Unemployment Carnage: What Jittery Employees Can Do

By Carmen Wong Ulrich
|  Friday, Jan 9, 2009  |  Updated 12:15 PM CDT
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The headcount is lower than predicted—another 524,000 are jobless. But our unemployment rate is now an anxious 7.2%, at 1993 levels and rising.

If you haven't lost your job yet, you surely know someone who has, contributing to the stomach churn that you might be next. Turn that frown upside down, as they say. Transform that nervous energy into making sure that should you get the call to the conference room next, you're poised to land on your feet, and then some.

First, how's your emergency fund doing? A solid cash stash that keeps you under your roof and in the black is key to allaying a further setback when the paycheck stops coming. The higher you are on the company ladder, the bigger your safety net needs to be. Straight out of college? Three months can do it—entry-level jobs are easier to find and the demands on your money (mortgage, family, etc.) are fewer. Got five-plus-years of experience? Make it six months pay. Have you climbed that ladder higher and have a mortgage, kids, and retirement less than 20 years away? Sock away a years' worth into your emergency fund. And make sure you can afford health coverage between jobs.

When it comes to making yourself stand out amid those high numbers of fellow job-hunters, start today on branding yourself. What makes you and your resume stand out from the crowd? Highlight major accomplishments. Are you a "fixer"? A "closer"? A specialist in a narrow field? Is it worthwhile in your line of work to build and maintain your own Web site? The payoff on taking clues from marketing and advertising along with the introspection you put into how you define yourself—versus how your current boss defines you—can pay off in a very assuring, short lapse in paychecks. We may not be in control of the numbers, but we are in control of raising our chances of not being a number for long.

*Watch On The Money Friday at 10p ET as we break down the jobs report further to find you the missing opportunities*

For more stories from CNBC, go to cnbc.com.

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