How To Recession-Proof Your Career

With the economy on the brink of recession, many folks are concerned about their jobs. Will the company downsize or have temporary layoffs? Will employees be asked to forego raises or (gasp!) take pay cuts? The Wall Street Journal addresses this issue head-on and lists eight tips for recession-proofing your career. They offer some good suggestions, but here are two we especially like:

Work harder. Act the way you did when you were gunning for a promotion, says Lantern’s Mr. Morgan. “Companies are less likely to get rid of star performers.”

Network now. Don’t wait until you need help finding a job, says Debra Feldman, a job-search consultant in Greenwich, Conn. Make a special effort to reconnect in a meaningful way with past bosses, former colleagues, academic advisers and other potential advocates. Reaching out to them only in times of distress can be a turnoff, she says. Also, make sure to offer yourself as a resource to your contacts as well. The gesture will provide an incentive for them to reciprocate.

Yes, if the ship is sinking the ones doing the most work will be the last ones off the boat. Then again, if you don’t relish picking up duties that used to be spread across three different co-workers, then get to networking now!

How to Recession-Proof Your Career [Wall Street Journal] (no login required)


(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. timmus says:

    …. or you can just get promoted to mid-level management. No matter how incompetent you are, you’ll be there to stay until the company runs into the ground.

  2. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    Yes, if the ship is sinking the ones doing the most work will be the last ones off the boat.

    Tell that to those Circuit City employees.

  3. hi says:

    1. We’re already in a recession. 2. The article’s answer to recession is to “Work harder”?? Yes! The recession is your fault! You don’t work hard enough! … whatever.

  4. misstic says:

    “Know where the bodies are buried”.

    In all seriousness, all of this is common sense advice that could easily be applied when times aren’t tough and the future uncertain. Unless you’re a brain-dead slacker, why wouldn’t you do all of these things?

    There is really no way to “recession-proof” your career. No one is immune from being fired. A lot of people find themselves laid off during times like this because it’s a great opportunity to cut dead wood. Just sayin’ Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good article with sound advice. But if you’re worried about being canned, the time to do these things was 18 months ago.

  5. HRHKingFriday says:

    @misstic: Exactly. I know a lot of people who had dead weight let go last year. At this point, the its anyone’s guess as to who will get cut next.

  6. facework says:

    For anyone who wants to feel just a tad gloomier about the prospect of losing a job in corporate America and reacquiring a comparable job, read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch.

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is career 101 stuff: work harder? work smarter? don’t quit? keep your resume updated? That’s the best the WSJ has to offer for recession proofing your career?

  8. missdona says:

    That “work harder” thing is a double edged sword. I go with the “do your job, do it awesomely and get it done in <50 hrs a week.”

    I know people who work harder than everyone else in the company. They are not rewarded for it (financially or otherwisse) and they are taken advantage of.

    Who needs that?

  9. humphrmi says:

    I agree with @misstic, keeping yourself off the RIF list is an ongoing activity that starts when you join a company or organization, continues through the good times, and then pays off (but still continues) during the hard times.

    I remember in the late ’90’s when IT jobs were hot, a lot of people jumped jobs every six months to take advantage of more pay, better benies, etc. They thought they were so smart. They were the first to go when the recession hit in ’01. I’m still in the same job I was in back then. I’m not going anywhere.

  10. mthrndr says:

    I have another way: work for your father/father-in-law. No way will you get fired unless he wishes to suffer the wrath of your mother / his daughter. Nepotism FTW!!

  11. Dibbler says:

    Get a government job. The only way to get fired from one of those is to surf prOn all day and even then you’ll probably just get written up. My wife works for the government and some of the stories I here about her co-workers lack of work makes me “proud” to be a taxpayer and “pay their salaries.”

  12. rhombopteryx says:


    Exactly! Or even better, work for yourself. The only thing better than sleeping with the boss’s daughter is sleeping with the boss.

  13. mike1731 says:

    As important as anything, know what is going on with your firm. If business is slowing down, sales are tanking, revenue is off, etc, all those are indicators the firm will be in trouble. Also, does your firm have a history of laying folks off? That’s a very good predictor of future layoffs.

    If the clouds are gathering, the best view of the problem should be through your rear view window. Know the risks and act on them, don’t just assume you’re a good employee that’ll be safe. Always have a plan B ready to run!

