Job security can be tough to ensure in a time when every position seems temporary. Gone are the days when you worked for one employer your entire lifetime. Still, many people wish they could at least be the one to decide whether to stay or go. Knowing the traits employers find most attractive in good times (and in bad!) is a smart way to focus your professional growth. 

As a former HR executive, I know what goes on in "RIF" meetings

Back in my corporate America days, I gained a fair amount of experience in reduction-in-force (RIF) meetings. I recall the first time I sat in on one. I felt sick to my stomach the entire time. There I was, discussing the professional fate of people I worked with every day. Then, when it was over, I had to keep what was decided a secret until the even more unpleasant day when I was part of the layoff procedure. Honestly, part of the reason I decided to start a career coaching company was because of what I witnessed in layoffs. So many people had no idea that their skills and abilities were working against them. During that time, I learned three traits weigh heavily on the decision of who stays and who goes. 

1. You're a moneymaker.

People who do jobs that directly impact the creation of revenue are keepers. If you can quantify how much money you've added to the bottom line of your employer AND you know it's more than that of your peers, then you've put yourself in a good position. For example, I once was part of an RIF where we had to cut 30 percent of the sales staff. We simply looked at who was bringing in the most new business. One woman, we'll call her Kara, was a total nightmare to work with. Condescending, demanding, and high-maintenance; people hated her. But she was the top producer of new business in the company. In spite of everyone's hoping she'd be let go because of her terrible personality in the workplace, she stayed. The company just couldn't afford to lose her revenue stream and customer relationships. 

2. You do the job your boss doesn't want back.

Taking things off your manager's plate is a brilliant way to ensure job security. They already have a lot to do. Letting you go would mean taking back jobs they hate doing. For example, I know an HR manager who recently was told she had to let one of her two employees go. There was a super talented recruiter. He was incredible at getting top candidates to interview and join the company. The other was a woman who did mostly admin work. She was less skilled and struggled to communicate effectively in the office, BUT she did all the boring, timely paperwork the HR manager hated doing. Guess who kept their job? It wasn't the rock star recruiter.

3. You cost less to employ than others who do the same job.

You might think in a low-unemployment labor market, like the one we have currently, that you should push really hard to get as much pay as possible. I'd be careful. When the market conditions turn downward, the first thing employers do is look to cut costs. Payroll lists come out and they assess each employee on the basis of their contributions. I've sat in RIF meetings where managers were asked to rank their entire staff from best to worst. Then, their total compensation was put next to their names. Anyone who was lower on the list but had a higher salary than someone higher on the list got singled out for the layoff. Pay-for-performance is the name of the game in downtimes. So, if you aren't a moneymaker and don't do the jobs your boss can't stand (see Nos. 1  and 2 above), then that high salary and lower performance rating is going to put you on the chopping block. On the flip side, if you rank high and are paid less, you're a keeper.

P.S. The sooner you prepare, the better off you'll be

While nobody can predict the exact time a recession will hit, there is plenty of evidence to support that we are extremely close. Taking steps now to ensure you're employable in a downmarket can save you the hassle and embarrassment of struggling later. In my experience as a career coach, people find it much harder to motivate themselves to find a new job when they've been laid off in a weak economy and failed to see it coming. They feel embarrassed and lose their career confidence. Whereas those who prepared are ready to dive in and put their plan into action. As they say, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Published on: Mar 29, 2019