How to recession-proof yourself

By Meridith Levinson, CIO.com |  Career, career planning

Layoff fears are sending a shiver through the workforce as the U.S. economy lurches toward a full-blown recession. And no one is safe as corporate cost-cutters sharpen their axes. Though senior executives are less vulnerable to losing their jobs than the employees below them, they, too, can be casualties of restructurings.

Whether you're a CIO or a help desk technician, career coaches say you can take measures to prevent the hatchet from falling on your neck. Here's a list of actions they say you can take to help safeguard your job.

1. Know your value and communicate it. "If you're flying under the radar, you're going to be the first to be eliminated," says Kirsten Dixson, author of Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand. This goes for CIOs, too.

Dixson recommends compiling a weekly status report that outlines the project or projects you're working on, your progress on those projects and your key performance indicators, and sending that report to your boss each week.

If you're known as a "growth and innovation CIO," now is also the time to prove that you're as adept at cost cutting as you are at generating ideas, says Joanne Dustin, a 25-year IT veteran who's now a career coach and an organizational development consultant.

Dustin says CIOs need to talk up the efficiencies and cost savings that their innovations have achieved as well as the revenue they've generated. Your company may still decide that it needs someone with a different skill set in the CIO role, but at least you've given it your best shot.

2. Be a team player. Getting along with others--in the boardroom or elsewhere--is critical when downsizing is on the table, especially for IT professionals who tend to be independent, says Dustin, who's worked as a programmer, project manager and systems manager. "These times require cooperation, flexibility and a willingness to go the extra mile," she says.

IT professionals who "just sit at their desk or in the server room and do their eight-to-five" are at risk, says Ed Longanacre, senior vice president of IT at Amerisafe, a provider of workers' compensation insurance. The problem with hunkering down, he says, is that it gives the impression that you're not interested in the organization.

3. Keep your ear to the ground. Staying attuned to what's going on inside your company, including gossip, can help you anticipate changes, says Patricia Stepanski Plouffe, president of Career Management Consultants. "If there's a rumor that your department is going to fold or downsize, you can identify other areas of the company where you could transfer your skills," she says. Just remember that you can't trust everything you hear, whether it comes from the water cooler or the CFO.

4. Adapt to change quickly. "If you can develop an attitude that nothing is going to stay the same and that your organization and your job will always be in flux, that will help you cope," says Stepanski Plouffe. "Be ready for whatever change may come up."

5. Get out and lead. "Executives are expected to set the vision and reassure people of the path the company is on," says Dixson. "This is not the time to go in your office and shut the door. Show decisiveness, strength and integrity. Show that you're combating the rumor mill."

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