Published: August 25, 2008

AS a workplace and careers specialist and executive headhunter, Ive observed a familiar pattern when it comes to people and their jobs. When the economy is robust, people spend an inordinate amount of time scheming to get a better job or wondering whether they should change careers or rethink entirely what theyre doing with their lives. Its the luxury of plenty you have a secure job, so youre free to indulge in change and transformation.

When the economy is stressed or a particular industry is in crisis, however, Im asked over and over, How can I protect my job? Gone are the daydreamy questions about the colors of parachutes. In their place are questions about job cutbacks and layoffs, and the need to feel secure is paramount.

My answer to this question is always simple: If you really care about your job and career, you can start protecting it right now. If all you care about is your paycheck, theres almost nothing that will protect you from eventually being deselected in favor of another employee whos truly committed to keeping his job. Thats just survival of the fittest in the workplace.

You must understand that your job is your most valuable asset and your primary objective is to protect it. Thats what I call bulletproofing your job, and heres what it boils down to:

Quit crying about merit and fairness and start improving your chemistry with your boss right now. Work is war, and if someone is going to get fired, let it be the guy your boss doesnt like, not you. If you dont have the stomach for this approach, pass this advice along to someone who does and watch him keep his job. But if youre ready to start protecting your job, think hard about these simple precepts that will maximize your value and prospects for today and tomorrow.

Be visible.

Be easy.

Be useful.

Be ready.

Thats it. Being visible means making sure your boss knows you, because if she doesnt know who you are, youre very easy to fire. Being easy means making your boss life easier. Being useful means going above and beyond and making sure your boss knows youre doing it. And being ready means being prepared for any eventuality.

My new book, Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Rough Times and Come Out on Top at Work, lays out 50 smart tactics for putting these strategies to work at work. Below are 10 big ones to get you started protecting your job.

Look good. Even if you work in a casual-dress environment, the way you dress should send a message that youre serious about your job. Or, more to the point, that youre serious about keeping your job.

So dress upward. Take your general cue from the Big Bosses in terms of style, and then aim carefully to dress a notch or so above your colleagues and at least as well as your own supervisor. Avoid ill-fitting, loud, tarty or otherwise inappropriate clothing. The idea is to dress to be noted, not noticed.

Get as expensive a haircut as you can afford. And splurge on an excellent pair of shoes and high quality accessories, too. All of these gestures send a message that youre top-drawer a high-caliber, valuable employee with confidence in his future.

Represent your company. Attending conferences and seminars on behalf of your company is a uniquely effective way to raise your profile, on the job and in your field. You get points just for volunteering to attend the snoozy conferences your boss avoids like the plague. And if youre smart, youll use the conferences to practice your personal pitch, learn a new thing or two about whats going on in your industry and network like mad, of course.

Just be sure to avoid the most common bonehead moves you can make at a conference. These include spending all your time with people you already know; gossiping or talking too much about yourself; arriving late, leaving early, and skipping events; not following up with the people that you meet; and getting drunk, dirty dancing or sleeping with other conference attendees.

Quit complaining. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but its probably also going to get fired. It really is that simple.

So stop complaining.

Put a lid on the griping about your miserable commute, the weird guy who clips his fingernails at his desk, your puny cube, the crappy coffee and that #$#%#%&* copy machine. Even if youre right about all of it. Because no one wants to listen to you bellyache especially your boss. So next time you feel like complaining about the temperature in the office, put on a sweater and shut up.

Leave your problems at home. Flat tires, sick kids, a root canal, a broken dishwasher, a death in the family, a flooded basement, a cheating boyfriend, chronic migraines, blah, blah, blah. When you share your personal problems in the workplace, you start to look like one big problem to everyone around you, including your boss.

Yes, those pesky problems in your personal life can cause a lot of stress thats hard to keep from spilling over into your work life. But stress is a dangerous word, and one you should never say out loud at work. Its just another way of saying, I cant handle this job, so you might as well fire me.

Do some yoga instead and keep your problems to yourself.

Dont be a gossip. Lets be frank. Much of the information that falls from the grapevine at work can be useful to you. Whos unhappy in their job, whos angling for a promotion, scuttlebutt about reorganizations, mergers, acquisitions and yes, layoffs. Knowing office gossip can save your job, but being known as the office gossip can easily cost you your job.

So dont be the office gossip; be friends with the office gossip. The trick is to absorb information without repeating it, to appear to be above it even while youre filing it away for future reference, to use, if necessary, to bulletproof your job. Knowing gossip can help you avoid being the victim of it.

Be flexible. Youd be surprised how many people think of themselves as easygoing and adaptable, but are actually rigid and averse to change. These folks dig in and refuse to bend and before they know it thwack they get the axe.

Flexible employees, on the other hand the ones who keep a good attitude during change, who go with the flow instead of fighting it, who cheerfully offer to pitch in as needed these are the ones who tend to survive a layoff.

In a volatile economy or an emerging industry, change is the norm. So approach your work with an understanding and acceptance of the necessity of change, and youll learn to thrive in those conditions. And, of course, keep your job.

Be a mentor. You dont have to have a staff or be a manager to be in the position to be a mentor. You just need to know the ropes of your workplace and have some experience that would be helpful to someone else. The most junior staff and recent hires are generally most in need of this kind of support; all you have to do is offer.

And when it comes to bulletproofing yourself, mentoring is a no-brainer. It makes you look like you care about the future of the company and the growth of younger or less experienced employees. You help your boss when you mentor an employee who needs it, and of course, you help the employee navigate the choppy waters youve already sailed through.

All of this is well and good, but the real value in mentoring is planting seeds of influence and creating a sleeper cell of support throughout your company and your industry that will grow and become more valuable over time.

Support your boss. Some people call this sucking up, but I call it being smart enough to cultivate the good chemistry between you and your boss that is absolutely necessary to bulletproof your job.

Good chemistry starts with paying attention to what your boss needs, how he operates, what he likes and doesnt like and then shaping your own attitude and behavior to reflect that.

In other words, be a Mini Me. And take responsibility for the success of your relationship with your boss its your job to make it work, not his.

Help the people in your network. Dont make the mistake of thinking your network is there to help you. Its not. Its there for you to offer assistance and advice to whenever possible, as a means to grow your reputation and credibility in your field.

Of course, your network can be a valuable source of information and contacts and referrals for you. But if you go at it thinking about how youll benefit, youre missing the bulletproof point. Be an energetic and enthusiastic resource for others everyone wins. Trust me.

Have money in the bank. Money equals confidence. And knowing you have enough of it socked away to cover living expenses in any event is critical to allowing you to behave with a strategic, long-term interest in keeping your job, rather than out of desperation to get the next paycheck. Youll be less likely to hold back from doing whats necessary to keep your job such as speaking up or taking initiative or sharing credit when you arent financially afraid of losing your job.

Having money in the bank also gives you options. To be precise, it gives you a secret sense of security and an air of self-sufficiency that suggests you are sure of your abilities and locked in for the long haul. Financial security gives you a million bucks worth of confidence every time you sit down at your desk no matter what happens.

Stephen Viscusi is president of the executive search firm the Viscusi Group, and host of the nationally syndicated radio show On the Job. For more on bulletproofing, see