During a recession, the right job is like a bulletproof vest worn during a shoot-out. It won’t guarantee you’ll survive, but it boosts the chance you won’t be taken out.
While there’s no such thing as a recession-proof job, some finance and accounting positions are less likely to be cut during corporate downsizings. Likewise, some sectors of the overall market thrive during downturns. If you can find one of those “safe” positions in a growing sector, you’ll have two hedges against the risk of a future layoff.
Three areas of the economy continue to do well despite the economic challenges facing the country: healthcare, education and government. Within those industries, a smart job seeker should also carefully check a potential employer’s fiscal fitness. As companies struggle in a challenging marketplace, even a relatively safe position can disappear if the company you work for isn’t stable enough to withstand the economic winds.
Regions with large concentrations of those industries are buffered from recessions as well, because the major industry employers in the area pull employees from the market, creating openings at other local corporations.
Low in Glamour, High in Demand
Across all industries, employers have a hard time filling certain finance and accounting positions, even during recessions.
“They tend to be the less glamorous jobs,” says Brendan Courtney, president of recruiter The Mergis Group in Fort Lauderdale. “These include internal auditors, financial reporting, tax accounting -- all the work that needs to be done during a good market, too. It’s anything where you count and report on the money and make sure the government gets its share.”
Staff and senior Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are always sought-after, because this is a core function, adds DeLynn Senna, executive director of permanent placement services for Robert Half International in Menlo Park, California. “The other thing we see -- although it’s seasonally cyclical -- is tax,” she adds. “It remains steady in recessions.”
The same logic applies at the corporate level, where companies under profit pressures use tax and cost accountants to examine expenses and income to enhance their cash flow and bottom-line results, says Jonathan Schiff, professor of accounting at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Clean-Up and Compliance Crews
Careers that involve cleaning up after financial troubles also thrive during hard times. Demand increases for credit and collection specialists as delinquencies rise, Senna says. “There always tends to be a strong and steady demand during downturns for those roles because they have an immediate impact on a company’s cash flow,” she says.
On a macroeconomic level, the toxic assets coming out of investment banks, commercial banks and mortgage banks all need management during recessions, including the current one, Courtney says. “All these new [workout] programs are going to be run either by the government or some extension of the government through an asset-management company,” he says. “They’re going to have to hire people to work those portfolios out.”
Because every company has some component of fraud, and finding it requires advanced accounting skills, forensic accountants are constantly in demand.
“If you have 30,000 employees, you have at least one person thinking of a way to take something that’s not theirs,” Schiff says. “Forensic accounting is strong during a good economy, but it gets even more in demand during a weak economy, because companies want to prevent fraud by finding it [before they lose money].”
Even Uncle Sam is focused on auditors. When the federal government elects to increase spending to stimulate the economy, it needs more auditors and contract specialists to supervise how those funds are spent.
In March 2009, just after President Obama’s $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed, the US government had about 1,000 audit-related positions open.
This particular recession has also changed the landscape of the financial-services industry, which has led to changes in hiring. “On the financial side, investment banking has changed forever and the regulatory side is being redefined,” Courtney says. As federal regulators craft new regulations, companies will need compliance experts to interpret those rules and apply them to specific business issues.
Out of the Line of Fire
To guard your job during recessions, stay away from high-profile, transaction-related positions, such as mergers and acquisitions, mortgage originations and corporate finance. Those fields flourish during good markets and dry up during economic downturns, Courtney says.
Lacking a crystal ball that tells us when this recession will end, your best defense against a layoff may be proactively moving out of the line of fire and arming yourself with the best possible weapons. In finance and accounting, that means seeking certifications, keeping up with industry changes through continuing education and attending conferences.
No matter what your field, working hard, working smart and aligning yourself with the right management team have always been good strategies for avoiding layoffs. Find a safe job at a solid company in the right industry, and you lessen the chances that you’ll ever have to rely on those strategies to keep yourself from being laid off.
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