In late 2021, I became self-employed, providing content writing and marketing services to HR tech companies.
It started well with more retainers than I could handle. On top of that, my ad-hoc commissioned work provided some side income.
But in the middle of 2022, things started to slow. My income level almost halved, and the declining economic conditions didn’t seem to point in any other direction.
So I did what I thought may make sense – I started looking for other opportunities and interviewed for a role with a multinational company. In other words, I career cushioned.
KEEPING YOUR OPTIONS OPEN
Career cushioning is becoming popular as workers become more concerned about their jobs. According to LinkedIn career expert Catherine Fisher, conversations around the recession on the networking site were nine times higher in November 2022 compared to the previous year.
She defines career cushioning as “taking actions to keep your options open and cushioning for whatever comes next in the economy and job market”.
While the tumult of the pandemic years also saw professionals seeking new opportunities, bringing about the Great Resignation Wave, this trend of career cushioning is different in the context of rising layoffs. Tech companies have made thousands of workers redundant from Salesforce to Meta, and in Singapore, Carousell and Shopee.
With the labour market easing, workers are becoming jittery and protecting themselves against worsening economic uncertainty.
That was precisely what happened to me. I’m worried that demand for my niche services will dry up as the economy continues to slide. If – or when – the worst comes, I might have a means of survival in the form of a job and pass the market risk from my business to my employer.
OPTIMISING YOUR WORK JOURNEY
It is never the wrong time to career cushion. Unlike in the past, a job is no longer a monogamous relationship that you have for life. Instead, it is usually a series of shorter stints that you move from one to another.
With eight hours spent at work every weekday (or more), it is vital to control your narrative and ensure your work journey is optimised for success.
Start by taking stock of your existing skills and determining your most important asset class. In the modern world of quick gratification, even employers can’t wait long for their return on investing in you.
That is achieved faster by having the right skill sets than by having a piece of paper from a pedigree university.
It is also crucial to identify what might be needed in the future. In its 2022 Skills Demand for the Future Economy report, SkillsFuture outlines sought-after skill sets in the green, digital and care economies and how workers can upskill accordingly. For instance, a logistics solutions manager may need to learn big data analytics and carbon footprint management.
One can also juxtapose that with the Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum that lists the top 10 skills of 2025. It includes skills such as analytical thinking, active listening and creativity.
Knowing that will allow you to zero in and learn how to gain those skills via YouTube, training programmes or a personal coach.
Even the best product must be marketed and promoted for the world to know. As a job seeker, that means refreshing your profile, resume and references.
For many job functions, LinkedIn is the place to start. With more than 660 million users, it is the go-to for many recruiters, and you want to put yourself in their crosshairs.
Ensure your LinkedIn profile is complete and up to date, and privacy is set to open so recruiters can find you in their search results. There is also an #Opentowork frame that you can apply over your profile picture – but that isn’t recommended, given you don’t want an awkward conversation with your current company if they find out.
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You should also take time to solicit testimonials. Take time to request them from former colleagues, bosses and even staff. An easy way to motivate them to write one for you is to write for them first. That makes them somewhat obligated to return the favour.
Apply the same update to your resume but have it specific to the kind of jobs you are looking for. You can use online tools like Jobalytics to tell you if the keywords in your resume “match” the ones in the target job posting, as most companies use technology to rank candidates based on keyword match.
DO IT ON YOUR OWN TIME
With COVID-19 almost disappearing from our rear-view mirror, face-to-face networking has returned with a vengeance.
Networking may feel icky and unnatural for introverts like myself. A better way might be to consider interest groups instead. For example, if you are an HR professional, you may want to join Singapore Human Resources Institute to connect with peers and learn about their successes.
Although you need not feel guilty about taking measures to protect your downside, that doesn’t mean you should ignore ethics and do it on company time.
Keep things professional by updating your resume and connecting with recruiters or interest groups on your own time, such as on weekends.
Even if you don’t need that backup plan, consolidating your skills, goals, and networks will help you succeed in any job – even your current one.