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Fireproof Your Job

In an era where many companies are slashing jobs to save bottom-line dollars, it's critical to make yourself indispensible so you can keep the job you have.

The unemployment rate, which calculates the percentage of the work force that is involuntarily without a job at any given date, has more than doubled over the past decade. While the rate was 4.0% in July 2000, the rate as of July 2010 was an alarming 9.2%, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These figures are distressing and cause many currently employed workers to fear that they, too, could meet a similar fate and find themselves without a job.

Taking these statistics into consideration, landing the job of your dreams is only part of the employment equation; it's just as critical to know how to keep it. To really get ahead and even simply hold on to your job, the key is to make yourself irreplaceable. Here are some tips to improve your skills and to establish yourself as a team player. This will help your boss see that you're a valuable, strategic asset to your company.

On-the-Job Tips:

  • Accept New Challenges & Responsibilities. Staying employed is more than simply performing the required job tasks because just doing your job isn't enough anymore. If you can handle added tasks, take them on. One word of caution, however: you don't want to jeopardize the quality of the work you're currently doing, so think twice before jumping in head-first. Once you're ready, volunteer for an assignment that might increase your face time with senior managers. You want to show an employer that you're driven, that you desire to learn new skills and that you want to get ahead.
  • Be Creative by Suggesting Ways to Drive Revenue or Save Your Company Money. No matter what type of job you have, there are likely ways you can help your company save money or make more of it. For example, if you work in a retail store and think a certain type of merchandise would sell better in a more prominent location, suggest it and state your reasons why. Maybe you've noticed a clothing trend that your store isn't up-to-speed on yet. Alternatively, if you have a friend who works for a business you think your employer should partner with, make the connection. Similarly, if you think your company could procure its office supplies from a less expensive, quality vendor, do some research and see if you're right. For example, provide a cost-comparison chart to your boss to show some hard numbers that support your suggestion, along with references from companies like yours who've already made the switch. Use your creativity to make yourself valuable.
  • Be a Team Player. You may not like everyone you work with, but try to get along with them while on the job. You don't want to be the person who causes conflict or you could be the first to go when your company starts making cutbacks in staffing. No one is asking you to seek co-workers out in social settings or become someone's new best friend, but you do need to be calm on the job and go out of your way to be a team player.
  • Work Hard. Whether you're the type of worker who clocks in and out each day or are a salaried professional, make the most of every minute on the job. Hourly workers should find something meaningful to do each minute they're on the clock. Seek additional tasks to prove you're not wasting time. Salaried professionals may need to work extra hours to prove their dedication.
  • Mentor a Junior Staff Member. Show your ability to lead others by serving as a mentor or job coach to younger or new staff members. Help them learn from your past mistakes, let them shadow you as you complete various tasks and, when they've proven they're capable, give them responsibilities they may not otherwise have. Whether this is an official responsibility of your job or not, you can still add value by sharing your knowledge and developing the skills of others. Just be sure to always seek your boss' support and permission before handing off any duties or becoming someone's mentor.
  • Ask What it Takes to Earn a Promotion. Simply asking your boss how to advance in your career shows your commitment to both your job and the company that currently employs you.

Outside-of-Work Tips:

  • Boost Your Education. Earning professional certifications and advanced training is a smart way to stay ahead. And the best part is that if the skills relate directly to your job, your company might even pay for you to earn more education. For example, maintaining specialized credentials proves your commitment to your field of study and sets you apart from workers who fail to continue boosting their knowledge base. Building your strengths in targeted areas of specialization is also a great way to stay up-to-speed with current trends and increase your marketability. So take some classes at your local community college or trade school, or sign up for a seminar or conference in your field of work.
  • Volunteer. Consider lending the skills you've acquired on the job to another entity - as long as it doesn't create a conflict of interest with your current position. Who knows, you might end up networking with someone who can provide a more advanced job opportunity if you prove through your volunteer work that you're dependable, a problem-solver and an asset to any business lucky enough to employ you.
  • Continue to Network & Keep Your Resume Handy. Even if you're doing everything you can think of to bulletproof your job, you could still lose out in the end and find yourself among today's unemployed workers. That said, don't ever stop networking and always make sure your resume is up-to-date and quickly available if requested.

The best advice in these tough economic times is to never stop trying to be a model employee. Work hard, prove your value to your employer, be a team player and continue to seek new opportunities for advanced learning, both on and off the job. Follow the above tips and you'll be well on your way to fireproofing your job.

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