Do You Have a Backup Plan?

Things do go wrong - Issue #39

I’m not sure why some people proudly proclaim that they don’t have a backup plan. They say that the idea of having backup plans in life is silly. You have to go all-in on what you do. Win big or fail spectacularly!

That false bravado makes me laugh as I sit here writing this on my laptop in the dark, thanks to PG&E shutting off the power this morning for vast areas of California. The power will be off for several days.

Thankfully, I do have backup plans (i.e., a generator and other supplies). Planning and preparation have enabled me to keep working, have hot water, keep my food from spoiling, and be able to cook meals.

Likewise, you should always have backup plans for your career. If you work for someone else, you are never entirely in control. Your professional decline could start earlier than you think. You could be fired. Layoffs happen all the time. Companies get acquired, and entire teams are cut loose. Companies can fail and shut down.

It’s only smart to have a plan, just in case things do go sideways. It’s actually not a bad idea to have a series of backup plans; Plans A-D.

Plan A 

Plan A is your current career plan. This is where you think that your current job is taking you. Of course, it should be where you are focusing most of your time and energy.

Given your best planning and thought, this path is the one that you think will yield the goals that you want. You have a promotion path in mind within the company. You know how your compensation will increase over the years there. You know your vesting schedule.

You may even have a date in mind when you think you will be ready to move on to your next big opportunity.

I remember when my career path at eBay was my Plan A. It worked very well for four years. I was happy with my progress and where I thought I was going. However, it all went sideways with a surprising re-org that I could not have anticipated.

Plan B 

Plan B should be your strategy for a career course correction if Plan A goes wrong at some point. What do I mean by things going wrong? Some examples:

  • A re-org removes the potential promotion path you were counting on

  • Your manager leaves the company for a better job, and your new boss decides to change everything and disrupts your plans

  • Your department is re-organized, and you are moved to a new manager who really doesn’t seem to like you

  • Your company is acquired, and the entire team is let go within a few months (by the way, this happened to me at one startup)

  • Financial struggles force the company to put you on a layoff list

I set my Plan B into motion when I was working at eBay and a re-org disrupted my future career path. I knew that it was time to move on. So, I decided to leave eBay to join Yahoo and became the VP of Consumer Products for Search.

Sometimes, your Plan B works out even better than your Plan A would have if you had tried to stay the course.

Plan C 

What would you do if your chosen profession was suddenly made irrelevant? Do you have a backup plan if something happened that made it impossible to continue with your current career path?

For example:

  • A surgeon is in a car accident, and her injuries make it impossible for her to continue performing surgery

  • A pilot discovers that his eyesight is failing, and he can no longer fly

  • A truck driver finds out that advances in robotics and AI have enabled self-driving trucks, so she is suddenly obsolete

Plan C is a complete career change. You may decide to do something related to your old career (e.g., pilots who no longer fly commercially and provide flying instruction instead).

However, it could be something very different. For example, a friend of mine left the Tech industry and became the owner and head chef of two Michelin star restaurants.

I activated my Plan C when I decided to leave the Silicon Valley Tech world and started my career coaching business. What I do is somewhat related to my old career, but it is very different than my previous roles, and it has required significant planning and experimentation.

Plan D 

Plan D is your emergency plan when everything goes wrong. It is what you fall back on when something extremely disruptive occurs. For example, the industry collapses, you lose your job, no one is hiring, and you’re on the brink of bankruptcy.

It is a rare occurrence, and it’s nice to think that this will never happen to you. However, there are no guarantees in life. Recessions and depressions don’t care about your career plans.

When everything fails, and you need to go into survival mode for a while, Plan D will keep you going. For example, I have my eye on a job at my favorite local hardware store (I love tools). Worst case scenario, I could move in with a family member until I got back on my feet.

Start planning now

So, you may be thinking, “What’s the point of all of this? I don’t need a backup plan now. I’ll make a plan and figure things out once something happens.

First, it is almost impossible to think clearly and plan well when you are in the middle of an emergency (e.g., you were just fired). Sometimes people end up jumping into another job too quickly and regret that decision. They didn’t take the time to plan and research, so they end up working for a terrible boss or at a failing company.

Second, successfully planning your next move takes time, especially if it’s a significant career change. Some people have the luxury of a large financial cushion and can take several months or even years to figure out their new career path. Many people do not and cannot. They need to find a job in a couple of months, or they won’t be able to pay their mortgage/rent.

Third, landing a great job always takes longer than you think. Some research estimates that — on average — it takes one month for every year of experience to find your next gig. So, if you have 20 years of experience, don’t be surprised if it takes almost 2 years to find something that is an excellent fit for you.

Yes, you can blast your resume out and send job applications to hundreds of companies. Or, you can cold email people in your network to ask for a favor, even though you haven’t talked to them in years (e.g., “Hey Bob! I know that I haven’t spoken to you in 5 years, but can you help me get a job at Google? Thanks, pal!”).

Good luck with that strategy.

Finding great opportunities takes time when you do it the right way. There are much more effective strategies for lighting up your network so that you uncover the best opportunities, especially those in the hidden job market.

It all starts with having a plan.

What I’ve been reading and writing

  • If you are one of my paid subscribers, don’t forget to check out my latest career tips. Find out why selfies mess up your face, and why you should make some changes to your vocabulary.

  • Earlier this week, I was asked: “If a person has fundamental difficulty networking, are they basically unemployable in the modern economy?” In my answer, I explained that it’s not necessarily true. However, you do have to redefine what you mean by "networking."

  • In Five Reasons Why You Need A Personal Vision Statement, the author explains why you can’t begin to truly know what you want out of your professional life if you don’t already know what you want out of your personal life. It’s important to align both your personal and professional visions.