  14. phrygian says:

    Gosh, wish I’d read this before I got my lay off notice yesterday; maybe I could have saved my job! *eyeroll*

    Fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter how hard you work or how much you know if the company thinks it makes more financial sense to let you go.

    I’m the only person in the company that does what I do, but I was told that they’ve decided to outsource my position to a cheaper country. Seems like I just went through this a few years ago…

  15. humphrmi says:

    @phrygian: I’m truly sorry to hear about your situation. However offshoring has been happening long before any threat of recession. If you make sure that it doesn’t make financial sense to let you go, then they won’t. And the time to start making sure that happens that is day 1.

    Sorry, again. I hope you get a new job soon.

  16. RandoX says:

    @phrygian: You don’t happen to work for a company that starts with “Z”, do you? The company I left a couple months ago just announced that they’re closing the office and shipping the work overseas. Which brings me to my point:

    Don’t stick around. If your company is showing signs of failure, your’re doing yourself a disservice to stick around, regardless of what the article says. If you get laid off with no notice, you can’t help it. If you see it coming you need to do something about it.

  17. wealthkick says:

    Anyone else notice how seems to be suddenly taking off? I think a lot of it’s new found popularity can be attributed to the looming ‘recession’.

  18. PHX602 says:

    Tony Soprano:

    Sil, break it down for ’em. What two business have traditionally been recession-proof since time immemorial?

    Silvio Dante:

    Certain aspects of show business and our thing.

  19. econobiker says:

    Exactly- government jobs are near bullet proof as long as you show up and do something. And if you happen to be a member of a “protected” class even better. You even get a great pension too- non of this 401k or IRA stuff unless you want to do that…

  20. Trae says:

    @hi: Actually, it’s not saying the recession is the worker’s fault — it’s saying that if you work harder than everyone else, when they’re picking people to fire during a layoff you’ll be less likely to get fired. It’s not about causation — it’s about finding a way to survive it.

  21. spinachdip says:

    Now, if I could offer a word of advice to companies to recession-proof themselves:
    1. Spend through the recession.
    If you were smart when going was good, and you didn’t overexpand or engage in price wars, you should have plenty of reserve for R&D, and hire talented employees other companies are laying off. Now’s your chance to get ahead of the competition.

    2. Cut the fat, but don’t be a Scrooge.
    When you’re asking your employees to work harder, morale matters. Sure, do away with some freebies, but taking away the coffee machine is going to hurt your bottom line in the long run.

    3. Don’t “dumb-size”
    During the last recession, a lot of companies played accounting trickery by replacing laid off employees with more expensive freelancers, often the very people they laid off! That’s just stupid.

  22. shoegazer says:

    “Sarah E. Needleman?”
    “You’re fired.”

  23. bustit22 says:

    “Work harder”? That’s a laugh. What it should read is “appear to work harder”, whether you actually do more work is quite irrelevant.

  24. Buran says:

    @Dibbler: Yeah if I could find one — nothing coming up on the USA Jobs site in the area I want to move to.

  25. Imaginary_Friend says:

    Jesus, that article sucked ass. Can they be any more patronizing?

  26. chandler in lasvegas says:

    Every recession, every serious economic fuck, I go back to school fired or not fired. By the time the recession ends I am ready to compete in a new job market with fresh creds.

  27. MercuryPDX says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: I also disagree. In my Web Dev experience-

    The people that work 60 hour weeks are usually the first to go (Why can’t they get the work done in 40 hours like everyone else?).

    Truth: The people working a 60 hour week got those extra 20 hours from “slackers” who are doing less work in 40, and rarely is it because they can’t do 40 hours of work in less than 40.

    Length of service also puts you at a disadvantage (You’ve been here the longest, ergo your salary is now the highest.)

    Truth: The “oldest” employees have the most knowledge about process and policy… which may be why they have earned a higher salary.

    Loyalty means nothing (In the end, you are just a number).

    Truth: Loyal employees have a higher tolerance for “your” BS, are willing to go down with the ship, and when they go… your turnover percentage increases.

    @missdona: QFT.

