If you get laid off, you can only hope you saw the writing on the wall long before your company announced its cuts. You can only hope you leave with an impressive work history, great recommendations, and updated skills. You can only hope.
Unfortunately, not everyone is so prepared when the boss delivers a pink slip.
Here are some things you can do starting today -- whether you think you face a layoff or not -- to keep yourself relevant on the job:
Act as if your job is always on the line, even if you're still on the company payroll. Strive to make yourself more valuable -- not just to your current employer, but also to any potential employers you'll need to win over in the future.
Imagine yourself 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 your accomplishments. Update your resume regularly to reflect your ever-increasing skills on the job. You can use this information during your performance review and salary negotiations or, should the worst happen, for finding other employment quickly.
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. It might be your old employer who writes your ticket to a fabulous new job, once you've updated and expanded your job skills.
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. Even if your work doesn't require that you wear a suit every day, 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 one will happen can enhance your value as an employee. Who knows? It might even win you a promotion.
This article was originally published on Sept. 1, 2007. It has been updated.
Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter service. The Fool has a disclosure policy.