One of my fundamental beliefs in life is that everyone should be prepared to lose or leave their job at any given time. That sounds like a giant bummer, I know, but hear me out.
A few years ago, I was working in HR for a private sector company in the manufacturing industry that relied on large scale orders, primarily from foreign governments. By 2012, the work on pre-recession orders was coming to an end, and new ones hadn’t come in. It was simple and undramatic, and that was how I got laid off from my first “grown up” job out of university.
I was working on a contract and had only been there about a year, so I didn’t receive any notice and severance. My supervisor told me on a Monday that my job was being eliminated, and I could work until Wednesday, or I could leave immediately and use the next 2 days as paid days to “pound the pavement”.
When I took the latter option, he said “you have 30 minutes to pack up your things, and then I’ll escort you out so I can get your security badge”. (He is a great guy with a big heart, but that was just the way the system worked. And as the head of HR, he had 200 or so other people to lay off that day).
So I walked out, cried in my car, then went home to start the job search. After about 3 weeks, I had a job offer, and I started my current job 2 weeks later. I was lucky.
Getting laid off was sad, stressful, and probably one of the most valuable experiences of my life.
I’m not saying it was a good experience – it killed my confidence and was a hit to my finances when I was fresh out of school and shouldering the full weight of my student loan. But it was a valuable one because I learned a lot of lessons that still hold true now.
You probably don’t need to worry about losing your job. Right now, even though job losses related to the oil industry are big news and desperately in need of a solution, at 7.2% in January, the unemployment rate is actually below the average over the last 50 years.
Maybe you’re in an industry that is struggling, like the oil industry, or maybe you are in a sector that is booming – either way, it’s my belief that you should always have a plan for a change up in the future.
You may have read about the story of the f*ck off fund that’s been making the rounds on the internet or maybe you read Alyssa’s story at Mixed Up Money about the time she could have used one. My story, thankfully, does not involve harassment from a boss or an abusive boyfriend. My experience involved no threat to my safety, but it did mean that I had to learn to protect myself financially and beef up my marketability so that I would be better equipped in the future if I lost my job or needed to jump ship.
Be proactive and pack your metaphorical bags.
People in offices often use the buzzword-y term “toolbox” to refer to this imaginary container where people keep their knowledge and their skills. If you learn a new language, you’ve added a “tool” to your “toolbox”. It’s tacky, and anyway, I am terrible with real tools. So I’m choosing to use the imagery of the suitcase you keep in the back of your closet for that moment you decide to say eff it and go on a spontaneous trip to the tropics.
What goes in this imaginary suitcase?
- A budget. If you find yourself with no income, your budget document will show you where you can cut out things that are not “mandatory expenses” like bills and food, and you’ll know how much you’ll need to cover all of your expenses while you’re without new money coming in.
- An emergency fund that can cover 3 – 6 months of expenses (calculated from your budget) in the event that you lose your income. Start with $1 and work your way up – any emergency fund is better than no emergency fund.
- An up to date set of skills relevant to your industry that you can use to market yourself to new employers. For example, hairstylists have to be up on the latest techniques, since styles change regularly and rapidly (#byeombre). The hairstylist that knows the trends and how to create those styles will bring in customers, and that’s who gets hired.
- A varied set of skills that can make you appealing to different employers and not just those in a niche market. After losing my job back in 2012, I started learning to code because it’s an always-growing market. It’s completely irrelevant to my day job, but it shows my employer – and any employer I apply to – that I am willing and able to learn new things, and that I adapt to “new” technology. It’s also a great topic of conversation that helps make me memorable, which is useful when building…
- A network of contacts. While in your current job, introduce yourself to anyone you meet. Remember names, ask questions of interesting people, and keep on top of the headlines in your industry so you can make conversation with the key players. They’ll take notice, and that can come in handy when you are looking for a change in jobs or when you are forced to find a new one.
Think of this metaphorical bag of tricks as that extra tampon you keep in your purse. It’s that thing you hope you never have to use, but you don’t want to be caught without it at the moment you need it.