Recession-Proof Yourself: How to Save Your Job When Layoffs Are the Order of the Day

When times get tough, it pays to communicate your worth. Also valuable: diplomatic skills, teamwork and some detective work to anticipate what's happening at your organization.

When the U.S. economy collapsed in 2001, companies quickly responded with massive layoffs. Airlines shed jobs by the thousands. Technology companies large and small cut staff. And unemployment rose from 4 percent in 2000—the lowest level since 1969—to 6 percent in 2003, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now, with the U.S. economy lurching toward a full-blown recession, fears of layoffs have been reignited, and for good reason:

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Axes are falling on workers' desks right and left as red ink drips from many a corporate balance sheet. And no one is safe, no matter where you stand on the corporate ladder. Though senior executives are less vulnerable to losing their jobs than the employees below them, they can be casualties of restructurings.

Indeed, Bear Stearns deposed CEO James Cayne in early January. And more than one company fired its CIO and replaced him with a lesser-paid director of IT during the last economic downturn. (Of course, the top executives generally leave with generous severance packages while employees on the front lines are lucky if they get four months' severance.)

Whether you're a CIO or a help-desk technician, career coaches say you can take measures to prevent the hatchet from falling on your neck. CIO.com has drawn up a list of actions to take and behaviors you should avoid to safeguard your job. Some of the recommendations may sound trite or obvious, but don't kiss them off. They might just save your skin.

Know Your Value and Communicate It

"If you're flying under the radar, you're going to be the first to be eliminated," says Kirsten Dixson, author of Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand.

Dixson recommends compiling a weekly status report that outlines the project or projects you're working on, your progress on those projects and your key performance indicators, and sending that report to your boss each week. You can also present this same data to your boss in weekly meetings.

Proving your worth in challenging economic times ranks high on the list of IT executives hired based on their records of expanding lines of business. If you're known as a "growth and innovation CIO" and you want to keep your job with your current employer, which is focused more on weathering the economic storm than innovation, you need to prove you're as adept a cost cutter as you are an idea generator, says Joanne C. Dustin, a 25-year veteran of the IT industry who's now a career coach.

Dustin says CIOs need to talk up the efficiencies and cost savings that their innovations have achieved as well as the revenue they've generated. Your company may still decide that it needs someone with a different skill set in the CIO role, but at least you've given it your best shot.

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