You may have come across the term “career cushioning” recently. It has been gaining in popularity for the past few months. However, did you pay enough attention to know what it means? Or to be aware that it even might be something you should look into?
Career cushioning is the process of creating job security in the face of a recession. The unstable situation in the job market created by the unsustainable hiring habits created by the pandemic, paired with the raging inflation, lead to many sudden layoffs across multiple industries.
In the face of such uncertainty, many individuals choose to cushion their career and provide themselves with a “soft landing’ in case the repercussions of the current challenging situation in the professional world were to reach them.
In short, to cushion your career means to keep tabs on another job opportunity while still being employed in your current position.
There are different situations that could make you feel like you need to start making plans for career cushioning. The recent boom of the term has caused a certain panic, driving some to believe that it’s something every professional should do. That is not necessarily true, but there are certain signs which might drive you to consider undertaking this practice.
You may feel like your position could be at risk due to the increased layoffs happening in your industry as a whole or the company you work for in particular. If you have observed the trend of other people with a similar title or know of multiple of your colleagues recently getting fired and have any reasons to believe you might be next, it is the right time to start career cushioning.
You may feel undervalued in your job for many reasons - lack of constructive feedback, low salary, too much pressure, exceedingly high expectations, or no recognition. The list goes on, and all of the motivations figuring on it are equally relevant. It is hard to deliver a good quality of work if we feel like our efforts are not appreciated.
Many of those who start experiencing symptoms of professional burnout refrain from quitting their current job for fear of potential difficulties in finding a better one. It is exactly what career cushioning is for.
Finding vacancies you would potentially be a good fit for will make you feel safer. It is definitely much smarter to do your research first before giving up your primary source of income without a backup plan.
Now, many of you are probably wondering how career cushioning is perceived by employers. Searching for a security blanket in the form of another job while still employed by someone else could potentially be considered morally grey by many.
Of course, common sense dictates that you shouldn’t advertise the fact that you’re career cushioning to everyone around you. This fact is better kept to yourself and even if you’d like to admit to it to a colleague, better do so in private.
While it is a common practice, it might result in getting you prematurely fired before you have managed to find another position if an employer has reasons to believe you’re not motivated.
However, the truth is, no one can blame you for having your own back. We live in an exceptionally unstable economy and have to adjust accordingly. It can be very easy to lose your job and very difficult to find another one, so very few choose to hand in their two-weeks notice without a well-crafted plan B these days.
If you feel your employer might be silently planning to let you go soon, how would silently looking for another job in response not be all right? Being an employee is a two-way street and - even though it might not always seem this way - you should remember it.
Remember that the act of career cushioning itself doesn’t make anything final yet. You’re refusing to keep all your eggs in one basket, but no decisions have to be made until it becomes necessary. If you find a suitable position but your suspicions about losing your current role turn out to be wrong, you don’t need to accept it.
Now that you know what career cushioning is and when to consider doing it, one question remains: how to do it? There are multiple ways you can start, and we recommend applying more than one of them if you wish to be successful.
In order to realise that your job security might be in a vulnerable position, you first need to be aware of the general situation in the professional world. Not only do you need to keep an ear out for office gossip, but also stay up to date with the latest news from the industry.
You won’t do yourself any favours by remaining oblivious. Ignorance is bliss, but definitely not in this case. Being unaware of the potential danger of being laid off won’t protect you from it happening. This is why it’s in your interest to dedicate a few minutes every day to scrolling through the latest updates from your industry.
The best source of reliable information is LinkedIn and publications from verified sources who are considered thought leaders in the area that interests you. Do your research about leading websites and magazines in your industry and sign up for their newsletters.
Your Google Discover algorithm will also become tailored to your most frequent searches and can be a good place to visit whenever you have a moment, for example doing the commute to work. Although in that case, remember to check the source of articles that pop up there, as the suggested readings may originate from all over.
Hopefully, you have put some effort into networking and have created a group of both fellow professionals and industry specialists who can help you stay on top of the latest gossip.
Following experts and career coaches on social media will provide you with a daily dose of specialist knowledge, and being aware of what’s going on with people in positions similar to yours will allow you to observe the current trends.
If you notice that many of them are currently looking for a job or complaining about having been recently laid off, use this bit of intel to draw your own conclusions.
If you’re too busy or don’t trust yourself to regularly fish for new updates, you can have someone do it for you. This will come with additional costs, as the support of a career coach is a paid service, but you will be certain that your career is in the right hands.
A career coach will not only keep you in the loop with the latest news, but also advise you on what to do. They are trained professionals who know how to observe and interpret the job market better than anyone else. Therefore, they will be able to calm you down if you panic too soon, or confirm it’s time to start career cushioning, based on your personal situation.
If they recommend career cushioning, they will also be there to provide you with the help you need for carrying it out properly. They can assist you in finding the right positions and make sure your applications are spotless.
