Don't Get Caught Off Guard by a Layoff

When it comes to finding or keeping a job, always stay a step ahead.

Oct. 23, 2008 — -- One-third of workers are worried about losing their jobs, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press. For those in their 30s and 40s, the number jumps to half.

If you're facing a possible layoff, start preparing for your future now.

Have a Plan B starting today.

If your company is experiencing financial trouble, even strong performers may lose their jobs. Ask yourself, "If I lost my job today, what would I do?" Are your basic skills up to par? If not, consider online tutorials now. Many people have told me that they've recently applied for administrative temp jobs, but they often fail the required skills tests for simple programs like Word and Excel.

Get your resume ready now.

Figure out who you'd call and what types of opportunities you'd go after. Create that search strategy before you actually need it.

Assume the best about your current job.

As you plan for the worst, you should also assume the best, which means focusing on saving your job. Act like a survivor and play the part. Don't let fear get the best of you while on the job. When you look and act vulnerable, it's much easier to hand you that pink slip than when you're tight with the boss, highly productive and a positive force at a very down time.

Be visible and productive.

Everyone above and below you must see you as indispensable right now: Show up early and stay late. Achieve results that are essential to the company today. Remind the powers that be of your institutional knowledge that would be difficult to replace right now if you were gone. And, if necessary, don't be shy about doing the job of two or even three people, to help the company get through this rough patch.

Should I settle?

Many people have told me in recent weeks that they don't want to settle for a position that pays less than what they need to make -- even though they're currently unemployed.

In this economy, I think "settling" is holding out while praying for the perfect job to come along, and accumulating debt and wiping out savings while you have no money coming in. If you accept something that isn't necessarily ideal, but will do for now to help you and your family through a challenging time, that's not settling -- it's smart. Think of the difference between "perfect" and "good enough." In this climate, perfection may not be possible, but good enough is. Obviously, don't let your prospective employer know you're thinking that way.

Does age matter?

Age works all ways. New college grads tell me nobody will hire them because they don't have experience, and older workers say nobody wants them. Workers over 40 are part of a protected class and it's illegal to fire someone because of their age. But no one should bank on their age as a form of job security.

Freelance versus staff.

The vulnerability of freelancers and part-time employees really depends on the industry and the part of the country where you work. In general, part-time employees might see their hours cut, but not be dropped entirely. They are usually less expensive to employ because they do not have benefits. If you are a new hire who was just brought in during this downturn, you were probably hired because of some strong current business need and you are most likely safe.

I talk to human resources departments every day, and in many cases, they warn me that their situations change even from week to week. One day, their bosses feel the company can ride out this downturn. The next week, they are asked to draw up a list of employees who would be the first to go. So, this is a constantly changing landscape.

Explaining a layoff.

When you're looking for a new job, don't be shy about how to address the fact that you were laid off. As much as it may sting personally, there isn't much of a stigma to being laid off in the current economic conditions. Anyone who watches the news knows people are being laid off every day.

Try to emphasize the big picture. For example, be clear that your entire department was laid off or that half the team lost jobs. Take the focus off you and make it clear you were not let go because of your performance. Stress that you're proud of your record and get a reference from your former employer to back this up.

And no matter how bitter you are about being laid off, do not bad mouth your former employer. Being laid off today is, in many cases, not personal, and so, you should not take it that way. Don't risk coming across as a disgruntled person to future potential employers.

Tory Johnson is the Workplace Contributor on ABC's "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women For Hire. Visit her Web site at