01/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Corporate Freshman: Anticipating the Dreaded Layoff

I admit it. Other than my training business being a bit slow, I thought that this so-called recession wouldn't really affect me or the people I love. Then, two of my good friends got laid off in one week and I was forced to remove my head from the sand.

In troubled economic times, the logical first step for many companies is to "trim the fat"--or eliminate jobs. Regardless of your reputation or skill set, your company might decide that your position is expendable, and they will send you packing. Usually you will have a lot of people in the same boat as you are because companies typically lay off many employees at the same time. On the one hand, being laid off is easier to stomach than being fired--it's less personal and you often can't do anything to change the decision one way or the other. However, layoffs are more disconcerting because it's harder to see the writing on the wall. Concerned? Keep on the lookout for the following danger signs:

• Top management changes result in a new corporate direction.
• The company message boards and blogs are rumbling about layoffs.
• Your company's financial woes are all over the news.
• Your company or department is underperforming.
• Senior executives are spending a lot of time holed up in a conference room.
• Your company has stopped investing in employees' careers via internal training or tuition reimbursement.
• Your department's budget has been drastically cut or eliminated.
• A recent re-org has left you without many of your former responsibilities.

Pay attention to these indicators. You must not permit yourself the luxury of denial or thinking a layoff could never happen to you. If you suspect that you are about to become a victim, take action before you are officially unemployed. Get a jump on the situation by revamping your resume to include facts and stats from your current job and reaching out to networking contacts who might be able to assist you in a transition. In your 20s, you're typically not at a level that warrants a cushy severance package, so create an emergency financial plan that will carry you through a temporary loss of income. While you're at it, investigate post-employment health insurance options such as COBRA, and your company's policy for rolling over 401(k) funds.

Sometimes, a layoff will take you completely by surprise. This is a traumatic experience, but do not allow it to destroy your confidence. Prospective employers recognize that companies are downsizing all over the place, and they will probably not hold a layoff against you. You should have no trouble landing on your feet, provided you start looking for another job right away. Interviewers will appreciate your resilience, whereas they may become skeptical if you stay off the market for too long. Hold your head up high and look at the situation as a good opportunity to find an organization that truly values your talent and expertise.