THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Four steps: Recession-proofing your career

The debate continues about whether and when a recession is coming, and what the markers exactly are. Most of us are in no position to do the analysis ourselves, but you don't need to be an economist to know that you should think about what you would do if a recession occurs.

But since we're not actually in bad times right now, the question is, what do you do to get ready for a downswing in the economy?  Here are four ways to prepare for a job market that might turn sour:  

1. Specialize

People think that with fewer jobs, a wide range of skills makes someone more employable. But that's not true. In a tight job market, employers can hold out for the perfect fit. And if you're not clearly defined as a specialist, then you're not going to be a perfect fit for anything.  

You get the most benefits from specializing after you have three to five years of experience. So don't specialize too early– because you won't have learned enough about what you want. But if you have a few years of experience and you see layoffs looming, try to get on some focused, short-term projects that will let you market yourself as a specialist in something.  

2. Do something great - right now

Most people have been participants in the last decade of manic job hopping– they've followed a pattern of performing well at a company, writing those achievements on their resume, then making the next hop. This works in a job market where you can control when you leave.  

But if you're laid off before you accomplish something significant, you'll end up with a dark spot on your resume– a place where you didn't do anything notable. So do something fast that you'll be able to quantify as an achievement on your resume– as in completed X project in X percent less time than anticipated, or saved X dollars by working twice as fast as normal.  

3. Consider graduate school

There's a reason why so many Generation Xers went to graduate school: there were no jobs in the early '90s. In a down job market, grad school is a way to enhance your skills.

  One of the most popular choices is law school because a law firm provides a clear path (and an A in organic chemistry isn't required). But 44 percent of practicing lawyers don't recommend it. However, law firms have become more accepting of people's personal lives since the last recession. Many firms have retooled how they operate to give people more time to have a life outside work, and they've changed their policies to accommodate different stages of life.  

Grad school is a treacherous route, though: be careful about spending money for a degree with no career path to follow it. But also, be careful of investing in a career path you wouldn't want to follow.  

4. Focus on the quality of work and quality of mentoring

The hardest thing to do in a bad job market is to keep your learning curve high. If the market goes sour, instead of focusing on the perfect industry or the perfect company, focus on developing new skills. And then refocus your career into a more suitable industry or location when the job market gets better.  

By cultivating a great mentor in your current job, you can make your job a spot where you can wait out an economic slump should one come. So instead of focusing on the negative predictions of economic doom, focus on the positive conversations that build a solid mentoring relationship, and you'll weather the storm better because you won't weather it alone.