An estimated 1,900 workers from one of Capital One's mortgage banking subsidiaries were given the pink slip last week. Hopefully, they saw the writing on the wall long before the company announced the cuts. Hopefully, each of them leaves Capital One with an impressive work history, great recommendations, and updated skills. Hopefully.

Unfortunately, odds are that there was a slacker in the bunch. You know him -- the guy who plays online solitaire at every opportunity, constantly checks his personal cell phone during meetings (if he's there at all), and makes up lame excuses about why he failed to complete his part of the big project. That guy -- newly laid-off -- is in big trouble. The other 1,899? They've experienced an employment setback but nothing that can't be overcome if they've played their cards right.

Here are some of the things that smart employees do to keep themselves relevant on the job:

Act as if their job is always on the line even if they are still on the company payroll. Strive to make yourself more valuable -- not just to your current employer, but to any potential employers you'll need to win over in the future.

Imagine themselves interviewing for a new position. Can you point to specific ways in which you've improved your skills and grown on the job? If so, keep up the good work.

Document their own accomplishments. Update your resume regularly to reflect your ever-increasing skills on the job -- you can use this during your performance review and salary negotiations now or for finding other employment quickly should the worst happen.

If, however, you've been coasting in your current position, it's time to take some initiative. Try these surefire ways to increase your value as an employee:

  • Work while you're at work. According to a Gallup poll, most of us spend an average of 75 minutes a day using our office computers for activities other than work. Online shopping, online gaming, and personal email are just a few of the ways we waste our employer's time, to the tune of a more than $6,000 loss in productivity per employee per year. Do yourself (and your boss) a favor and keep the other activities to a minimum.
  • Hit the books. Take continuing education credits at your local community college, enhance your computer skills with an advanced course relevant to your work, or look for weekend workshops that target a developing skill related to your job. Your employer may even have a program to help defray the costs. Take advantage of these paid continuing education opportunities; ironically, it might be your old employer who writes your ticket (via updated job skills) to a fabulous new job.
  • Be visible. Perception can be everything. You can be a productive, highly skilled employee, but if you continually skip company-wide events or staff meetings, others may perceive you as a slacking off. Make sure you attend functions where your presence will indicate commitment, arrive at meetings on time, and volunteer for tasks that will raise your profile in the larger organization.
  • Look like you care. "Dress for success" means different things across different work cultures, of course, but there are always limits. Your work may not require that you wear a suit every day, but regardless, make an effort to look well-groomed, up-to-date, and ready to assume your supervisor's job.
  • Communicate your ambition. Ask your supervisor what you need to do to progress in the company. Overtly expressing your ambition is the first step in setting high expectations; be ready to spring into action after that. Your supervisor may hand you extra challenges and responsibilities; these are your opportunities to differentiate yourself from the pack.

Even if you are never faced with a layoff, acting "as if" can enhance your value as an employee. Who knows? It might even win you a promotion.

This article is adapted from the Motley Fool Green Light "Money Answers" archive, which features more than 100 articles on personal finance topics such as taxes, credit, and beginning investing, organized by subject and life stage. For access to this content -- plus the current newsletter, back issues, members-only discussion boards, and advisor blogs -- take a free 30-day trial today!  

Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. The Fool has a disclosure policy.