It’s awful to hang around an office where everyone knows that job cuts are coming. There’s a sense that everyone’s just waiting for the shoe to drop. No one in the office wants to lose their job and go through the horrors of the job hunt. At the same time, though, no one wants to be the guy left at the end — the guy now doing the work of the ten other people that used to make up his team.

There’s a benefit to seeing the writing on the wall, though. You know downsizing is coming, and that will let you plan your next move. If you can opt out of the fear that seems to engulf offices on the edge, why wouldn’t you want to?

Decide What You Want

Your first step has to be deciding what you want. Maybe you really enjoy your job — maybe you’re willing to do the work of as many people as necessary to keep your comfortable job. If that’s the case, it’s worth going to your supervisor and informing them of that fact. In my experience, just informing them is enough. Don’t ask for a way to prove it; don’t try to subtly suggest it. If you’re on the ‘Maybe’ list, though, you’ve probably just tipped yourself on to the ‘Keep’ list.

But the opposite is equally likely. You could be just punching that time clock. Are you ready to move on? If so, don’t wait for the axe to fall. Start planning your escape: hunt for a new job or plan another first step. As soon as you’re ready to move on, approach your boss about negotiating your last few days. If job cuts have been announced, you can probably negotiate for the full severance package they were going to offer. If the plans to downsize are still very quiet, it’s harder to request a severance package but not impossible. Don’t run out the clock, though. You might be surprised to learn that you’re on the ‘Keep’ list when you already had your bags packed. Worse, you might prevent one of your peers who really wanted to stay from doing so.

Prepare for the Job Hunt

Even if you’re hoping to stay on, you need a Plan B. When in doubt, looking for a new job is a pretty solid alternative. I’d recommend it even to the folks who are fairly sure of their job security. Nothing, after all, is certain.

Everyone knows the standard routine of the job hunt, of course:

  1. Polish your resume until it gleams.
  2. Send out copies.
  3. Network.
  4. Interview with prospective employers.
  5. Land the job.

There are a few extra steps worth considering, however. Rather than spending all your time perfecting your resume, why not put together a portfolio? A few excellent samples of your work can go much further in convincing a prospective employer than any college degree. And while portfolios used to be solely the domain of artists, they can provide a boost to a host of other careers as well. Are you a software developer? You can use applications you’ve worked on in your portfolio. Are you a house painter? Take a few pictures of houses you’ve worked on and submit them with your application.

You can also step outside the box on networking. Rather than asking friends of friends if their companies are hiring, it might be worth it to meet people entirely outside your current network. Try going outside your circle of friends: go to Meetups, join clubs and get out of your normal routine. It will up your odds of finding a new position significantly. Think of it this way: other members of your network are sure to work for the same company that’s planning on laying you off. Your connections may have several people asking them about jobs. Best to step out of that situation, if you can.

Or Plan Something Else

Another job in the same career path may not be your ideal next step. There are other jobs besides putting yourself on the job market: you can start your own business, go back to school or change careers. The transition may not be as easy as a job hunt can be, but it can be very gratifying. Knowing that you have a few more days of pay and perhaps even a severance package to help you make the change, though, can make it a little less scary. You have a buffer to write a business plan or submit grad school applications, so why not take advantage of it?

Don’t forget that there’s no rule saying that you can’t be writing a business plan while you send out resumes, either. You have an opportunity to steer your career right now, and it’s always easier to do now rather than later.

Either Way…

No matter what you are planning for your next big step, there are a few smaller steps to take care of in the mean time that can make the whole process easier.

  • Arrange for insurance coverage. COBRA may be your best bet if you’ll be changing jobs.
  • Look for some work to fill in the gaps, such as freelance work or temp jobs. Most of us just can’t suddenly be without an income.
  • Warn the significant people in your life that change is coming. Your parents, significant other, etc. are likely to worry if you announce that you no longer have a job. You don’t necessarily have an obligation to stop them from worrying, but telling them that you have a plan can do just that.

Any other recommendations for handling downsizing? Please add them in the comments!

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