All good things eventually come to an end — and that includes a hot economy.
The U.S. has experienced tremendous economic growth since the Great Recession over the past 10 years. The unemployment rate sits at 3.8 percent — near a 50-year low. Consumer confidence neared an all-time high in 2018, signaling consumers had good faith in current and future economic conditions.
But the economy is beginning to send mixed signals. Top economists are weighing risks like slowing job growth, plummeting retail sales and the potential for a slide in global growth. Some economists are even forecasting that a recession may “begin in the next year or so.”
Since a recession is typically associated with a sizable loss in jobs, the news of a possible downturn may have some workers on edge. During the Great Recession, the unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Taking steps now to protect your career can reap benefits in the long run.
Rafe Gomez, a then-host, DJ and radio show producer in Montclair, New Jersey, was one of the millions of unemployed Americans during the last recession. Gomez and his wife faced immense difficulty scraping up funds to survive.
“[We] burned through pretty much all of our savings — including retirement,” Gomez says. “We sold wedding gifts, jewelry, and other items of value to generate enough liquid income in order to (just barely) pay our bills.”
Eventually, Gomez got his career back on its feet, but as a consultant across a variety of industries. Looking back, he says he would do things differently — but before the recession even hit.
How to recession-proof your career
Here’s how experts recommend positioning yourself to stay employed — and hopefully even grow your career — when the next economic downturn hits.
1. Stay up to date with trends and skills in your industry
Valuable employees have a better chance of surviving layoffs. But how do you become (and remain) a key player? By keeping an eye out for relevant information, changes and new skills developing in your field.
“Read as much as possible, listen to what thought leaders are saying, and keep your ears to the ground for changes that are taking place in your industry,” says Chris Chancey, career expert and founder of Amplio Recruiting, a nationwide recruiting firm. “With this kind of up-to-date information, you are in a better position to know the kind of skills and experiences you need to acquire or polish up on to stay relevant and valuable in your field.”
The fastest-growing occupations through 2026 are projected to include home health aides, nurse practitioners, medical assistants and massage therapists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These occupations require specialized skills, but many of them offer societies and organizations to keep workers and prospective workers up to date on workshops, resources and trainings. To find related organizations, conduct a Google search with the name of the occupation and “organizations” after. For example, searching “nurse practitioner organizations” brings up The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) in the results.
For more general career advice, reading career-related blogs like The Balance or The Muse can help. For those looking for more specialized advice, reach out to a career coach or find a mentor.
2. Evaluate your current career situation
Being proactive means taking time now to look at your current career and determine a plan, should unemployment rates start to skyrocket.
“Some industries take a hard hit during economic downturns but with good planning, you can find ways to transfer your skills and start a career in other less-risky, more stable industries,” Chancey says. “Consider speaking with a career coach or a mentor for advice on how to seamlessly apply your transferable skills and expertise in a different career field.”
For individuals wondering if they should make a career change, Chancey says keeping an eye on your current company and its performance will help determine if a switch is necessary.
“If the company you work for hasn’t been showing any signs of growth and other companies in your industry also seem to be struggling for a while now, it could be time to think about looking for a job in another industry,” Chancey says.
A great way to build skills for an alternative career could be through a side hustle; however, Chancey recommends identifying a gig you are actually passionate about, or else it will be tough to see it through.
3. Think of yourself as a brand — and sell it hard
Job fields are competitive. In a room full of people who have the same hard skills as you, how can you stand out and drive home your value to a business?
Establishing a strong professional brand can help.
Kelly Donovan, certified job search coach and principal of Kelly Donovan & Associates, a nationwide firm helping job seekers, says to create a professional brand sooner, rather than later; in doing so, you’ll have an advantage in the future, should you find yourself laid off.
“You want everyone in your broad network of contacts to be aware of who you are, what your strengths are and what differentiates you from other people with similar jobs,” Donovan says. She recommends doing this by taking part in speaking engagements, writing articles about your experience or entering awards competitions.
Donovan adds that utilizing social media tools, like LinkedIn, is a great way to amplify your brand. By posting regular updates, connections will have a better idea of who you are and what you may be able to professionally contribute to a team.
“Even if you don’t have any contacts at a company, if you apply for a role there and they’ve already heard of you, you’ve got a leg up,” Donovan says.
4. Generate additional revenue streams that aren’t dependent on each other
Looking back, Gomez says his career relied too heavily on his radio DJ positions. While he had multiple revenue streams, including TV appearances, music production and club performances, those other revenue streams dried up once he was laid off from the radio station.
“If I could do it all over again, I would have developed free-standing money-making opportunities that had no connection to or reliance upon whether or not I was on the radio,” Gomez says. “This would have allowed me to continue driving sales if/when my other revenue streams — and my main gig — went bust.”
Consider starting a side hustle out of your hobbies, or at least pick up something you’ve always wanted to try. Freelance websites like Fiverr or TaskRabbit can connect you with people looking for specific skills or projects.
Aside from generating additional income, the benefits of a side hustle including sharpening current skills, developing new ones and broadening your network. In Gomez’s situation, a side gig outside of his industry could have been an option to fall back upon — and grow — after he was laid off from his job.
5. Stay connected and grow your network
Waiting to be unemployed before you start networking isn’t the best idea. Instead, workers should always be making new connections and maintaining old ones. Not only will it make the process of finding new employment faster, but networking is a huge stepping stone for people who might consider an entire career switch during tough economic times.
“Sometimes, companies have to let go of even the best of their employees and this is where a strong professional network comes in handy,” Chancey says. “Stay in touch with your current network, find ways to offer value, and continue to grow your connections as these will be a great resource.”
Not sure where to start with networking? Contact past colleagues and schedule a quick chat or grab a cup of coffee. From there, consider joining local organizations and attending monthly mixers to broaden your network. Staying connected (or making introductions) on networking sites like LinkedIn can make growing your network nearly seamless.
Keeping connected with your industry doesn’t just mean with peers and colleagues; it also means keeping an up-to-date portfolio readily available. Sites like Contently and WordPress allow users to showcase their work for free. Keep these sites updated and always include a link on your resume, business cards and social media accounts.
Start preparing for the next recession now
In the past, some recessions have been quick and shallow, while others have been more severe. The Great Recession also included other aspects that intensified its severity, says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. Declines in home prices, loss of wealth and a heightened sense of financial insecurity were all major effects of the last recession.
Regardless, it’s impossible to predict how hard the next recession will hit the economy.
“Recessions are a bit like traffic accidents. We take out insurance just in case of a car crash — we don’t know the exact cause or the severity, but hope for the best,” says Hamrick. “With respect to what emerges with the next downturn, it feels unlikely that it will be as deep or as severe as the last one. Having said that, the impacts to individuals are typically varied.”
Regardless of how heavy-hitting an economic downturn will be, it’s vital that consumers maintain good financial health. Considering 21 percent of Americans aren’t saving at all, the majority of consumers should start prioritizing their financial plans. This can include taking small steps, like automating savings and paying off costly debt.
Overall, it’s best to start preparing now; by the time a recession hits, it’ll already be too late.
“For those who are adversely affected by a downturn, how they’ve prepared will be key,” Hamrick says. “The level of their savings and positioning of investments, including diversification, will help dictate their financial standing over time.”