How to Recession Proof Your Career

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Brian Roberts

July 20, 2020  •  4 min read

Recessions seem to be inevitable, are hard to predict, and can cause negative mental health outcomes in affected populations. What causes recessions is the subject of heated debate, but one universal truth is that, as a recession begins, and output and demand fall, job losses follow. And after that, depression–and sometimes desperation–set in. So, what can one individual do about this? A whole lot, actually. Here’s how to recession proof your career.

Focus on Your Value

During a recession ‘non-essential’ personnel are the first to go. For simplicity’s sake, we classify ‘non-essential’ employees as those who aren’t essential to keeping the lights on. And regardless of your title, if you can’t clearly define the value you provide and why it’s essential, you could be next to go. (If you don’t know what value you add, how can anyone else?) So, get clear on that.

What value do you provide–to clients, colleagues, management, shareholders, whomever your end client is–and what important problems do you solve? Other questions to ask yourself include:

  • How do you contribute to the bottom line?
  • Are you regularly educating yourself? If so, how?
  • Do you have a track record of success you can reference?
  • What value do you add now? How would that change during a downturn?
  • Can your title or position be rendered obsolete? If not, why? If so, how?

Invest in Your Network

“Your network is your net worth,” says Porter Gale, former vice president of marketing for Virgin America. And it’s true. Career success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The alumni network is one of the biggest reasons people spend six-figures on business school tuition. And, given that 65% to 85% of jobs are found through networking, it’s wise to keep investing in your network. It’s one of the best ways to recession proof your career. Here’s how to grow and nurture yours:

  • Ask open-ended questions and listen intently.
  • Get comfortable with rejection, fear and doubt.
  • Say hello to at least three new people a day.
  • Strengthen and nurture your weakest relationships.
  • Research and identify new people you want to connect with at events.
  • Always be helpful to everyone; and always start with the intention to help.
  • Get out of your comfort zone and attend events you wouldn’t normally go to.

Invest in Yourself

“Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping,” says Dr. Jordan Peterson, the celebrated clinical psychologist and author of the mega-bestseller 12 Rules For Life. And he’s right. Because if you don’t take care of and invest in yourself, who else will? A 2018 Bloomberg Next study showed employers are focused on soft skills and interpersonal skills more than schooling or GPA. But with over 50,000 professional skills, it’s hard to identify which ones you should invest in.

To help you focus, here are three of the most in-demand skills, according to a 2019 LinkedIn study and links to some of the best courses on each subject.

  1. Persuasion. Even the best product will fail without a persuasive advocate at the helm. Harvard offers a best-in-class, 8-week negotiation and persuasion course for $1,600.
  2. Leadership. The best leaders maximize efficiency and rally teams to accomplish shared goals. Yale offers dozens of leadership courses across numerous industries and roles.
  3. Journalism. We’re all storytellers and content creators now. What you say and how you say it has more impact than ever. And the Columbia School of Journalism is world-renowned. They offer an in-depth course for individuals on journalism that starts at $3,000.

You may be wondering why I’ve only linked to big name business schools. Because they provide the recognition and credibility of an Ivy League institution, all without the grueling admissions, standardized tests and months of coursework. Not only that, but according to one study, more than one-third of course takers said they were able to transition into a new, better field.

Freelance or Consult

After you’ve spent time focusing on yourself, your value, and your network, consider working for yourself. If you’re used to collecting a salary, don’t fret. It’s not as daunting as it sounds. Just identify the skills you’ve honed on the job and put them to work for you after hours. And keep this in mind: All it takes is one-to-two steady clients to dramatically increase your earning potential, making you much less vulnerable to financial setbacks and emergencies.

By this point, you should know the value you provide and have a clear picture of who your end client is. The next step is to put together a compelling portfolio and join marketplaces where like-minded buyers can be found. Here’s where to go get started:

  • Clarity.fm allows you to set your own rates and bill clients by the minute–or by the hour–for consulting calls. Clarity charges a 15% service fee.
  • Fiverr is one of the largest online marketplaces for short-term projects across dozens of fields. Buyers are in abundance and fees are modest, starting at $2 per project.
  • Upwork is home to thousands of hourly and fixed-rate jobs across hundreds of fields. Jobs are not short-term, and budgets are bigger. Upwork charges 20% for the first $500 billed with a client,10% for lifetime billings with a client between $500.01 and $10,000, and 5% for lifetime billings with clients that exceed $10,000.

Our Two Cents

With every recession comes uncertainty. But if you take inventory of your skills, invest in yourself and your network, and step out of your comfort zone to earn on your own, you’ll be able to insulate yourself from economic uncertainty and recession proof your career. By focusing on these key areas, you won’t just become essential. You’ll become indispensable.