Don't assume that your job is safe. In the 21st century, every job is temporary (even CEO). The reality is that layoffs can happen anywhere and any time. Even highly profitable companies like Google have had layoffs. So it's best to be prepared, particularly if your employer feels a little shaky or the work situation has gotten unpleasant.
Even being a "top performer" may not protect your job.
An HR executive once described to me that most layoffs are done with an ax rather than a scalpel. In my experience, that is definitely true -- who goes and who stays is more a matter of right-place-right-time than competence (unfortunately for everyone).
The Best Defense Is a GREAT Offense
You are much more interesting to a potential employer when you are still employed. The prevailing theory is that you must be a good -- or, at least, an acceptable -- employee because you have a job. So job hunting while you are still employed is the best defense. If you see the signs that a layoff is coming, ramp up your job search so you can leave before the ax falls on you.
1. Go into "stealth job search mode."
Look for a job without making your search visible to anyone you work with, particularly management. Don't announce your availability on LinkedIn, even in a group for job seekers (your discussions and comments may be shared in your updates!). And, don't make announcements anywhere else in social media or at work.
2. Do NOT job hunt from work.
A big mistake often made is job hunting while at work. Very bad idea! This ban definitely includes not using your work computer or smart phone to browse job postings, update your resume, send email about your job search to anyone, or do any other obvious job-hunting activities.
Using work computers and networks for your job search may result in your web browsing and email usage becoming visible to anyone who might be watching. This caution applies even if the email you are using is your personal Gmail account (why is this employee spending so much time on Gmail?). And, being discovered in a job search usually results in a quick job loss or a very uncomfortable discussion with your boss.
3. Establish non-work electronic contact information.
Purchase your own smart phone, so you have a personal number to put on your resume or give out to your network. Don't call people from, or have people call you, on your current work numbers (see #1 above), and don't send or receive your job search email using your work email address (see #2 above).
A Gmail account is a good alternative. Or, check to see if perhaps your college or university offers free email accounts for alumni. Many do, and those can be very impressive email addresses for your job search.
Set up a computer or tablet at home for your job search so you aren't stuck using your employer's networks, computers, and printers for your job search (quick way to blow your cover and lose your job).
4. Carefully increase your LinkedIn visibility.
Your LinkedIn profile is a "live" resume that is very important to recruiters and potential employers. They will use it to verify the contents of your resume. Don't go "from zero to 100 MPH" on LinkedIn in one day, but do become more active and visible.
Be sure that your LinkedIn profile is complete. Expand your summary to include quantified accomplishments, but be careful not to compromise your employer's confidential information, like plans, product or service specifications, the names of customers or clients, financial information. Only share information that a good employee would, promoting your employer's products and/or services.
Grow your network of contacts with a focus on recruiters and other employees of your target future employers (see #5 and 6 below).
You can belong to up to fifty LinkedIn Groups. Since those groups offer both the opportunity for visibility (to recruiters and potential employers) as well as a method to communicate (people in groups can send each other InMail even if they are not connected). You can manage the visibility of those groups on your LinkedIn Profile (via the privacy settings) -- highly recommended!
5. Figure out which job you want next.
Hopefully, unless layoffs have already begun where you work, you have some time to figure out what it is that you really want to do next. Continue on this career path, move to a new one, or go back to an old one from your past?
So, get started! If you can afford it, go to a career counselor -- perhaps your college or grad school, as appropriate for you, provides assistance to alumni (even if you graduated 5, 10, or 20 years ago). If career counseling is not readily available, grab a copy of the classic book, "What Color Is Your Parachute?" Read it completely, doing all of the exercises along the way. It is a tremendously useful book, updated every year -- look for the year on the cover. You'll find this book in every bookstore and library.
Set up a few informational interviews (no resumes allowed!) with people who have the job you want. See how they got started, what their work is like, and how their career path has unfolded. Ask who are the best employers for this new field. Then, set up informational interviews with employees who work for those employers (STILL no resumes allowed!) to see if the work and the employer sound good to you.
Through informational interviews, you collect good information and expand your network. A great two-fer!
6. Choose a few target employers.
Since you still have a paycheck, take time to look around to see where you might like to work next. That company down the road or in the next town. Perhaps a supplier or client company. Maybe a competitor (careful!). Or, an employer recommended by someone in an informational interview (see #5, above).
Research those employers. Use Google, LinkedIn, and your other networks. Follow those employers on LinkedIn, if they have "company profiles." Sign up for their job tweets (using your personal Twitter account and personal, non-work computer, of course).
7. Expand your face-to-face personal networking activities.
Networking doesn't require you to spend hours in large rooms filled with strangers (although they can be useful). Reach out to people you have worked with in the past, particularly those who have left your current employer for better opportunities.
Those informational interviews also help you learn more about the employers on your target list -- maybe some on the list should be removed and others should be added.
Give as much -- or more -- help as you receive. Build your "karma balance" by helping others.
After You Find That GREAT New Job...
Don't assume that you'll never been in a job search again, even if you are in your 60s and planning to stay in your new job until your retirement in one or two years. You have no guarantees how long the new job will last! So, keep up with LinkedIn, build Google Plus (carefully, as with LinkedIn), and maintain your other professional/job-search connections. You never know when you'll need them for that next job search. Unfortunately, that next job search could be just around the corner...
Follow me on Google Plus for more job search tips!
Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability, Inc. and the editor and chief technology writer for Job-Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com. This article was first published on WorkCoachCafe.com.