Mergers and downsizing happen. And they can upend your career if you’re not prepared.
The good news is you usually get some advance notice. It’s up to you to be proactive and start laying the groundwork to either keep your job in the face of cuts or to find a new job before the ax falls.
But there are ways to come out ahead if you start the moment you learn your job stands on shaky ground.
Fortify Your Personal Finances
Before you go on a resume-sending binge, look closer to home. Neither your budget nor your income is fixed, and the first step of the process involves a close look at your finances.
Start with these steps to prepare your finances for a job loss, even as you begin thinking about what comes next in your career.
Cut Your Spending
If your job isn’t safe, then is now really the time for that $3,000 vacation or new living room set?
Of course not. Yet many people keep spending like they always have.
And significant discretionary expenses are only the beginning. The real meat of budgeting lies in your recurring monthly expenses.
From your housing costs to transportation to food to entertainment to clothes, put every single expense under the microscope. Then put as many as you can on the chopping block.
Pro tip: Sign up for a service like Billshark to help reduce your monthly expenses. They will negotiate your bills and look for recurring subscriptions you no longer need.
Start an Emergency Fund
It’s also time to maximize your savings rate and funnel as much money as mathematically possible toward savings. Your goal: to build the largest emergency fund you possibly can because you suddenly have far greater odds of an emergency bearing down on you.
If you haven’t started your emergency fund yet, open a high yield savings account where you can store the funds. CIT Bank currently has one of the highest interest rates available.
Diversify Your Income
There’s an old saying that the average millionaire has seven separate sources of income. While I don’t know of any statistical data supporting that number, to focus on the exact number is to miss the point entirely.
The wealthy diversify their income. If they lose one source, it stings, but it won’t put them on the street. They earn money from dividends, rental properties, businesses, private notes, and a dozen other passive income sources.
Now could be the right time to turn your hobby into a money-making side business. Or to pick up some other side gig, move money from growth stocks to higher-yield dividend stocks, or start renting out rooms on Airbnb. For that matter, if you’ve been thinking about expanding your part-time business to full-time, this could be the perfect kick in the rear to do it.
You have dozens of tactics at your disposal. But the goal is the same: reduce your dependence on your job as the only way you can pay your bills.
Re-Evaluate Your Career
Do you even like what you do for a living?
The overwhelming majority of people don’t. In fact, a 2017 Gallup poll found that 85% of workers worldwide hate their jobs.
Don’t continue to plug away at a job you hate – or worse, go through the hassle of finding a new job doing the same tedious work. Now is the perfect moment for you to re-evaluate what you want in your career.
Start by going through the steps to explore and prepare for changing careers. Take a holistic view of salary, benefits, location, compatibility with your lifestyle, and, most importantly, what kind of work you find fulfilling.
And don’t be afraid to go unconventional. For example, try looking into jobs that provide free housing. One guy hated his job so much he looked for the furthest possible place he could go. He ended up living in Antarctica for a year at a research station. He had some killer stories to tell when he got back to the U.S. too.
Life is too short to spend a third of it doing something you hate. Forget the Joneses and do what you want to do, even if it means fewer dinners out and a slightly smaller house.
But if you love your job and want to keep it, take steps to protect it.
Protect Your Job
Imagine you oversee a department that just doubled after a merger. In the newly combined company, you have to pick two-thirds of the team to keep and a third to let go.
Who do you keep?
Theoretically, you would keep the most productive workers, the workers who collaborate best with others, and the workers with the best attitudes. And when in doubt, you would keep the workers you know better.
That means if you want to be among those kept, you need to start working on your relationships and your performance.
Build Closer Relationships
The more people you know and the better you know them, the lower your odds of losing your job.
Keep in mind that means not only your existing team but also the new team members in the case of mergers. Avoid the temptation to think in terms of an “us versus them” dichotomy. Embrace your new colleagues. Remember, one of the primary ways you are judged is your ability to work well with others.
Get a head start on meeting new colleagues and spending more time with decision-makers by volunteering for merger-related duties. Beyond helping you get to know people who could soon decide who stays and goes, it also helps you stay better informed about the merger and the direction the new company will take.
If that’s not possible, look for other ways to increase your visibility. Chat up your coworkers when you bump into them in the lounge or at the watercooler. Look for ways to establish more rapport with both your bosses and your colleagues.
The fastest way to connect with others is to find common ground. Do they read the same types of books as you? Watch the same TV shows? Enjoy the same hobbies? Love the same foods or drinks or obscure collectibles?
You have something in common with each and every person at your workplace. Find out what it is for each coworker, and use it as a starting point to bond with them.
The key is to build closer business relationships without being obvious about it.
Get Clear on How They Measure Your Performance
In corporate-speak, KPI stands for key performance indicator. It’s a direct measurement of how well a person or process performs. For example, if you’re in sales, your KPIs undoubtedly include metrics like revenue generated for the company.
The problem is many organizations don’t make it clear exactly which metrics they use to evaluate an employee’s performance. If you aren’t crystal clear on how your supervisor judges your performance, you need to get clear on it, and fast.
Ask your supervisor for a few minutes of their time to get a better sense of your current performance, how you can improve it, and how it’s measured. You don’t have to beat around the bush. Try something like, “Hey Bob. I wanted to check in with you about how I’m doing and what you’d like to see me do more or less of. I like this job. I like working with you and the team and would love to expand my role around here.”
As the conversation takes shape, ask, “In my next formal performance review, what metrics do you use to evaluate my performance?” It’s hard to improve if you don’t know what they’re looking at.
Document Your Success & Value
Now that you’re clear on how your organization evaluates performance, you can start documenting what a rock star you are.
