This is no time to lose your job. The unemployment rate has climbed from 4.9 percent at the start of the year to 5.7 percent in July. If you're out of work in this market, you'll likely find it harder to get hired.
So how do you hang on if your company has to make cuts? Befriend your boss. Stephen Viscusi, author of Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Tough Times and Come Out on Top at Work, suggests that you start working your sparkling personality and individuality so that your boss knows exactly who you are, knows a bit about your life, and—most important—likes you.
Excerpts from Viscusi's recent interview with U.S. News:
You write that, in this market, what a boss thinks of you is more important than your hard work. Why?
During a jobs recession, especially at publicly traded companies, a CEO looks good if he lets people go. The first thing a boss tells you is: "I have to let somebody go. It's a budget thing." When it's a budget thing, it's no longer a "last hired, first fired" thing, or based on merit or performance. It's the one time a boss gets to use the ax arbitrarily and very subjectively—based on relationships. No matter who they are, bosses hate firing people. It's a really uncomfortable thing for most people to do. But it's very easy to fire someone you don't know personally.
What are the secrets to getting to know your boss?
Today, the way we interview and people get to know us, people don't have to say whether they're married or not, or how old they are or what's going on in our lives. But all the laws that protect us also keep us from being a human being to our boss. It's really difficult to fire someone when you know their mom has breast cancer, or they're going through a divorce or their kid is going through problems at school. I'm not saying you need to spill all your guts to your boss, but you need them to be able to identify you as a human being and as a person. The chemistry has to be good. It's much more difficult to fire someone that you know personally or that you feel like you have an understanding of who they are as a person.
What are some of the mistakes employees tend to make?
Out of sight, out of mind. Now's not the time to start telecommuting. It's not the time to take the three-week vacation. And it's not the time to say, "You know what? I'm the person who gets great reviews and I don't need to know who the boss is." You really do need to perfect the art of looking busy.
How should people do that?
A little bit of it is a charade, in terms of keeping the job. If you stay just five minutes after the boss—you don't have to be doing a thing—you're always there after them. So they always think you're staying late. I appreciate that it's a charade, but that charade may save your job.
But you say that people shouldn't eat at their desks. Why?
It's almost like wearing a cologne or perfume. People are known by the food that they eat, the odors they create in the office. People think: Oh, you eat at your desk and that makes you look the hardest-working. Well, that's overstriving in some ways.
One of your job-saving strategies in the book is to "be easy." What do you mean by that?
Being easy means not being what I call an HME—a high-maintenance employee. The person who complains about their cubicle, the temperature of their office, they don't know how to work the fax machine, or don't have the right Blackberry.
You say this is a good time to be a cheerleader.
Bosses seem to love people who love the company. They want you to "drink the Kool-Aid." They want you to love the website. They want you to love the accomplishments. People like praise. Flattery will get you everywhere and flattery will help you keep your job.
Updated on 9/5/08: The unemployment rate has climbed from 4.9 percent at the start of the year to 6.1 percent in August, nearly a five-year high.