    @spinachdip: 3.Don’t “dumb-size”
    The response I often hear to this is that it’s cheaper because you’re not paying benefits (401k, insurance, perf. bonuses) to contractors. What is often overlooked is the cost of training a “day one” contractor to hit the level of a “year two” Full timer. Quality of the work suffers, and takes longer to produce.

  28. disavow says:

    @mercurypdx: From what I understand, financial statements show employees as fixed expenses while contractors are expendable. So some companies will hire contractors over employees, even if they cost more after accounting for benefits, simply because it looks better to Wall Street analysts.

    Some months back my employer decided they wanted to “rebadge” most of IT, aka lay everyone off and rehire them through a staffing firm without bennies. What they failed to consider is that most employees were there precisely for the benefits, so that taking those away would have driven away like 1/3 of everyone. Our new CIO, when he learned the details, put the kibosh on it fast. So now thanks to the subprime mess, we’re going through old-fashioned layoffs instead.

  29. UpsetPanda says:

    That “work harder” thing is a double edged sword. I go with the “do your job, do it awesomely and get it done in <50 hrs a week.”

    I know people who work harder than everyone else in the company. They are not rewarded for it (financially or otherwisse) and they are taken advantage of.

    Who needs that?

    @missdona: That might be true, but that speaks more to the fault of those in management rather than the person working. In many healthy management situations, hard work and good work is looked at as reliability. If you handle the work you do well, even under a tough deadline, you are looked at as valuable or at least reliable in case something does come up that needs to be done. Sometimes, that can be twisted into taking someone’s advantage, but I’d rather my office not look like Initech and my boss not be a Lumberg-type.

    Get a government job. The only way to get fired from one of those is to surf prOn all day and even then you’ll probably just get written up. My wife works for the government and some of the stories I here about her co-workers lack of work makes me “proud” to be a taxpayer and “pay their salaries.”

    @Dibbler: Just won’t do it under D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who just fired six people for surfing and downloading that during work.

  30. UpsetPanda says:

    @UpsetPanda: d’oh! *don’t do it

  31. umbriago says:

    That last tip is kinda weird:

    Write to Sarah E. Needleman at

    Well, if it will help, I’ll write her.

  32. crankybureaucrat says:

    @Dibbler: Dude, dibbler. I am a government employee and many of my colleagues have recently been let go due to increase privatization of federal functions. Yeah, there’s the guy that sleeps all day at his desk here but we are losing our jobs too.

  33. synergy says:

    Don’t get a business degree. Get a job in something that is never cut.

    Chandler FTW. Beat me to it. I’m going back to school come hell or high water in the fall.

  34. spinachdip says:

    @mercurypdx: re:dumbsizing
    Not only that, to hire a freelancer at the same level as the full-timer you laid, off, you have to more than double the pre-tax pay (when I freelanced, I calculated my hourly rate by dividing my salary expectation by 10,000 so a $60k position -> $60/h, and I know people who charged a lot more). 401k and health might be expensive, but I know they’re not worth 100% of the salary.

    That’s not to mention the companies who re-hire the people they lay off – you’re paying them twice as much before to do the same job, except they have less reason to be loyal to you.

  35. memphis9 says:

    Agree with Synergy – those MBAs are becoming less and less useful, and I would add that middle management jobs aren’t getting any more secure lately, either. Then again, bad times came be decent times for people who actually know how to *do* something of intrinsic value.

    As for government job security, I would not be too sanguine about pensions backed by investments that live or die on returns from lending, especially mortgage backed securities and the like. Sure, it’s only private sector retirees that have been burned this way…so far.

    It may be a decent time for young or (what’s the euphamism? ah, yes) *transitioning* workers to look into a career in some field currently decimated – from an employment POV – by offshore outsourcing or immigrant labor. I think our govt leaders may ultimately buck their corporate overlords on this one (if only to avoid rioting in the streets) as I expect an inevitable, and potentially troublesome backlash against globalism/immigration/US based companies exporting jobs is baked into the current economic cake. In the face of serious economic collapse, the one thing that would surely help mitigate against political and social volitility is a noticeably improved jobs outlook. And no, I’m not an economist or sociologist, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night!

  36. Imhotep says:

    @Imaginary_Friend: Exactly what I was thinking. Take a pay cut, work harder, be a good sport, my ASS! F%&# corporate-americana. They’ll eat your soul!
    #9 should be “Make them lay you off, then happily collect a severance check”.