You may be sailing through smooth waters now, but that doesn't mean your career path is free of hidden icebergs. Take these steps to make sure you have a lifeboat in case you run aground.

Share story

For many professionals who have maintained a steady course through their careers, it’s difficult to remain vigilant for turbulent waters — or unseen icebergs, dead ahead. When their career does make an unexpected collision with reality, they may be shocked to discover that they are taking on water rather quickly — and there are much fewer lifeboats than they had expected.

In the last couple of months, I’ve seen two friends with steady, decent jobs receive the titanic shock of a layoff after sailing in seemingly calm seas for more than 10 years in the same company. Neither of them had even considered looking anywhere else. But you don’t have to be constantly on the prowl for new jobs to endure these little career setbacks. Just make sure that you have a space on a lifeboat when you get that sinking feeling, and that you have some provisions ready until the next ship comes along.

Create an active social media profile. By profile, I don’t mean doing what 90 percent of LinkedIn users do, which is create an account and let it gather dust for the next decade. A true web presence involves periodic contributions to discussion groups and maintaining relationships with other colleagues from previous jobs. Let your network know you care about your profession by writing about the major issues in your field. The more you get your name out there, the easier it will be to signal for help if your current company leaves you adrift.

Keep track of accomplishments. For those who haven’t sent out resumes since the manila envelope days, a resume should have more details about how you have applied your skills in the last few years and less about the dates and titles of employments. For each job, describe what problems you helped solve. What processes did you improve? How much money have you saved on your last project? And don’t forget any awards or merits you or your department have received — they may not seem like much now, but any way you can demonstrate your worth quantitatively is a plus.

Build a little nest egg. If you’re happily employed now, set aside a percentage of each paycheck in case your ship starts leaking. This should be separate from any IRA or 401(k) contributions — as important as those plans are, this type of savings should be easily accessible for immediate use during the lean months in the lifeboat. The lack of income following a sudden layoff can lead to a rapid increase in credit card debt. Try to save up six months’ worth of living expenses (including rent or mortgage payments) to help cushion the blow of those first hard weeks.

ABC: Always be curious. Alec Baldwin’s famous version of the “ABC” rule had a much more threatening tone in “Glengarry Glenn Ross,” but this ABC rule means to always be curious about other job opportunities. In other words, don’t assume that your current good job will always be there for you. Make sure you take a peek every month or every week at listed openings in your field. If you’re not a member of a professional association, join in and force yourself to attend a few face-to-face networking sessions, perhaps once a month. That way, you can tap into your network for signs of changes in the marketplace — and be sure to return the favor to them.

Bon voyage.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at randywoods67@gmail.com.