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Finding Security in an Insecure World

By Marty Nemko

It seems like nothing is secure any more. As ever more full-time jobs are converted to contract work or shipped to Bombay, job security is becoming an oxymoron. Our pensions and Social Security can no longer be counted on. We can’t even trust what’s said by our leaders, let alone our business associates: “Don’t worry, we’re not planning on a downsizing,” “Yes, you should buy this product,” “I had no knowledge of the illegal dealings,” “I did not have sex with that woman.” Increasingly, we can’t even feel secure in our places of worship: ministers absconding with our money, sexually abusing parishioners, even our children. And then, of course, there’s terrorism. The question is not if but when, and whether the attack will be nuclear, biological, cyber, or simply poisoning our milk supply.

How can we find security in an ever more insecure world?

The most secure career options:

· Work for a solid and growing company, for example, Genentech, Intel, or General Electric.

· Most government employees are full-time and benefited, and job security is often so good that unless you rob the till, you’ll have your job for life.

· Low-risk self-employment. Keys: low investment, high-profit margin, and low status so you’re less likely to be competing against superstars. Examples: a small chain of well-located espresso carts, an oil-changing service located in a shopping mall parking lot so customers can shop while their oil is changed, mobile home park brokerage, used truck part dealership, window washing service. Such businesses have the additional advantages of providing an essential service so they’re unlikely to be affected by recession or go out of style. The book, The Millionaire Next Door, profiles 750 millionaires. Many of them owned such “dull-normal businesses.

On the job, to maximize your fire-resistance:

· Try to work for two stars: a star boss in a star organization. My personal favorite company: Genentech. It is in an industry with a bright future, and Genentech because of its location near San Francisco and its university-like corporate culture, attracts some of the world’s best and brightest people.

· Keep learning. First, learn the things your boss will most appreciate. Then to maximize your portability, learn things key in your field. Don’t learn by going back to school. It’s expensive and even if your employer is paying, it’s usually not worth your time: too theoretical and time-consuming, too much information you’ll never need or will have forgotten by the time you need it. Instead, do just-in-time learning. On topics of current interest, read an article or book, talk with an expert, attend a workshop or conference sponsored by your company or professional association. You know you’re doing well when your skill set is above-average relative to your peers.

· Try to connect with your boss and other higher-ups: Do the work he or she prioritizes. Don’t know your boss’s priorities? Ask. Give earned praise. For example, “Great advice, boss.” Even better, write your praise on a handwritten note card. Ask your boss and higher-ups about his work, her life, and be a good listener—ask good follow-up questions.

· Look for problems to solve. Whether you’re a clerk or CEO, you’ll be more fire-resistant if you keep your antennae out for solvable problems and propose a plan for their solution.

· Use the grapevine. What’s growing and declining in your company? Position yourself appropriately. For example, if your nonprofit is deciding to go after bigger donors, read a couple of articles on the art of closing a big donor, then volunteer to work on that project.

· Especially if you’re at risk of being downsized, network with your peers outside the company. That way, if the shoe later drops, you can call on their assistance. Far better to do that after you’ve developed a relationship than when your first contact is, “Hi, I’m looking for a job. Have any leads?”

Even if your job security is guaranteed, feeling secure requires you to do some things outside of work:

Keep your living expenses down. I’m not saying you need to give up your $3 lattes. Only two things are key: keep your housing costs down, and buy three-year old cars, keeping them until they’re unreliable. Just those two things will greatly increase your security.

Invest your money cautiously. For many people, a smart option resides on it reports the nation’s highest CD rates. For example, currently, you can earn 4.11% on a one-year CD. With the current inflation rate of three percent, even after taxes, that CD puts most people ahead of the game with zero risk and zero hassle. Compare that, for example, with real estate. Sure, real estate is hot now, but it’s risky, and, at minimum, requires a hassle-filled buying and selling process, not to mention landlording and maintenance.

Want to invest in the stock market? When the host of CNBC’s Mad Money, Jim Cramer, was a guest on my radio show, I asked him, “Can’t prudent investing be reduced to just three words: Vanguard Index Funds?” He said, “You’re right.”

Enhance your psychological security. Establish or maintain your favorite rituals: family dinnertime, bedtime routines, worship, holiday celebrations, etc. Maintain or renew long-time trusted friendships with people who bring out the best in you.

Advice I’d give my daughter

Marry for love, but it’s as easy to fall in love with a rich guy as a poor guy. (She did.) You’re not entrepreneurial, so work for the government. (She does.) Invest in Vanguard. (She does.) Read your father’s political articles. (Three out of four ain’t bad.)

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