How (and why) you should create a backup plan for your career

Innovation and disruption are building a new world, but what if they disrupt your career? Technology—especially AI—is causing some roles to become irrelevant. And even workers in the most stable industries could experience consequences of economic downturns or just poor leadership.

“Businesses go through cycles, market conditions, economies, and sometimes a new person at the top comes in and wants to change everything,” says Richard Walker, CEO of York Solutions, an IT consulting firm. “More often than not, it isn’t the fault of the person who gets fired. It’s just that the new leadership wants to refresh and bring in new people with new ideas.”

To avoid being blindsided, it’s important to have a backup plan that helps you navigate the waters if something happens outside of your control. Here are five things you can do to quickly land on your feet:

1. Build a Strong Network

Getting a new job offer can happen far quicker if you’ve built a strong network, says Walker.

“When executives ask for my help to get their next job, the first question I ask them is, ‘How strong is your network outside of the four walls where you work?’” he says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s weak. They haven’t taken the time to invest in themselves outside of where they work.”

Networking requires being willing to ask people you know to connect you with people they know. While it comes naturally to some people, it can feel draining for others. However, Walker says that’s not an excuse to not do it. The first hurdle to clear is the thought that you’re bothering people.

“You’re asking for help, and the vast majority of people will want to help you,” says Walker. “If you don’t overcome the thought that you’re bothering people, it’s going to take you a lot longer to land your next job.”

The best time to network is when you don’t need to, says Walker. “Networking is the proactive backup plan that people should be creating for themselves while they’re working,” he says. “Don’t wait for the hammer to drop, when you’re out on your backside looking for a new role and sending your résumés into black hole systems. If you have that network already established, it accelerates you your ability to be able to land your next position.”

2. Know Your Motivators

Creating a backup plan requires knowing what drives your career, says André Martin, Ph.D., organizational psychologist and author of the forthcoming book Wrong Fit, Right Fit: Why How We Work Matters More Than Ever.

For example, it could be the company, which is when you love your workplace and would do anything to see it succeed. You may also be driven by craft, which is when you love an area of knowledge or practice so much that you want to become best in the world. Or you could be motivated by cause, which is when you want to further a greater aim or solve a larger injustice to make the world better.

“By understanding what matters most to you in your career you can choose an alternative path that will keep you passionate and engaged,” says Martin.

3. Keep an Updated Résumé

According to a recent survey by the résumé-writing service TopResume, most professionals don’t update their résumé until they need to use it. Instead, Amanda Augustine, TopResume’s career expert (and Fast Company contributor), says it’s best to schedule in regular updates so you never have to rush through the process in a pressure cooker, or risk no longer having access to information you need.

“If you haven’t updated your résumé since you landed your current job, now’s the time to incorporate those details, as well as any promotions, title changes, achievements, and awards you’ve earned during your tenure,” she says. “Also, review the rest of your résumé and make any necessary edits to ensure it supports your current job goals.”

4. Consider Transferrable Skills

Career ladders look different today. Instead of following a traditional path within a company or industry, more people are focusing on more continuous improvement of their capabilities, skill sets, and experiences, says Lisa Sterling, chief people officer at Perceptyx, a people insights platform

“Individuals should be more open and agile to allow themselves to flow where work takes them,” she says.

For example, someone who works in a fast-paced environment in the hospitality field likely has honed good customer service and multitasking skills. These same capabilities along with the proper training could transfer to a job in healthcare, such as a role in an emergency room.

Understanding your skill sets can also help you identify areas for improvement, adds Augustine. “This process will allow you to identify any skill gaps you need to fill in order to be more relevant and attractive to potential employers,” she says.

5. Envision Yourself in the Future

Whether you’re creating Plan A or Plan B, make sure to reflect on the life you are trying to build and where you want to be five or 10 years from now, says Martin. He suggests envisioning a number of potential prototypes that are small steps to the left or right of your current career choice.

“By looking at three to five alternatives to your current job together, you can examine which of them will allow you the best chance of continued forward momentum,” he says.

Reverse engineering your life based on how you want it to look at some point in the future is vital step that will move you a step in the right direction, instead of creating a detour away from the life you want, says Martin.

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