What we’re seeing happen now reminds me of a gold rush. Just in reverse.
During a gold rush, people get giddy about the fortune they‘re sure they’ll find. Others are savvy enough to take advantage by scooping up large inventories of shovels.
Whether the wannabe gold miners strike it rich or not, the shovel providers will make out well.
Now, however, people are concerned about the economy, the stock market, inflation, rising interest rates, supply chain disruptions, war abroad, energy shortages, etc.
In this situation, people stop “buying shovels.”
So, if you want to know how tech workers feel, look at the “shovel providers” who serve them. Specifically, financial advisors who help highly compensated tech employees manage their money.
What are those advisors saying now?
Tech Worker are Nervous
There’s a lot of chatter among financial advisors who work with high-tech employees, saying their business is drying up because (a) the bull market is firmly in the rearview mirror (more below on what that implies), and (b) many high-tech workers are nervous about what’s coming, so they’re less likely to spend money hiring advisors.
In the current environment, hundreds of tech companies are trimming staff, stock options are “underwater” (due to the bear market, especially in tech stocks), and many employees face uncertain career prospects with their current employers, let alone other potential employers.
What’s a Nervous Tech Worker to Do?
First, feeling nervous is not just natural, it’s helpful.
It makes you stop and consider what you may need to do differently to protect yourself and your family from growing risks.
If you’re concerned your employer may be getting ready to lay off staff, and wondering if your job might end up on the chopping block, there are many things you can do now to reduce your risk, and to mitigate the impacts if that risk becomes an unhappy reality.
I wrote a comprehensive guide on that. Feel free to go read it now. I’ll wait until you come back.
“Keep Your Powder Dry”
One of the tips I offer there is to identify all your financial resources that could help bridge a loss of income for a few months.
As my own experience proved when I lost my last salaried position, the longer your “runway” to get the next job or your first business revenue (that latter was what it ended up being for me), the less stressful it will be, and the longer you can spend searching without compromising on what you want and need.
Many financial advisors agree.
Darryl Lyons, CFP®, Chief Executive Officer, PAX Financial Group says, “Tech workers need to revisit their personal budgets and make sure they have enough cash reserves to weather a transition time before a new job. Don’t be in a position where you feel financially forced to take a job you don’t like.”
Marianne M Nolte, CFP®, Imagine Financial Services adds, “This is a perfect example of why advisors recommend having an emergency fund. It isn’t just so you can cover the cost of a new set of tires or an unexpected hospital visit. It’s for layoffs too! CFPs® recommend setting aside three to six months of expenses in a liquid emergency fund. In times of economic uncertainty, it’s better to err on the conservative side and stash a full six months of expenses into your emergency fund.”
Grant R. Maddox, CFP®, AWMA®, CSRIC®, Hampton Park Financial Planning sums it up, “Regardless of uncertain times, always focus on the basics of financial planning. Build an emergency fund. Diversify your investments. If you have a goal less than a year away, consider a more conservative allocation.
“I often give similar advice to folks who’re concerned about uncertain times as ones about to take a sabbatical: if you anticipate a prolonged lack of income, double your emergency fund. If your emergency fund is three to six months of expenses, consider expanding that to six to 12 months.”
Beyond keeping your (emergency fund) powder dry, look for ways to diversify your income, e.g., by starting a side hustle. Such additional income will help extend your financial runway, and will help you stay sane through the stress of possible job loss.
“Sharpen the Saw”
Stephen Covey’s celebrated book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” finishes with this admonition as his 7th habit: “sharpen the saw.”
In our current context, that means you need to keep your professional skills up to date, and look for opportunities to learn and train in new (relevant) skills. In addition, take on additional roles and responsibilities at work that will make the impact of losing you worse for your employer. All this will make you more valuable for your current employer, as well as to others should your current job disappear.
