How to Survive Job Insecurity

Work hard and keep your eye on the company to survive the civilian labor market.

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In the military, and especially as a fighter pilot, I have tons of job security. What's it like to not really have good/great job security? How do people function—not to mention buy a car, house, etc.—without knowing they will have a job six months from now? Obviously, if you do a good job at work and aren't a dirtbag, your job security is higher (theoretically), but it's not like what I have.

Hmmm, no job security and no one trying to kill me, or job security and people trying to kill me? Which one shall I take? (Reality is, of course, that the military would not be a good fit for me. I mean, exercise? As a job requirement? Plus, I'd have to join the right branch of the military in order to have the right color uniform, although me dressed in white, Navy-issued pants might just be the trick to scaring away the enemy.)

So, how do we civilians live with all our insecurity? Well, in reality, it's not that much insecurity. The unemployment rate hovers around 4 to 5 percent, which means at any given time 95 to 96 percent of us are employed. Most people assume they will always be in the 95 to 96 percent that is employed. Mortgage companies assume that if you've held a steady job, you'll continue to hold one, even if it's at a different company. (At least, they did back when we bought our house, but that was in the dark ages of 2004. I understand that now they make you pledge that should you lose your job, you'll immediately start selling your possessions on eBbay and making your toddler get a job, but that could just be a rumor.)

It's true that there is little "true" job security. Most employees in the United States are "at-will" employees, which means that you can be terminated at any time for cause or no cause. (You can't be terminated for an illegal reason—such as race or gender—but being a minority won't protect you.) It's also true that hiring and firing are big pains and expensive, so companies don't like to do so if not absolutely necessary.

The best ways to ensure you have a job six months from now? Do an excellent job—good is not good enough, pay attention to your company's health and be willing to change jobs if necessary, keep your skills up, make your boss happy, and if you do happen to get fired, be glad no one is shooting at you at the same time.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which has been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources Certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.

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