How to Create a Backup Plan for your Career

It’s a pretty rickety time to be climbing the job ladder. With hiring freezes across US firms and almost half a million layoffs in the tech sector since 2022, it’s no wonder many people are feeling the pinch of job insecurity. 

Even if you’re in a job that feels completely safe, you’ve probably wondered…but for how long? Generative AI and automation are reshaping the nature of work. McKinsey research shows that AI will force nearly 12 million US workers to change jobs in the next decade, so if you are worried about your job becoming obsolete, you’re certainly not alone. 

The good news is this: while your company’s decisions are out of your control, your career prospects aren't. Instead of burying your head in the sand or getting too cozy in your cubicle, take the winds of change as an opportunity to create a career backup plan. 

Here’s how to get started.  

1. Reflect on what you want out of work 

With the world of work changing at a lightning-fast pace, crafting a plan B isn’t just a sensible idea for the worst-case-scenario—it’s also an opportunity for self-discovery. Use this time to understand what you really want from your career. That will help move forward purposefully, rather than choosing a backup career that’s second best or doesn’t make you happy.

Some questions you may want to ask yourself during this reflection process include:

  • What are my core values and beliefs?
  • What types of work or industries align with these values and beliefs?
  • What skills do I possess that can translate into different roles or industries?
  • Am I looking for career stability, growth potential, flexibility, or a combination of these?

Getting to grips with your values is meaty stuff, but there are helpful tools to simplify the process. Our free Career Aptitude Test and 16 Types test, for example, are fun, quick ways to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and what matters to you.

Importantly, your backup plan should be more than just a note in your phone saying: “My backup job is X.” It’s an attitude shake-up that involves strengthening your career resilience and employability—understanding your personal preferences is key to this.

2. Expand your skills 

Whether you work in software development, marketing or HR, you’ll have developed a robust set of skills over the course of your career. However, being a one-trick pony will only get you so far. To that end, invest in expanding your skills by taking new courses, asking to shadow team members in different departments or even volunteering for a charitable organization. 

Not only will these activities look great on your resume, but they’ll also push you out of your comfort zone and help you develop the most valuable of all skills in the new world of work: emotional intelligence (EQ). As World Economic Forum research shows, EQ is the number one skill to cultivate for workplace success. 

Remember, too, that a lot of skills are transferable. For example, if you work as a manager in a fast-paced marketing agency, you’ll likely have excellent project management and client services skills–both of which are capabilities that are desirable in many occupations. 

So, even if you’re interested in a job in a totally different industry, look for synergies between what you currently do and the demands of that role, and plug any gaps with additional training. That way, you’ll be able to persuade hiring managers that you're the right person for the job. 

3. Test ideas with side hustles 

We all have hobbies that we wish we could do for our 9-5 jobs, and who’s to say you can’t? With the prevalence of platforms like Etsy and Upwork, it’s easier than ever to turn your personal passions into profitable side hustles. 

Hopefully, your side hustle will put some extra cash in your pocket. But for purposes of creating a career backup plan, it's more about experimenting with different ideas and work models, and gauging your interest in them. You might discover that you love doing something on a small scale but would hate it as a full-time job, or find out just the opposite.

Of course, balancing work, life and a side hustle can be demanding. That’s why it’s best to be strategic. If your side hustle takes off, or you’re really keen to dedicate more of your time to it, talk to your manager about switching from full-time to part-time at your main job, so you can balance both endeavors without burning yourself out

4. Nurture your network 

Ever heard the phrase,”It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” That definitely applies when making a backup plan. Don’t wait until you’re looking for a new job to ask people you know for help. Instead, start networking now and build up your professional community. 

We get that networking can be a daunting, dirty word—especially for introverts. But there is a way to network without cringing or getting embarrassed. The trick is to focus on building authentic relationships, rather than trying to get something out of the other person. 

By attending networking events, interacting with people on LinkedIn, and even meeting friends of friends, you’ll make new connections and learn about what it’s like to work in different kinds of jobs. Trust me, you never know what opportunities might appear later down the line! 

5. Embrace a ‘squiggly’ mindset 

If you’re a traditionally-minded person, you probably like the idea of your career looking like a straight ladder: you climb up one rung and then the next. But in today’s unpredictable world, a rewarding, satisfying career often looks less like a straight line and more like a squiggly one.

As Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis say in their book, The Squiggly Career, the fast-changing nature of work means that the linear career path has become an outdated concept. They advise people to shape their own unique path by trying out different roles in different industries to find what fits best.  

While this kind of job hopping used to be frowned upon, being bold enough to take on new challenges is actually a great show of open-mindedness and adaptability. Both traits are highly valued in the modern workplace and can significantly enhance your backup plan. Being open to change and ready to pivot at a moment's notice prepares you for unforeseen circumstances and makes you a more attractive candidate to a wider range of employers.

Pulling it together

After doing this work, you should end up with a better idea of what kind of career is going to make you happy and be able to align that with the opportunities you see around you. You’ll also have an arsenal of up-to-date skills, a network of contacts and diverse work experiences that can help you pivot if your current job doesn’t work out.

If all goes well, you'll never need your backup plan. But the peace of mind that comes with having one is priceless, and you may even find yourself in a more fulfilling career than you ever expected.

Hannah Pisani
Hannah Pisani is a freelance writer based in London, England. A type 9 INFP, she is passionate about harnessing the power of personality theory to better understand herself and the people around her - and wants to help others do the same. When she's not writing articles, you'll find her composing songs at the piano, advocating for people with learning difficulties, or at the pub with friends and a bottle (or two) of rose.