As Michael Reynolds, CSRIC®, AIF®, CFT-I™, Principal at Elevation Financial LLC says, “Identify newer skills and technologies that are most in demand, and acquire certifications in those areas. Take courses to add to your skill set. This can help you not only improve your chances of retaining employment, but can create more opportunities if you start looking for a job.”
When I lost my job, I didn’t really know how to network effectively. I hadn’t joined any professional groups or business clubs. And even when I reached out to (dozens of) contacts, I made the mistake of concentrating on me and what I needed, rather than them and what they wanted.
Over the years since, I learned.
When networking, concentrate on listening rather than speaking. Be curious as to what your professional colleagues need, what they’re excited about, and what they’re afraid of.
Then, send them relevant articles or other resources. Where you can, connect them to others in your network who may help them or whom they can help.
Do these things without regard to how they might benefit you.
Keep it about them.
Michael Reynolds suggests, “Build your network before you need it. Aim to connect with at least three professionals in your industry every week. Comment on their posts and build rapport. If you need to look for new opportunities, established relationships are crucial.”
Use LinkedIn Like a Pro
Michael Reynolds says, “Make sure your LinkIn profile is up to date, complete, and makes full use of the platform’s capabilities.
“A lot of networking and hiring happens on LinkedIn, and a great profile can really help you stand out if you’re looking for opportunities. Write a compelling introduction that highlights your strengths and value. Include all relevant skills and experience, and ask for endorsements of those from others. Make sure your photo and cover image are up to date.
“Document your value to your employer. Review the past few years of your career and document your ‘wins’ and successful projects. Itemize all the things you contributed and accomplished on those projects and note the positive results they brought the company.
“Then, reference these notes at your reviews. That helps reinforce your value to your employer and can even be helpful in conversations about compensation.”
Another tip from the above-mentioned comprehensive guide to reducing layoff risk and mitigating it comes from Danielle Miura, CFP®, founder and owner of Spark Financials, who suggests, “Gather proof you were an asset to your company by making copies of samples of your work, projects you completed, and emails that praised you.”
Another concern you might be facing is that your employer may have given you tons of stock options that are underwater because of the bear market.
Does that mean they’re worthless?
Not if you listen to Richard Archer, CDAA, CFA, CFP, MBA, Owner and President of Archer Investment Management who says, “I believe betting against technology companies is a loser’s bet over the long term. I’m encouraging my tech professional clients to exercise their employee stock options at these rock-bottom prices to maximize their after-tax gains.”
What’s the saying?
“Go big or go home!”
If you have enough money stashed away that exercising options doesn’t hurt your liquidity (think emergency fund) and your ability to cover expenses for the months it may take to find a good job if you lose your current one (the above-mentioned financial runway), this is bold move could pay off big-time once the market recovers.
But Not Too Bold…
If you’ve been thinking about leaving your current job and pursuing a better opportunity, this is a time to be a little cautious.
A programmer I know once resigned from his position to take a better one, only to have the new company decide to shut down the location he had just started working at 10 days prior.
The economy in general, and the tech sector in particular, was in better shape back then, and after going to six interviews he got three job offers and picked the one he liked best.
In the current environment, things might not go so well. Thus, if you quit your job to start somewhere else, be very certain the new offer is solid. Also, be sure you can survive an extended period of unemployment if things fall through anyway.
The Bottom Line
If you’re a nervous high-tech employee, you have a big advantage and a big disadvantage.
Your advantage is that your salary is likely in the top 10% (if not 1%) of income.
Your disadvantage is that your salary is likely in the top 10% (if not 1%) of income.
The advantage part because a high income lets you save a lot of money and invest it aggressively.
The disadvantage part because you’ve probably made expensive lifestyle choices (renting or buying an expensive home, buying an expensive car, routinely ordering food and/or eating out, etc.) that will be difficult to undo and/or get used to doing without.
The above tips should help you navigate this uncertain time with less stress, and come out the other side in better shape.
This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be considered financial, investment, business, tax, or legal advice. You should consult a relevant professional before making any major decisions.