Career Backup Plan: Why You Should Have One and How To Make One

Male businessman working at home on a computer.
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The prospect of suddenly finding yourself without a job isn’t pleasant to think about — but it could happen.

“You cannot predict what may happen in the workspace and in any particular industry,” said Edith Hamilton, a certified career development coach for executives and founder of NEXT New Growth. “Things shift so quickly and you could find yourself on the outside looking in, whether it be as an employee, a business owner or a company altogether. Companies have risen and fallen very quickly over our time, and it will happen again.”

She added, “For individuals, sometimes decisions are out of your hands … You truly can’t predict what will happen in business and in your career. You must have an idea for a career backup, just in case you find yourself in a negative situation.”

Here’s what you need to know about why a career backup plan is so important and how to make an effective one.

Advantages of a Career Backup Plan

Having a career backup plan isn’t just something that would be nice to put in place. Instead, it could save you from emotional and financial distress.

“When one of these terrible things happens and you find yourself in an unexpected situation, it’s good to have something ready to go,” said Hamilton. “Without a career backup plan, you could find yourself way behind and scrambling to decide on what’s next. By making a backup plan ahead of time, you won’t make decisions based on your emotions and you will hopefully have a solid, strategically designed plan to lean on.”

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Natalie Fell, HR and operations expert and contributor at Step By Step Business, agreed.

“The advantages of having a career backup plan are potentially having less downtime in between jobs, or even having one lined up if you encounter your worst-case scenario,” Fell said. “Having a backup plan to fall onto means less financial stress, as it alleviates the anxiety of having to go without a paycheck for an indefinite amount of time. It also helps your sense of confidence and makes you bounce back quicker from sudden job loss.”

How To Make a Career Backup Plan

“There are a few ways to make a career backup plan,” said Hamilton. “One, you could create something that is similar to what you are doing and is connected in many ways. Or two, you could completely change your trajectory and move toward something entirely different.”

“After making a decision based on what you feel you’d like to (and can) do, you must create a step-by-step plan for how you would get into this niche and turn it into a career,” Hamilton advised. “By doing this beforehand, you’ll make much smarter decisions instead of when you are stressed, scared, and maybe even desperate.”

Here’s how to go about it. 

List Viable Career Alternatives

“Think about the kind of jobs you are willing and capable of doing if your current career path doesn’t pan out,” said Joe Coletta, career coach and recruiter at 180 Engineering. “I suggest looking at jobs related to your current career, but this doesn’t mean you can’t think outside the box — it is just easier to transition to a field you are already familiar with. For example, if a digital marketing career doesn’t work, you might consider alternatives such as PR, copywriting, product design, or analytics.”

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Determine the Skills and Experience You Need

“After identifying the top three alternative jobs or career options, find out the skills and experience you need to get a job,” Coletta said. “If there’s a skills gap, plan to acquire the necessary skills you might need in the future. Your current work is a great opportunity to acquire as much experience as possible and leverage professional development opportunities to strengthen your professional value regardless of where you go.” 

Identify Potential Stop-Gap Jobs

“Your backup plan should address how you will support your family and yourself when you are in between jobs,” advised Coletta. “Here, you should identify the kinds of jobs and gigs you are willing to do on the side as you seek new full-time work. Spell out clearly the top five stop-gap jobs you can do during the transition.” 

Keep a List of Potential Alternative Employers

“Start a list of potential employers you might work with,” Coletta said. “This will give you an idea of what’s possible and what is available should your plan A not work as desired. When the time comes, you will quickly know the opportunities to look for and where to look.”

Ensure You Have Emergency Funds in Place

“The best career backup plans include a financial roadmap to address how much you will need to survive a career transition,” said Coletta. “Ideally, you should plan to save emergency funds to support yourself for at least six months, but a year’s emergency fund would be ideal. Many people forget this part, but financial peace of mind will give you space to plan the next steps in your career.”

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Make Networking a Priority

“I highly recommend that you focus on growing and diversifying your networks even when your career is going in the right trajectory,” said Arthur Worsley, career expert and founder of The Art of Living. “This way, you have a pool of networks to tap into every time you need an introduction, a job, a recommendation, and/or a reference. The more people you know within and outside of your profession, the more exposure you’ll have to job and business opportunities, clients, and partnerships.”

Build Up Your Reputation as an Expert in Your Current Field

“Work on your personal brand by establishing yourself as an expert in your field,” said Worsley. “Write informative articles relevant to your expertise, form online communities and educate as well as engage with community members, make engaging video tutorials on relevant problem areas, and appear as a guest in industry-related podcasts. The goal here is to establish yourself as an authority figure in your niche, and to boost your credibility as an expert. Marketing yourself in this way makes you stand out in the eyes of prospective employers and clients.”

Update Your Resume Regularly

“You will also want to make sure your resume is always up-to-date and ready to go,” said Fell. “A good practice is to review your resume quarterly, adding in any new skills, projects, or positions, and remove anything that’s now irrelevant. Revisit it more often if you change companies.”

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