Career Backup Plans - Part One

By George Spafford

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It can be a very unsettling situation to have a job and know that you’re at risk of being let go. The resulting stress can affect your health, family life and so on in very negative ways. While IT people need to have backup plans for systems drilled into them, the purpose of this article is to help you develop a backup plan for yourself.

Plan – Don’t Jump . First, don’t get so frustrated with your current job that you just quit. You have a job with money coming in so use the time, however much or little it is, to plan your next career steps and still have an income. Part of the frustration and stress comes from not having control. By planning in advance the stress levels become more manageable.

Talk to Your Significant Other. If you have a significant other, the next most important advice I can give you is to talk to him or her and develop your plan together. Discuss the situation, possible solutions, next steps, risks you are willing to take and the various elements set forth in this article. Don’t hide the truth and lash out at them due to the stress. They are with you in this incident.

To be Discrete or Not? Some people worry about whether to be discrete or not. “What if my employer finds out?” At this point you need to weigh the ramifications. What are the ramifications if they do? Might you loose some portion, or all, of an exit package? Might they fire you on the spot? These are all examples of scenarios you must consider and decide what risks are acceptable.

Finances . When weighing options, you should take finances into account. Given your current savings, how long can you go before you run out of money? What if you use near-liquid assets such as investments or your 401K plan? Consider the tax implications of using tax deferred investment funds such as the 401(k). Yes, you may get immediate funds but there could be a large tax liability.

At the same time you are looking at how to substitute income also look at how to reduce expenses. Identify what you spend first and write it all down. Then identify what items are discretionary and not. For example, a mortgage payment is pretty important. Spending on video rentals can be reduced if need be.

Understanding how long you have funds for can help you determine the type of position you go after, how long you can assess options and/or when you must decide by. For example, if you have funds for three months of living without income from your job, then should you spend two months soliciting and assessing offers before you accept one?

Severance . If there is a reorganization effort concerning you, some employers will pay exit packages to employees they let go. It may be two weeks, two months, etc. It may include insurance coverage and even employment counseling during that time. Not all employers do this and the levels will vary firm to firm and even between organizational levels.

The main point is to decide if this will be offered to you and then if waiting for this makes sense or not given your situation. If you get frustrated and leave early then you are walking away from money.

Insurance . An important consideration these days is medical insurance. Look at your options. A young healthy single person will be less concerned about this than say a middle-aged person with a spouse and children to worry about. Options include:

  • Continuing insurance through the employer via COBRA.
  • Obtaining coverage via your significant other’s employer.
  • Purchasing medical insurance through a third party insurance company. Talk to your home/car insurance agent and discuss options.
  • Some insurance companies have a temporary major medical insurance you can avail of that only covers emergencies.
  • Investment firms sometimes have a number of health insurance options including ones with flexible spending accounts (FSAs).
  • In some states you may want to verify with your automotive insurance company and confirm that they are the primary insurance for medical coverage in the event of an automotive-related accident. In some states they do not have to be.
  • Unemployment . Understand the unemployment coverage process. As a professional you may find the reimbursement to be low and the process disdainful but it may mean the difference between covering critical expenses and not. Depending on the state you live in there may also be job search assistance, etc. This is a social service that you have contributed to. By understanding the application process you will know what to do, if needed, and factor it into your plans.

    Non-Competes and Non-Disclosures. When you joined your current/former employer you probably signed some legal documents that you may only vaguely remember now. One was likely a non-compete that identifies what you can not do and for how long in terms of going after the same customers and markets as your them.

    Another document, or perhaps in the same document as the non-compete is a non-disclosure agreement spelling out what is proprietary information to the employer that can not be shared.

    To avoid running afoul of these agreements if you have them, search out legal counsel. For some people these documents aren’t a concern. For others though, these are very concerning and need to be reviewed. You should always save copies of these documents when you sign them. If you no longer have copies, request them from HR upon your departure. Again, if you are concerned, legal counsel can draft a formal letter requesting these documents.

    This draws us to the end of the first article. Hopefully this gives you some thoughts to consider. In our next article we will review what to do next. Again, if you are worried about your job, or want a backup plan just in case, then now is the time to plan.

    George Spafford is a Principal Consultant with Pepperweed Consulting and a long-time IT professional. George's professional focus is on compliance, security, management and overall process improvement.