As the economy> sinks further into a recession -- one that the Federal Reserve has now indicated will be longer and deeper than previously thought -- job security for most Americans has quickly evaporated.
According to minutes from the Fed's December meeting released Tuesday, the unemployment rate is expected to rise significantly into 2010, to a level higher than the 6.5% to 7.3% range the agency projected at its October meeting.
The unemployment rate, which hit 6.7% in November, is already at its highest in 25 years. Gus Faucher, director of macroeconomics at Moody's Economy.com, expects it to peak at more than 9% in the first half of 2010 -- a jump that would be similar in severity to that during the double-dip recession in the early 1980s (see table). "Businesses are certainly going to be cutting back," Faucher says.
Unemployment Rates Through the Years
At 6.7%, November's unemployment rate is still nowhere near its peak of 10.8% in late 1982,
but economists predict it could get there by the first half of 2010.
Indeed, the No. 1 concern for more than two-thirds (69%) of American workers is how to keep their jobs, according to a survey by human resources and placement consulting firm Adecco to be released next week. What's surprising is how little, if anything, employees are doing to improve their chances of staying employed. Only 27% of respondents said they are working harder than they were a year ago, a mere 13% said they're looking into other opportunities and just 17% said they'd be willing to take a pay cut to keep their job.
"That's human nature," says Bernadette Kenny, chief career officer at Adecco. "It's very threatening to think about losing your job and it's difficult to think about change and being proactive about your career."
No matter how intimidating, that's exactly what employees should be doing. Here are seven ways to recession-proof your career.
1. Get personal
Getting too personal is typically a workplace no-no. But during a recession, sharing a few details about yourself with your boss might work to your advantage, says Stephen Viscusi, president of BulletproofYourResume.com, a resume-writing service, and author of "Bulletproof Your Job."
"I'm not telling you to brown-nose," says Viscusi. "I'm telling you to weave in conversations personal things about your life when appropriate, so the boss knows you have two kids in college. Should it matter? No. Does it? Often, it does."
2. Be visible
In a booming economy, it may be OK to lay low and enjoy some downtime at work, but that's simply not the case today. "You want to be noticed, and be known as someone who delivers great results," says Tory Johnson, CEO of Women for Hire, a New York-based employment company. Do more than your job description calls for and leave the "that's not my job" attitude at home.
3. Be a cheerleader
Sure, the mood in your office has likely gone the way of the stock market. Putting a bright face on before you go to work every day will make it that much easier to stand out as a positive force. "Bosses feel negative energy from unhappy employees, and it's easy to fire an unhappy employee," Viscusi says.
4. "LinkIn" to real life
Online networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook have gained plenty of popularity, but to really benefit from all those connections, you have to take them offline. "You might build a strong online social network, but then go out and get coffee with those people," says John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Do this now, while you're still employed. That way, should you need a job down the road, it will be easier to ask for help.
Freelancing will not only pad your budget in these difficult times, it will also expand your professional network, says Richard Bayer, chief operating officer of the Five O'clock Club, a career counseling organization. And if you do lose your job, you've got a source of income to tide you over while you look for a new one.
6. Take a pay cut
It sounds counterintuitive, but in most cases, you'll do much better financially if you offer to take a pay cut instead of being laid off. That's especially true in this economy, when a typical job search will likely last much longer than usual. "If your boss says it's a numbers thing, you really are allowed to say 'What's that number, because I want to keep my job,'" Viscusi says.
7. Reinvent yourself
Whether you're still employed and just looking around, or already looking, expand your search into other industries. "If you're an accountant out of a bank, there's nothing that says you can't go to a health-care company," Challenger says. And while landing a job in another location is difficult and moving for work is even harder, looking to your past -- going back to your hometown or prior jobs to reconnect with old friends and former co-workers -- may uncover unexpected opportunities.