Sometimes you get blindsided by a laying off or a firing. It happens to the best of us, and there’s nothing you can do to control that sort of situation. There’s also no reason to be unprepared. Change is an inevitability in your career, whether or not it’s by choice. The average post-baby boom individual holds more than 11 jobs from age 18 to 48, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Make it a habit to create a contingency plan should the unexpected strike. Here are 4 immediate steps you can take to secure your financial and professional future:
Begin tracking your finances
It’s easier than ever to get a strong, data-driven perspective on your spending and financial status. Credit card companies and banks have online systems that allow you to track your expenditures, and services like Mint and Level Money allow you to track and manage all your accounts with an eye on real-time spendable cash. This will give you a strong bird’s eye view of your cash flow and will allow you to take full stock of whether you overspend based on your income.
On a micro level, it’s easy to lose track of your expenditures on food, entertainment, gas, groceries - anything you swipe a credit card for. Make it a habit to collect and catalog your receipts - take photos and save them to a folder in Google Drive. Note down the amount you spend in each category, and see where your biggest expenditures lie. And at the end of each month, take an hour of your day on a Sunday to add up your spending and your income, and create a log of your expenses that you can easily reference.
This will allow you to track your spending habits and make the necessary adjustments to save money where you overspend.
Create an emergency fund
Calculate your rent for an entire year. Add in your monthly bills - cell phone, heat, electricity, TV, etc… Add in your monthly expenditures on non-essential items. The number you end up with is the minimum amount you should strive to have in your emergency fund. Ideally, you should save for up to 18 months of your future expenses in case of an emergency, but 12 months is a strong start.
Open up a savings account specifically for your emergency fund, and make it a habit to contribute a portion of your salary to it each month. Add up how long it will take you, based on your monthly contributions, to reach that amount, and adjust accordingly. Not only is this a financially intelligent step, it may also drive you toward smart decisions on your spending habits.
If you lose your job, your finances will be your very first concern. Having a fund set up ahead of time eases that financial pressure, allowing you to focus all your efforts on your job search. Without this safety blanket, you’ll spend a lot of energy worrying about making rent next month, leaving less energy for a laser-focused job search.
Research potential benefits
Too many people fail to take advantage of unemployment benefits out of embarrassment or a sense of guilt. Don’t let that be you. You’ve worked hard and paid your share of taxes. Unemployment is there to help you and every other contributing taxpayer when you are down on your luck.
Do your due diligence on your state’s unemployment benefits. Check what requirements qualify or disqualify potential benefit recipients, and determine where you fit in that scheme.Beyond unemployment, there are many other government benefits that you may be eligible for. You can check out your options at Benefits.gov.
Finally, research your company’s severance package benefits. Take time to look at your employment documents and read HR documents to figure out what you might be eligible for. Severance packages vary and can often be negotiated to extend things like health and dental insurance.
Evaluate your benefits options and write down the ways in which you can support yourself in case of a termination. It will allow you to have some positive cash flow while you look for a job, and will relieve a good amount of the financial stress of being unemployed.
Always be looking
You may be completely satisfied at your current job, or you may be unhappy but going with the flow. Either way, you should always be evaluating your options. There’s no reason not to (quietly!) keep an eye on potential opportunities. Keep your resume updated. Ideally, you should have updated your LinkedIn when you started your new job, but if you haven’t, it may signal to your employer that you’re looking, so try to avoid doing so.
Spend an hour or two each week reading through relevant job descriptions. Set up job alerts for your ideal positions - this is an easy and low-effort way to stay up to date on the latest companies hiring people with your background. If you decide you want to try your hand at a few really special jobs you found, add them to your JobHero dashboard so you can keep track of your progress.
And keep expanding your network. Being employed is no reason to stop growing your rolodex of people you can call on for help. Attend Meetups, conferences, and networking events. Become an influencer on social media by getting involved in the conversation. Prove yourself as a person of value to others, whether it’s by contributing in discussions or helping others with their job search. Everyone that feels your positive influence will be glad to assist you when you need them.
Being prepared for the worst involves careful planning, knowledge of all your options, and the presence of mind to create and maintain a series of good habits that will get you through tough times. Whether it’s being financially stable or having a network of people to call upon for help, strive to be ready to face any situation with a support structure at your back. That way, if your workplace fortune does turn, you won’t be blindsided - you’ll be prepared.