When you hate your job, you often think about leaving it. But when you are happy with your work putting an exit plan into place seems somewhat bizarre. Nevertheless, smart employees should always be prepared to quit their job tomorrow.
The reason is that the future is always unknowable. Just because your job satisfaction is sky-high today doesn’t mean that tomorrow your company won’t announce mass layoffs, or hire a horrible new boss, or commit an ethical transgression that you do not wish to comply with.
An exit plan is about giving yourself options. Our jobs are usually the only means we have of paying rent, buying groceries and supporting ourselves and our families. Job-hunting is tough and can take a long time. Being unprepared, therefore, means risking getting stuck at a workplace you’ve suddenly found you hate.
Convinced of the need for an exit plan but confused about its practicalities? Here’s what yours should look like:
1. Have unemployment savings
The majority of us — 63 percent — are one paycheck away from homelessness. The reason? A lack of savings; one-quarter of workers save nothing at all each month. For those in steady employment, this might not seem like a big deal. But what if you were made redundant tomorrow?
Make it a personal goal to have a savings account that would allow you and your dependents to survive several months of unemployment. How much you need to save depends both on your necessary outgoings (rent, bills, etc.) and the average length of time it takes someone of your position and industry to find a new job.
Quitting a job without another source of income guaranteed is rarely a good idea, but sometimes circumstances may force your hand. Knowing that you have emergency savings to fall back will alleviate some of the stress of these situations and give you enough time to get fully back on your feet.
2. Network, network, network
The widespread statistic that 85 percent of jobs are filled by networking may be an exaggeration, but the power of personal connections is indisputable. Professional contacts can alert you to industry openings, put in a good word for you with their employer, hire you on a freelance or contract basis, provide references and recommendations and generally smooth your job hunting process considerably.
You don’t have to be actively looking for a job to be actively sourcing, building and maintaining these relationships. Keep in touch with useful business contacts. Attend relevant conferences and industry meets. Be ready to provide assistance and favors to people who could be useful to you in the future. Expand your network by soliciting introduction to new contacts from current ones.
In short, build a reputation as a competent, friendly and dynamic person that people want to hire and work with.
3. Do your freelance prep
Thanks to the twin forces of globalization and digitization, many jobs can now be performed on a freelance or contractor basis. If that is applicable to your job, it’s worthwhile investing some time in figuring out how it would work and laying some groundwork. That could mean building good relationships with potential clients, making sure your LinkedIn page and other websites are top-notch, and gathering together suitable examples for a portfolio.
It may even be appropriate to dip your toe in the freelance waters by taking on some side-projects (assuming your company doesn’t prohibit this). The idea is to get everything in a place where you could easily ramp it up if necessary.
The same logic should apply to any side-projects you’ve got an interest in doing. If you enjoy spending your weekends making jewelry or writing science-related blog posts, explore the ways you could turn it into a money-spinner if needed. Personal businesses always require some initial capital to get going; whether for printing business cards or buying a website domain name. Covering those initial costs while employed means you wouldn’t have to worry about multiple out-of-pocket expenses when you’re not.
4. Keep your skills polished
There are undoubtedly specific skills that help you do your job well; invest time and effort into ensuring they’re consistently honed, updated and expanded upon. Research the attributes that would be required for a job at the level above you, and start working on them now, whether in work or outside of it.
The internet is filled with free online courses that can teach you everything from coding to Adobe Photoshop. Take advantage of them. Not only will it benefit you in your current position, it’ll ensure your CV is kept up-to-scratch should you need to pull it out in a hurry.
It may be that you never need to use your exit plan at all. Great! You’ll benefit from the strong network, polished skills and rainy-day funds regardless. You’ll also be able to enjoy your awesome job in security and confidence, and be better placed to tackle any arising issues or rough patches with the mindset that working through it is a choice, not a requirement.
Exit plans are there to give you relief if things go wrong in the future, but they will also make you a better, happier and more confident employee in the present.