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Warning signs you could soon get a pink slip

  • Story Highlights
  • One of the biggest fears for many Americans is a weak job market
  • Expert: Retail, industrial jobs typically get axed first in slowing economy
  • Steady jobs tend to be in education, health care and government
  • Keep your job by updating skills, finding a specialization, staying on market
  • Next Article in Living »
By Jen Haley
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Consumer confidence is at the lowest level in more than 14 years according to the Conference Board, a business and research organization that publishes the index.

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Some of the most stable jobs are often found in education, health care and government.

One of the biggest fears for Americans: a weak job market.

The growth rate for jobs falls seven months before a recession and continues to fall during a recession, according to Hugh Johnson of the financial services firm Johnson Illington Advisors. But about five months into a recession, the job market begins to pick up steam, says Johnson.

In fact, the job market gets stronger even before the stock market goes up.

Retail and industrial jobs get axed first in a slowing economy, according to Johnson. But, those same jobs are the ones that pick up first. The steady jobs tend to be in education, health care and government jobs.

No matter what industry you're in, recession-proofing your own job is vital.

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First, gauge your risk of getting a pink slip. To do that, start to investigate how other companies are faring in your industry. Are there lay-offs at similar companies? Have you heard from other people how difficult it is to find a job in your field? Perhaps your company nixed the annual picnic or cancelled sponsorships in the community. This could be a sign that belt-tightening is on the way.

In addition to the external signs, there are some internal red flags that indicate you could lose your job. If you're not invited to meetings that your peers are; if you don't get copied on e-mails, or get passed up for good assignments. That's a sign your job could be in trouble, according to Kate Wendleton, president of the job search organization the Five O' Clock Club.

Pay special attention to the relationship you have with your boss.

"If you don't like your boss, chances are, your boss doesn't like you either," said Wendleton.

If you've ever undermined your boss, watch out! It could come back to haunt you.

Whether you've experienced these signs or not, here are a few strategies you can use to protect your job:

  • Make sure your skills are up-to-date. If you find your own skill set is outdated, it may be time to take a course at your local community college or a professional trade group.
  • Look at employment postings on job sites that mirror your own position.
  • Take note of what special qualifications or training is required. Ultimately, you want to position yourself as a specialist in your industry, according to Penelope Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success.
  • "In a tight job market, employers can hold out for the perfect fit," Trunk advises.

    Another tactic: Don't do the grunt work.

    "You want to be the person who gets the leading edge assignments," recommends Wendleton.

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    If you're willing to pitch in and help in any capacity, your company may be less likely to keep you. Employees working on high-profile jobs are often perceived as more important or valuable. Volunteer for assignments that will raise your profile and politely turning down menial jobs -- is just as important as cherry picking the right assignments.

    In a tightening job market, doing your job well just isn't enough. It's all in how you market yourself. Do your best to make sure that not only your boss knows how hard you work, but that your boss's boss knows what you're working on.

    If you're in the elevator with someone higher in the corporate pecking order, don't just comment on the weather. Talk about what project you're working on or how great the results are expected to be. The more well known you are, the better you'll weather possible job cuts.

    And don't forget the importance of networking. One way to boost your visibility is to become involved in an association within your field. Not only will this make it harder to fire you, but you'll have contacts for other job opportunities.

    Online social networking is another story. Don't put too much of yourself out there. Before you blog about last night's date or post pictures of you and your friends in the midst of St. Patty's Day revelry -- remember that employers routinely look at social-networking Web sites to see what people are saying about themselves, according to Wendleton.

    Before you put anything out there in the public realm, make sure in a way that you wouldn't mind your employer or a potential employer to see you. Ask yourself, "Do I want my boss to see that?" If the answer is no, then remove the photos or comments from your personal page and step away from the keyboard.

    One of the best approaches to protecting your job is to schedule a meeting with your boss. Experts recommend that you find out what it takes to keep your job. Ask your supervisor if you're doing a good job and what steps you might take to improve.

    "The fact that you care, matters," said Wendleton.

    It's much harder to turn around and fire someone after you've reassured them that they're on the right track.

    Finally, keep yourself out there on the market -- even if you don't think you'll ever lose your job.

    Research from the Five O' Clock Club indicates that people who are out there interviewing for other positions tend to develop more self-confidence, reduce their vulnerability and get better assignments on their current jobs.

    It may be a hard lesson, but remember that keeping your nose to the grindstone isn't always a surefire way to protect yourself from that dreaded pink slip. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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