Many often think of the tech industry as an ever-growing job haven filled with endless opportunities, but the recent months have certainly reminded us it too is not immune to economic downturns. With large-scale layoffs and offer rescissions frequenting our feeds, you might be wondering how to best manage career risks in such raucous times. In this article I share a few tips that have been personally helpful to me, a self-identified generally risk-averse person.
Choosing a healthy, resilient organization
If the organization we belong to is not faring well, clearly that elevates our exposure to risk. Although this tip is an obvious one, there is a caveat: don’t assume. Just because an organization is large, reputable, exciting, or in a “hot” field, doesn’t automatically mean it is more resilient or “safer”. Similarly, smaller organizations are not necessarily riskier options. One of the reasons that I recently decided to join StackAdapt was because I did not assume it to be a higher risk “bet” compared to some other opportunities with larger, public companies. On the contrary, after some research into StackAdapt’s — and some other companies’ — recent updates, I concluded that despite being a smaller, private company, StackAdapt was actually the healthiest among the companies I was considering. I ended up joining them feeling not only excited but also safe from a lot of career risks.
Deciding whether an organization is healthy can be as much of an art as a science. When researching a public company, their regulatory filings is usually an amazing source of information (I have written a previous article on the topic of doing such research on Canadian public companies). But if we are researching a private company, we’ll need to get a bit more creative as there is usually no one central source of public information. Tools such as Crunchbase, CB Insights and IBIS World can come in pretty handy. Another secret weapon I highly recommend leveraging is the interview face time with company leaders. That 15 minutes at the end of our job interview dedicated to candidate’s questions to them could be a goldmine of information that can help us decide how healthy the company is!
Preparing for rainy days
No matter how well we drive our careers, rainy days (job losses) do happen. They could happen because we misjudged the risk associated with an opportunity before taking it, or an unexpected economic/industry downturn, or sheer bad luck. Although I have fortunately not experienced them, and hopefully I never will, I nonetheless believe preparing for the scenario of a job loss is an integral part of career risk management.
The first and perhaps most commonly talked about dimension of this is financial preparation. There is a plethora of personal finance literature on the Internet that discusses different strategies and merits of having a “rainy day fund”. I am a fan of this strategy, because a rainy day fund fundamentally increases my protection against career risks. As a corollary, by having this enhanced safety cushion, I also have a higher degree of freedom in making career choices: if there is an opportunity too exciting to turn down, my risk-averse self will be more empowered to take that leap of faith knowing the worst case scenario is to fall onto a cushion.
The second dimension I want to talk about here is logistical. By that, I mean having a plan of what to do in the event of a job loss. This can take on a different way, shape or form for each individual, but for me, I literally have a doc that outlines if I were to ever lose my job, how much time would I allow myself to rest and recharge before going back to job hunting, how much and which expenses would I cut back during that break period, and I would take that opportunity to do which things I always wanted to but cannot when I have a full time job. While I hope to never activate this plan, its existence gives me a bit more peace of mind knowing that logistically and psychologically I am not completely unprepared for rainy days.
Keeping pulse on the talent market
An organic part of risk management is resiliency, namely the ability to recover in negative scenarios. In the context of career management, I think about resiliency as our ability to find our next role.
The first step to building that resiliency is to keep pulse on the market. Not only does this arm us with knowledge about how much our skills and experiences are in demand, it could even point us to the direction where our efforts of learning new skills will be most effective.
Similar to company researches that we previously discussed, this industry research also takes a degree of creativity. We can develop a routine to keep track of the number of job postings that match our profile, or participate in professional social groups where members keep each other updated.
One of my personal favorite techniques is to have conversations with the recruiters who reach out to me. Mind you, I am not advocating for pretending to be interested in switching jobs so as to go through interview loops; rather, my approach is to have an open and genuine conversation with the recruiter (“thank you so much for reaching out. I am not currently looking to switch jobs, but would you be open to have an informational chat for me to learn about your organization?”). In my experience, recruiters are generally appreciative of my transparency and are open to chat. One of the biggest advantages of this technique is that, I already set my metaphorical filter to only speak with recruiters who have reviewed my profile and feel like I may be a potential fit – easy and efficient!
Learning all about immigration
I know many fellow techies are like me, working in a foreign country. If that’s you, there’s a special risk you need to manage: immigration risks.
For different people this risk may look different. Some might need to deal with status loss in addition to all the other stresses in the event of a job loss. Some might have additional constraints to consider when planning to take on a new role. Or some may have constraints in their long-term career or financial planning because their status is not permanent.
Whatever risks we face, from the angle of career risk management, it should be a good idea to make sure we learn all about the immigration rules and options that apply to our scenario. It might also be worth it to do a planning exercise – similar to the ones in the previous tip “Preparing for rainy days” – where we get to the bottom of what are our options in the event of immigration challenges. This risk is also pretty unlikely to materialize for most people, but could have significant impact if it happened, so it’s not a bad idea to have a plan that hopefully will never be triggered!