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Don't Pack Your Lifeboat After the Ship Has Sunk

We have a recurring conversation at The Rivet Group.

Usually on a Monday, an executive we know or is referred to us reaches out to let us know they are on the hunt for a new job. The previous Friday they were notified by their company their services would no longer be necessary. There are many reasons why – all related to a financial decision (read about the warning signs here).

The initial shock has worn off, and now they find themselves adrift and trying to figure out what to do next – and so they call us. The common mistake almost all of them have made is they never saw it coming and had neglected to prepare.

Chances are close to 100% that a professional will be faced with unexpected unemployment at some point in their career. Here is the lesson: don’t wait until the ship has sunk to pack your lifeboat. Better to have a survival plan, and not ever need it, then to figure it out in the middle of a crisis. Before we get a chance to say, “I told you so,” we thought we’d share the best ways to be prepared. Here are the top five:

  1. Have an emergency fund. (Disclaimer: we are not financial advisers, and this does not constitute professional financial advice.) Ideally, you will get a severance, but plan for the worst – that you show up to work one day, there are chains on the door, and your last paycheck bounces. You should have at least 3-4 months of liquid assets at your current lifestyle. The higher you are up the corporate ladder, generally the longer it will take to find a comparable job. The bigger the reserve, the longer you can hold out for a solid job offer, not just the first one that comes along.

  2. Prepare to financially “load-shed.” During peak demand, the power grid might be in danger of overloading, causing brownouts or blackouts. That’s when they load-shed non-essential stuff and ask consumers to not run things like a dryer in the middle of the afternoon in the summer. Likewise, you can extend your financial maneuvering room by months if you prioritize early. The rule of thumb is plan 1 month per $10k in salary, which is a worst-case estimate. Have a discussion with your family about what is essential. Do you tap into your 401k to keep your cable plan? Do you postpone a vacation that has been planned for a year?

  3. Keep your resume fresh. Every six months or so, pull out your resume and revise it. You can add more current projects or success stories. Waiting years in between revisions will guarantee you will forget the cool stuff you have done. This is especially useful if a headhunter calls with a spectacular job opportunity – if you can return a resume within a business day because it just needs a little polish vs. a complete rebuild, you will increase your chances of getting submitted.

  4. Network. This is the most critical mission – an estimated 90% of jobs are found via networking. If your network consists of the team you just managed, your college roommate you last talked to five years ago, and your neighbor you wave to but don’t know his name, you are going to struggle. Networking takes mindful execution. You need to work to build a healthy internal and external network. Shoot for a minimum of three events per month when you are not looking for a job. Alumni, professional, or affinity groups meet often. Have coffee or lunch with someone new. Volunteer at a community organization. You do not need a specific agenda other than to connect with people outside your normal daily routine.

  5. Get to know a reputable recruiter. Having a recruiter that you know and trust, and that knows you and what you can do, does two things for you – it gives you an ally in an unexpected job search, also keeps you top of mind when you are not looking for a new job. If the dream job comes along, you will be sure to get a call.

We all are terminally busy – I get it. Planning for an unforeseen event when you have deadlines and projects, and the daily grind to get to can be tough. But after thousands of conversations with executives caught unprepared, it should be a priority.

If you have been through this, do you want to add any other recommendations? Feel free to comment below or reach out to us – we’d love to hear from you.

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