, here are some additional resources that will help you navigate (and thrive) through whatever may come. 

Should You Take a Sabbatical?

How to Build Your Own Career Path Within an Organization

Switching Jobs Internally — How to Apply & How to Manage the Transition

How to Quit Your Job

How to Network

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