As you know, that’s the Boy Scouts marching song: Be prepared. So as through life you march along, take thought of what might go wrong. One thing, as my friend in Ohio pointed out, is that at some point you can expect to be laid off.
Being laid off is to some degree worse than being fired. If you’re fired, you usually know it’s coming, whether it’s awareness that you are not meeting the job requirements (for example, a sales person or sales manager who can’t make the number) or you and your boss are completely incompatible. But a layoff can hit you out of the blue.
There are signs, of course: lots of talk of a re-organization, and you are not hearing anything about how it’s going to work. Or being in a “special projects” unit that is vulnerable to trimming. But, generally, if you are doing a good job and feel a part of the company, the layoff can be a painful surprise.
So: Be prepared. That means having a reasonably liquid savings reserve equal to six months of take-home pay. That means of being networked with professional organizations and colleagues in other companies. That means taking steps to become visible outside your company: presentations at conferences, papers published in the trade press, friendships with movers and shakers in your occupational specialty, on-going professional education and training to keep your skills up to date.
The nice thing is that the preparations for being laid off not only make you a more valuable employee to your current company, they also give you more leverage in negotiating your salary. As Roger Fisher and William Ury point out their excellent book Getting to Yes (which I blogged about previously), negotiating strength comes from knowing precisely your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (your BATNA).
By knowing your BATNA, you know whether to accept an offer or not—i.e., whether the offer is better than your best alternative, or not so good as your best alternative. Moreover, you can work to improve your BATNA and thus get more negotiating strength. The steps suggested above do exactly that: by becoming more skilled and more visible and connected, your BATNA improves.
UPDATE: Good advice here, too.
UPDATE 2: Some excellent suggestions on how you might be able to attend conferences for free.