Bullish Q&A: How to Protect Yourself if Your Job Isn’t Stable

I currently work with a small STEM company. It is a good fit for me in terms of opportunities to develop experience, but I am aware that small companies can be precarious. Do you have any tips for preparing to ‘land on my feet’ if the worst happens?

Absoutely. Small companies with a startup mentality often provide you AMAZING opportunities to:

  • Pitch ideas and run with them
  • Pitch these ideas directly to the CEO
  • Pitch a promotion for yourself, with a new role you write for yourself. (As in, “I’ve been thinking about my future at the company, and of course it doesn’t look like [manager]’s job is going to be open anytime soon since we’re all on the team for the long haul, but I think there are a lot of opportunities for the company to move into [this exciting new area], and I’d like to lead the way on that.”)
  • Negotiate for a better/unique job title that looks amazing on LinkedIn (sometimes you ask for this as a consolation prize when you don’t get the raise you want)
  • Invent something or create a new product, and negotiate profit-sharing or commission

Do as much of this as you can, and when your current role ends, you’ll be a ridiculous catch in the job market.

And, as always, expand your network, and establish yourself as an expert in the field. Maintain a portfolio site and/or blog, speak at events (even if you’re not at the level to be asked to speak at conferences, you can get started speaking to the local Girl Scouts and at middle schools about being a woman in STEM — and even big conferences sometimes want a panelist to represent “young people” at large), try to get your name on whitepapers and big projects. You don’t want it to look like you’re job hunting so much as that you are an intellectual leader in the field, making contributions everywhere you go. You’re not a blatant self-promoter so much as a generous and active contributor to the field.

Of course, save up an emergency fund, and don’t buy a car you can’t afford. It can greatly help your career development if you’re willing to move, so you may want to make your housing (and furnishing, and relationship) decisions accordingly. In other words, now is not the time to get a dog.

If this company fails and you get offered a position in London, are you ready to jump? You should be. There will be time to live a more settled lifestyle later, when you’re reclining in your swanky velvet armchair, looking back over decades of gentlewomanly success.