When job security becomes uncertain, one of the biggest causes of stress and anxiety (besides potential job loss) is the prospect of beginning a job search. If you’ve been with the same company for a long time, haven’t looked for a job in years or landed previous roles by reputation or recommendation (i.e., without looking), you may feel even more overwhelmed about where or how to start the job search process.
If you see signs of instability at your company (like rumors of layoffs, reorganization and/or management changes, missed revenue targets, multiple offices closures, key client losses etc.), don’t simply “wait and see” without considering (and preparing for) a possible job change. While your position may be safe today, what if that soon changes? It’s far more advantageous to take a few strategic steps now — laying the groundwork for a job search before the additional pressures of job loss — than to delay preparing because of a sense of loyalty, lack of time, uncertainty about next moves etc.
Here are a few steps to take now at minimum, so you’re more confidently prepared in case a job search becomes a reality.
1. Update the top section of your LinkedIn profile. While you should always maintain a current and complete profile, if you’re like most people who haven’t reviewed their content in quite a while, refreshing key sections is critical. At minimum, update your headshot, headline and summary. Ensure they reflect who you are today and where you want to go in your career. Create a strong impression that highlights the expertise, background and key assets you offer to prospective employers.
Your headshot is the first image people see of you — use a professional-looking picture of you today, not the person you were 10 years ago. The next key piece of real estate, your headline, is the first information people read about you — it should include more than job title alone. Your summary is also critical to first impressions — showcase your unique value and background and how you can help potential employers. If you want to go a step further, ensure all job titles and dates are accurate and update content under your current and most recent positions as well as the Skills section. For more LinkedIn profile tips: 10 LinkedIn Profile Mistakes You Must Fix Now.
2. Create a new resume. Writing a resume is the last thing anyone wants to do, but the sooner you have a current one, the better. Your job may be safe in the near term, but that can change quickly (especially if you ignore clear warning signs). With an updated resume, you’re ready and able to pursue interesting leads and can’t-miss opportunities that may arise. If it’s been a long time since you last updated your resume, it’s better to create a new one because the way you described yourself back then likely doesn’t communicate your strengths, results and level of responsibility now. For resume guidance: 6 Executive Resume Mistakes To Fix Right Now.
3. Say YES to events! When there are ongoing rumors of uncertainty at the office, it’s time to “get out there” and not skip events you’re invited to or hear about. If you haven’t attended a networking event in a while, or have only gone to events in your immediate circle, remember that networking gets easier the more you do it. Find a colleague or friend to join you the first few times if you’re hesitant. Your mission is to go to targeted events to meet new contacts and cultivate relationships, not identify people to give your resume to or ask about open positions. Waiting to meet new people until you “need to” is too late. Start now so you have a stronger network in place when you need it.
4. Practice your introduction. A critical part of networking is how you introduce yourself. Think about what you’re going to say when meeting others — don’t wait until right before an event to start rehearsing it. You control the message in making a first (and lasting) impression on others. You embody so much more than, “Hi, I’m Jane Smith, CFO of XYZ Company,” and you’ll network more confidently when you are prepared to say so. For networking help: The Secret To Better Networking: How You Introduce Yourself.
5. Look sharp. It sounds simple, but make sure you have a few good outfits for networking and interviewing. Especially if you work in a business casual setting (and have for years), check your closet for a suit or dress that speaks to your professional level and fits well. If nothing fits the bill (or if everything is from the last time you interviewed 10+ years ago), buy something new that makes you feel great, which will automatically increase confidence.
6. Reconnect with your network. Think about key people in your network whom you haven’t been in touch with recently (especially those who are influential, well-connected, knowledgeable, helpful etc.) and contact them. Reach out online (email, LinkedIn), over the phone and in person. Build visibility outside of your company and immediate network. Don’t limit who you reach out to (e.g., if you’re a CMO, don’t limit yourself to contacting fellow senior marketing executives) because you never know who people know, and others may lead to valuable introductions or information too. Skip mentioning the uncertainty of your job when initially reconnecting, however, as it can come across as off-putting and desperate.
7. Plan references. Although it may seem too early to do this, if you know a job search is in your future, make a list of people who could serve as references for when you find a job you really like and receive an offer. If it’s been a while since you’ve been in touch with those on your list, reach out and reconnect before asking them to serve as references. Whenever possible, consider people who know you in different capacities (e.g., boss, fellow board member, colleague).
8. Consider an internal move. When companies reorganize, eliminate redundancies or talk M&A, look for ways to reposition yourself internally if it’s a place where you’d like to stay — not because it’s the easy way out. Can you pivot your skillset and/or add value to other areas/departments? Can you move to a subsidiary or the parent company? Companies want to retain good talent and often prefer to hire internally; there’s no better reference than an employee’s proven record, reputation and institutional knowledge.
9. Lawyer up. If you have an outdated severance agreement in place or know that you’ll receive a separation document once your departure is announced, start researching now for a good employment attorney. It’s essential that you know your rights and how to negotiate the best possible exit package. For more on severance agreement negotiation: check out our interview with attorney Richard Friedman.
No one is untouchable. When encountering red flags that spark uncertainty about your job, don’t ignore them — get a few steps ahead. Those who land new (and often better) positions relatively quickly have one thing in common: preparedness. Being proactive gives you a major leg up over your competition. Plus, even if you survive a layoff, you may want to pursue new opportunities anyway if the aftermath is too negative, uncertainty drags on or you decide it’s time for a change. Strengthen your personal brand now and do a few things to prepare at minimum, so if something happens, you’re confident and ready to begin a search instead of being paralyzed by, “Now what?”