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The Boy Scouts Have a Point: Be Prepared
Those trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent Boy Scouts have the right idea. Their motto is "Be prepared," and you would be wise to make it your motto too, at least where your career is concerned.
It has been said that luck is when preparedness meets opportunity. When you are prepared, you will have more choices, and more influence and control over what happens to you. You still may not be able to control certain outcomes, but by knowing what to look for, you can at least be prepared when the worst does occur.
People plan for their retirement, they plan for their vacation, they plan what they will do this weekend, they even plan for their estate after they die. But the sad fact is that people simply don't adequately plan for losing their job or hitting a dead end.
If you haven't planned for a career setback, don't be embarrassed. People don't plan for it for the same reason they find the idea of a prenuptial agreement sickening. They feel as though they are admitting failure before they get started.
You anticipate success. But it is like when you board an airplane. The pilot and crew certainly don't expect to crash, but they still show you where the exits are and let you know that your seat can be used as a flotation device.
You may not have any warning before a bad situation occurs. You may be caught totally off guard or in a situation where you have to leave quickly. What is stopping you from being prepared? Is it hubris, arrogance, laziness, fear? "Oh, this can't happen to me." "I'll be safe." "I know lots of people." "Maybe things will change." And then there's the greatest lie we tell ourselves: "They need me." If you are still working, here are a few steps that you can take to prepare yourself now in the event you need to make (or are asked to make) a dash for the door.
Back Up Everything... I Mean Everything: If you learn one thing from this section, it is this: Back up everything that is important to you! Back it up and keep a copy offsite at home, in a safe deposit box, anywhere other than your office.
In the best-case scenario, you might have a few minutes to retrieve your files. But don't count on it. You may be shown the door and have your things mailed to you later. There are no second chances to come back. You won't have time to go through files, forward or retrieve e-mail, and make copies. Files may be blown away from your computer.
If it is a layoff or firing situation, a company will likely shut down your network access and change your password while you are tucked away in a conference room learning about your fate. Companies assume that you might be a little hot under the collar since you were just let go, so they are reluctant to let you back on to the network or near a computer for fear that you might want to retaliate by sabotaging equipment, files, or information. You will also likely have your e-mail cut off immediately so you don't send a flaming message to everyone in the company or to your clients.
Respect what is proprietary and confidential to the company. But otherwise make copies or backups right now of any projects, letters, referrals, numbers, figures, and statistics you might need. Copy lists or directories that you think may help you later in a job search. Copy your personnel files and performance appraisals and reviews.
In the best of times, make sure to back up things at least once a month. When things are shaky, you should back up every week.
Make a Duplicate of Your Rolodex and Contacts: Careers are made on skills and contacts. Some would argue that depending on your profession, contacts are more important. Having access to those names, numbers, addresses, and vital data is critical not only to business, but to finding another job.
Make it a point to make a backup of all your contacts, databases, and important lists. This includes client and contact names, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers. Keep both a hard copy and a copy on a remote server, website, or disk.
Update Your Résumé—Now: After backing up your information and contacts, this is the most important thing you can do to prepare. The last thing you want to do is to waste time trying to craft the perfect résumé when you are stressed out and under pressure and you need to get something to an employer. It's like filling up the car with gas before a trip. When you are cruising down the highway, late for a meeting, you don't want to stop at the side of the road to fill up. Get it done now and forget about it.
Establish a Generic Personal Email Account: This is helpful not only to send your backup files to, but to use as a main contact for employers and job leads. Start using your new address for résumés and in all of your job search correspondence. Both Hotmail and Yahoo allow you to set up free e-mail accounts that can be accessed from any Internet browser.
Try to choose an e-mail address that is close to your name. Some people try to choose a name that reflects their profession, like SuperSalesman@xyz.com or GreatDesigner@xyz.com. I think it is cheesy, but it is certainly better than an e-mail address that reflects your personal habits or interests like Born2rock@xyz.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com
Create an Achievement File: Create a folder that includes a running list and samples of your achievements, kudos, and successes in your position. After a successful achievement, write a one- or two-paragraph synopsis of the project, as well as the specific results and what you learned or the skills you used to successfully complete it. Keep this at home.
When you need to update your résumé or make a case for yourself (internally or in a job search), your achievement file gives you accurate and specific information so you don't have to rely on your spotty memory.
Take Inventory: When the sky starts falling, you won't be in any mental condition to be reflective, so take a moment now to do a quick mental inventory of your career. Look at your recent accomplishments. What have you learned? How have you grown as a professional? What are you now qualified or equipped to do because of this experience? What is the likely next step if you were to leave? Could you easily go to a competitor? Do you want to stay in this field? What skills and experience can you transfer to other fields?
Renew Your Memberships and Subscriptions: Now might be a really good time to renew your subscriptions, association memberships, certifications, or anything that the company currently pays for that can help you professionally. This way they will remain active after you leave the company and you can still benefit.
Keep Up with Industry Contacts: These should include clients, people you have met at trade shows and through professional associations, even competitors. This doesn't have to be an in-depth contact. It can be as simple as a phone call, voice mail, or even a "Hey, how are you?" e-mail. You want your name to be fresh on their minds in case they have an opportunity that might be a good fit for you, or so that if you need a favor during your job search they don't think, "Huh. Who is that? Oh yeah, I haven't heard from him in a year." Start priming the pump a little bit, by putting the word out that you "might be in the market soon," "are ready for a change," or "see the writing on the wall." Begin to raise your antenna for new opportunities.
Line Up Your Referrals, Letters, and Recommendations: It can be tough to locate people who are willing to give you a reference if they are scrambling to find jobs themselves. After a successful project, ask a coworker, boss, or client if he or she would write a quick note for you. Strike while memories and positive feelings are hot. Tuck that note away for a rainy day. If you think that is too bold, at least identify peers, managers, and clients who you would like to have vouch for you at some point in the future and ask if they might serve as references for you sometime.
Start to Get Your Support System in Place: Just as you should begin to identify your referrals and contacts, you should give some thought to who you can lean on in hard times... should they occur. This can extend to emotional or spiritual support, advice and counsel, or even financial support should it come to that. Give a heads-up to the people who can help you to bridge a gap in case you need it. Tell a few of your confidants so that it doesn't come as a complete shock.
Visit Your Doctor and Get Your Health Care Needs Taken Care of Pronto: If you were to ask several people who had been laid off or jobless for a period of time which was more important to them, salary or health insurance, you would likely have a pretty healthy debate on your hands. If you are in a shaky situation or are planning to make a move, get any medical needs, such as checkups, physicals, and prescriptions, taken care of now, while you still have health insurance and are not burdened by COBRA expenses.
Act Fast: If your company makes a layoff announcement or says that they might be cutting jobs in the future, act now. Do whatever it takes to prepare yourself, but act fast. Don't wait to see what happens, what the fallout is going to be, or if it will affect you. Do the things I've mentioned. If you survive it, great, you've prepared for nothing. But if it ever comes time for you to exit stage right, you are prepared.
Bradley G. Richardson is the author of JobSmarts for TwentySomethings and JobSmarts 50 Top Careers. This is excerpted from Career Comeback, by Bradley G. Richardson. Copyright © 2004 by Bradley G. Richardson and published by Broadway Books, an imprint of Random House, Inc. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher. You can buy Career Comeback at Amazon.com.