Keep a log or spreadsheet of exactly how you create value for your employer. If they don’t track your KPIs, then periodically find an excuse to show them exactly how well you’re performing.
When it comes time to make uncomfortable decisions about who to lay off, you’ll have a leg up by being able to systematically showcase precisely how much value you provide for the company.
Even if your job isn’t in jeopardy, this technique will help position you for a raise sooner than your colleagues.
A Few Don’ts
Being a team player goes beyond avoiding an “us versus them” mentality in a merger. Be the person who works well with everyone around you, new or old.
Whether it’s a merger or downsizing, don’t gossip or say anything negative about other employees or the company at large. When you get frustrated and need to vent, blow off steam to your spouse and nonwork friends. Remember, in mergers and downsizing, the people with the best attitude keep their jobs.
Don’t try to protect your “turf” or your old sphere of influence. If your job or department changes, being territorial won’t change life back to how it was. It makes you look peevish and petty – and like a convenient person to fire to ease the transition.
For that matter, don’t resist change at all. Embrace change if you want to be part of your company’s future and not just a vestige of its past. That includes new technologies, new work processes, new goals, new teammates, even a new job description.
There’s an old adage that when the wind changes, there are those who build walls and those who build windmills. Which people do you think come out ahead in the end?
Create New Job Opportunities
Even when you do everything right, you can still lose your job in a merger, acquisition, or downsizing. Even if you keep your job, you might decide you don’t like the new company, your new boss, or your new colleagues.
So even as you take steps to protect your job, create exit strategies to keep your options open.
Update Your Resume
If you’re like most people, you haven’t looked at your resume in years. Since you took your current job, in fact.
Update it with all your current job activities and accolades. Outline the success metrics you’ve been tracking to illustrate how much value you’re bringing your current employer. Be careful to avoid corporate jargon and insider acronyms. They don’t make you look smart or sophisticated – quite the opposite.
But your resume updates are the beginning, not the end. Ask around to find at least two people to give you feedback: one person in your industry, and one person who frequently reviews resume and makes hiring decisions. Ideally, send them an electronic copy of your resume, and then schedule an in-person meeting or phone call for them to provide feedback on how you can improve it. Wrap up the meeting by asking permission to send them your revised resume.
After making their recommended changes, repeat the process until you feel confident you have a modern, eye-catching, must-reply-to-this-candidate resume. To increase your odds, take it a step further and hire a career counselor or headhunter to help you get a job.
Keep in mind that hiring managers sift through dozens or even hundreds of applications. Your resume goal is not to land you a job – it’s to land you an interview by catching a bored, overwhelmed hiring manager’s attention.
Of course, there are other ways to land an interview too.
Pro tip: If you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable working on your resume with, try TopResume. You’ll receive a free confidential review from a resume expert.
Network in Your Target Industry
You know what they say: It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. That turns out to be true. A study by LinkedIn found that 85% of jobs are never advertised and instead filled by word of mouth.
To find jobs that aren’t advertised, get friendly with as many people as possible in your target industry. Ask everyone you know about people they can introduce you to. Attend industry networking events. Go to industry conferences. Take people out for lunch, coffee, or happy hour drinks. To melt their defensive barriers, look for ways to help them first.
And no, being introverted is no excuse. There are plenty of networking tips for introverts if you struggle with building these relationships.
Set Yourself Up to Survive a Firing
Sometimes, you run out of time and lose your job before you can line up a new one. If the worst happens, there are plenty of ways to bridge the gap.
Negotiate Your Severance
When you get fired, the most common reactions are either blank paralysis or indignant anger. But the last thing you want to do is yell and scream at your former boss or just sign whatever they put in front of you and retreat in stunned silence.
If the hammer falls, simply say, “I understand. I’m going to sleep on it and will get back to about discussing severance.” Give yourself a day or two to rein in your emotions, then schedule a meeting with your boss.
Common practice is to pay two to four weeks’ worth of pay for each year an employee has been with the company. As a starting point for negotiations, ask for four weeks’ worth of pay for each year.
But money isn’t the only benefit on the negotiating table. You can also or alternatively negotiate for continued health benefits, a favorable reference and “exit message” – the reason they let you go – career counseling, or even contract work with the company.
You don’t want to leave on bad terms. But you should still use the best negotiation techniques you can to secure a favorable deal. You need all the help you can get when you’re facing extended unemployment.
Cut Your Spending Even Further
If you restructured your budget previously, now is the time to gut it entirely. Eliminate every single discretionary expense. You need your emergency fund to last until you find a replacement job.
Start with these 12 expenses to cut for $12,000 a year in savings, and don’t stop there. Get as creative as you can in reducing expenses. I’ve known people who get their dental work done at dentistry schools; buy all their clothes, furniture, and electronics used; rent out bedrooms in their house; and bring in foreign-exchange students for the stipend.
Nothing is sacred at this point. Your kids might need to go without their karate lessons for a little while. You and your spouse can go without your luxuries. Declare martial law on your household spending until the emergency passes.
With technology shifting faster than ever before and more jobs under threat from automation, few jobs are as safe as we like to think when we try to sleep at night.
Your career is a living thing, and it’s your responsibility to care for it and help it grow. Far too often, we become lax and comfortable, ignoring our career growth until we’re blindsided by the news that our job is suddenly under threat.
Get proactive and start looking at how you can cultivate your career again. Improve your skill set, demonstrate your value to your employer, look around at what else you might want to do. Now’s the time to improve your career prospects. And remember: It’s never too late to change careers.
You’re only limited by what you believe is possible, so stop fretting and start dreaming bigger.
Have you ever faced a merger, acquisition, or downsizing? How did you handle it?