If you observe the trend of mass layoffs in your industry, this might mean the demand for your position is on the decrease right now. This could push you towards altering your career path, or even considering a complete career change.
Don’t worry - the layoffs can also be limited to your company. Many businesses had hired candidates in an unsustainable pattern throughout the pandemic, and are now forced to let them go in face of the recession.
While this concerns multiple companies, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are no opportunities left in your industry. Numerous employers have remained balanced and do not have to turn to drastic measures to stay afloat now. Many of them could still be hiring new candidates.
The only way to know which situation applies to you is to do research. Look for positions that interest you and sign up for job alerts. Monitor the number of new vacancies popping up and compare them to those which get filled.
Is there a rotation among the job offers? Do the adverts remain the same? Is there really a high demand for your role, or are they just the same vacancies getting republished over and over again because the employer can’t find a good match? Pay attention to those facts.
This point is especially relevant for those who have held their current job for a while. Over the time you have safely held onto your position, the demand for your role could have skyrocketed or drastically dropped. It is important to be aware of that when considering changing employers.
This is the step many are hesitant to take, but it’s also a very important one. Actually applying to positions versus only looking for them are two different things, and while the latter might still make it seem innocent, the former makes it feel real.
It can be difficult to cross that thin line, but keep in mind the ultimate goal of career cushioning. It is meant to provide you with security in times when you feel like you’re lacking it. How can you be sure you’d get another job if you don’t even try to apply for it?
Remember that you don’t need to feel pressured to make any defining decisions. Think of it as research. How do employers perceive you as a potential candidate? What are your chances of finding a job right now? How long would it take? How many positions do you need to apply to in order to hear a response? Is there anything you need to improve?
You can only find answers to those questions by actually applying to jobs and seeing what results it brings. It may turn out that your candidate’s profile is strong enough and you will be flooded with job offers in no time. If you discover it takes a while and you haven’t heard back from anyone despite having applied to multiple vacancies, it may be a sign it’s time to upskill.
Only active participation in the recruitment process can give you a clear insight into your strengths and weaknesses as a job seeker and let you know what to expect. The job market is extremely dynamic, and it might be particularly important to do your research if you haven’t applied for jobs in a while.
If you notice a low response rate once you start sending out job offers, it’s a clear sign there is space left to improve. Upskilling is also part of career cushioning - you make yourself more attractive in the eyes of an employer by developing your skills and gaining new ones.
You can boost certain skills by completing online courses. There are multiple platforms offering education programmes across all areas at affordable prices. Look out for in-person classes organised in your area as well - they are not only an opportunity to learn, but also the perfect spot to network.
Sometimes, you may even consider taking this a step further. Did you decide against getting a Master's degree but see now that many positions in your domain require it these days? Maybe your skills and motivation were enough at first, but now that you have been on the market for a while, employers expect something more?
Quitting your job to complete a university degree is a difficult decision to make, but it could be a very beneficial one. It will leave you without a stable source of income, but if you have been fearing being laid off, then you may feel like you don’t have much to lose in the first place.
There are ways to deal with it - you could pick up a part-time job to just push yourself through while getting your degree. It may be hard to imagine for someone with a few years of experience in their designated position, but remember you would not be doing it on a whim. It would be for the greater good, as getting a degree could significantly improve your chances for great employment in the near future.
There are also universities that offer weekend classes. It would be challenging, but you could pair them with your regular job and attend a course without having to quit. After all, that’s exactly what this type of courses was created for.
Both options may come with additional costs. In some countries in Europe, you can benefit from free higher education, but will be required to pay for a weekend course. The university fees differ greatly from country to country, so do your research as some of them could turn out to be quite affordable.
Approach it as an investment in yourself. You will spend money now, but you could very likely recuperate it when the degree helps you find a better-paying position.
According to a survey by Side Hustle Nation, 19% of people in the UK and 45% of people in the US report having a side hustle. What’s more, Luisa Zhou found that 50% of Millenials and 70% of Gen Zs engage in side projects.
People pick up side hustles for different reasons - self-development, passion, or extra money. For many, they are a prelude to an eventual freelance activity.
If you fear being laid off, finding a side gig can help you make some extra cash and secure your finances. Similarly, if you’re lacking the drive in your primary job, doing something that you enjoy and that could help you earn outside of working hours might bring joy back into your life.
Additionally, you can approach it as a trial for starting your own activity. Perhaps all the stress brought by the prospect of being fired or doing something unsatisfying has led you to believe you’d rather be your own boss.
Launching a new project when still employed is a great way to see if it works for you without taking huge risks. It can get you the experience you need and consume the time and energy you might otherwise spend stressing out.
We hope the article explained the science behind career cushioning to everyone who was not familiar with the term. The phenomenon is more popular than you might think these days due to the tumultuous times we live in.
We all deserve to look out for our best interests and secure a steady, worry-free future. Career cushioning is a way to do it, and its potential and benefits are gaining recognition every day.