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5 ways to make your career recession-resistant

At a glance

  • Industries that tend to offer better job security and steady employment include healthcare, education, basic service industries, utilities and government, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Seek specialization within your role, especially opportunities that offer real value to a company.
  • Developing an adaptable mindset and building highly transferable skills can help you weather layoffs and economic downturns.
  • Enhance your business acumen and knowledge through an online business degree.

Often considered a relatively safe, high-demand industry, the tech sector has been hit hard by the recent economic changes impacting the U.S. With more than 164,000 layoffs in 2022 and 170,000 lost in the first three months of 2023, according to Layoffs.fyi, many tech workers are feeling considerably less secure and looking for ways to shore up their career paths against roller-coaster market trends. 

Whether you’re currently out of work or just looking for recession-resistant jobs, there are several ways you can help improve your chances of maintaining your position when the market is down. Here are five of them.

1. Look for hardy sectors

Some industries are simply less recession-proof than others, and as the markets shift, it’s not always the same sectors that weather a recession best. But over the years, several industries have tended to remain resilient.

At the top of the list of recession-resistant jobs are healthcare, utilities, government, education and consumer staples like grocery services. These sectors are essential in good times and bad, and don’t depend on buyer optimism.

Other opportunities can be harder to spot in advance but demonstrate similar essential-services traits. For instance, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people mostly stayed home, mobile apps, online entertainment, games and home education all boomed. The takeaway is that meeting people’s needs pays, even when the market is uncertain.

2. Identify perennial roles

While working in a recession-resistant industry helps, it’s also a good idea to seek roles that are more likely to weather economic storms.

Notable industries include healthcare, government and education. These industries tend to be less influenced by interest rates, according to a recent CNBC article, and encompass a wide range of roles from teachers to law enforcement.

Beware of roles that can easily fold into the responsibilities of an adjacent function, such as social media management or brand marketing. Jobs like these can be important to a company in good times but look like nice-to-haves when a business is cutting back during a recession. If another team can do what you do, your job may be first on the chopping block.

3. Learn how to identify company red flags

When you’re evaluating job opportunities, always remember that you’re interviewing the interviewer and should do your best to spot any red flags. In particular, do your homework on sites like Glassdoor and Fairygodboss to check for signs of high turnover (particularly executive turnover) or a history of layoffs, which are signs of instability in the company.

If you’re in tech, the site Crunchbase, which tracks startups, funding rounds and press releases of companies big and small, is one resource for understanding how a company is performing, how much capital it’s taken in and whether the leadership team is stable.

In an interview, even if you’re not in sales, it’s best to ask about the company’s revenue performance. Has the business been meeting its targets? Are the sales reps making their numbers? Are other employees consistently achieving their bonus criteria? If your interviewer squirms in response to any of these questions, you should dig deeper to understand why.

4. Differentiate your role

When layoffs loom, businesses look for redundancies in their workforce. In fact, in some countries, the word redundancies is a euphemism for what we in the U.S. call layoffs. The best way to avoid becoming a redundancy is to avoid redundant roles.

Regardless of a company’s size, you can test for redundancy during your interview process. Ask the hiring manager how many other people in the organization have the same function, and how many other departments do the same things. If you’re being hired to expand capacity for an existing role, you can be let go if demand for that function drops during an economic downturn.

Even if you’re one of several people doing the same thing, you can look for ways to expand your role to fill key needs for the business. Taking on important specialized tasks that others aren’t performing can help differentiate you from the pack and help with job security. Just be sure you’re taking on specialization that’s essential rather than novel (and that you’re valued accordingly for that skill set or knowledge). It’s a lot harder to let go of the account manager who’s proven uniquely able to manage the toughest account than the one who has taken on organizing the company picnics.

5. Optimize for adaptability

Jobs come and go, but adaptable people are always in demand. Develop skill sets that will serve you in any job, and always be learning. In a topsy-turvy market, a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none but often better than a master of one.

Relationship management skills (both internally and externally) and project management skills go a long way regardless of your industry or job function. Demonstrating highly versatile skills can be a shield of immunity when management is looking at whom to cut.

Complacency, on the other hand, begets risk, and those who count on things staying the same are most vulnerable to change. Strengthen your position by reading your industry’s trade periodicals and spotting innovation and trends. Integrate continuing education into your lifestyle, taking courses in new or emerging skill sets. Take on challenging projects and ask your employer to fund relevant training to develop your skills in ways that advance the company’s interests.

While no amount of training and skill development can totally shield you from a round of layoffs when a recession occurs, developing an adaptable mindset and building highly transferable skills can ensure that even if you do lose your job, you’ll be better prepared to look for a new one.

Portrait of Robert Strohmeyer

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Strohmeyer is a serial entrepreneur and executive with more than 30 years of experience starting and running companies. He has served in leadership roles at three successful software startups over the past decade, and his writing on business and technology has appeared in such publications as Wired, PCWorld, Forbes, Executive Travel, Smart Business, Businessweek and many others. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Headshot of Jessica Roper

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Jessica Roper, University of Phoenix director of Career Services, is a seasoned leader with over 15 years of experience in leadership within higher education. She has honed her expertise in student services and career development and is passionate about helping others discover and refine their skills.

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This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
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