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The Best Jobs in a Recession?

By - 2010

Perhaps the recession is over, but the recovery seems to be slow, so the following is still relevant (and see the 2012 update at the bottom).

It would be an easy answer to say that the best jobs in any recession are those that won't get cut, but that's only a partial truth. It really depends on what you employment goals are after all. If you want to make the most money you can, the best jobs are still the high-paying jobs you're probably pursuing now. If the job you have or plan to get is meant to train yourself for a future business, you wouldn't want to give that up for a more secure position in a recession that could last a long time and therefore delay your progress towards your goals for a long time.

But we can start with jobs where layoffs are less likely. These will be in the industries that both maintain their sales during a recession and those that actually benefit from it as well. Retailers of cheap necessities, like Wal-Mart don't see sales decline much in tough economic times. The same is true of any discount stores that primarily sell necessities. Utility companies fall into this category too, since we still light our houses when times are difficult. If you look for work in these industries you might still want to look for those jobs that offer opportunities for advancement as well.

Businesses that do better during a recession interestingly include movie theaters - at least during bad recessions and depressions. At the moment (2009) sales are up at most theaters around the United States, so the jobs available at them are fairly secure. They are low-paying though, so look for the companies that have advancement opportunities (most likely the larger theaters and chains). Lawyers specializing in bankruptcy law also do better during tough times, as do repossession companies. I'll tell you from experience that you better enjoy the thrill of doing auto repossessions, because the pay is not usually much better than a fast food job.

Basic Survival Jobs

A job can be lost during good or bad times of course, so perhaps a better approach to always having income is to have job skills that enable you to find work in any economic conditions. We'll call these survival job skills. Specifically, jobs are almost always available in industries with high turnover. If you have the skills necessary you only have to wait a bit for a position to open up then.

Virtually all restaurants have a high turnover rate, for example. While any are going out of business, others are hiring dishwashers, cooks and waiters. With experience waiting tables you can find a job in a matter of weeks almost anywhere in the country at any time in the business cycle. What's more, you can also pay the bills with such a job, because unlike dishwashers, the tips wait staff gets usually make for decent wages. With experience in high-end places, you have even more possibilities and higher wages.

Waiting tables in bars and pubs and bartending are great survival jobs too. With a little experience on your resume, you once again have the ability to get a job almost anywhere you go. Right here in our little Colorado town dishwashers only get about $8.00 per hour, but a bartender at the local pub can make double that. A friend working at Margaritaville in Phoenix tells me that $200 per night in tips alone is not that uncommon on a weekend.

Keeping the Job You Have

It's possible that the best jobs in a recession are those that people already have - especially if they like them. To keep what you have, don't complain, do good work, be sure your boss knows you're doing a good job, and perhaps talk to a friend in human resources to see what part of the company is most secure. Then transfer into that division if you can. And finally, always keep in mind that being employed doesn't prevent you from preparing your resume and looking for better jobs.


For more on keeping your job, finding more secure employment, and how to be ready for any economic circumstances, read A Survival Guide for Interesting Times. It comes with The Secrets Package.

2012 Update: According to a recent article in US News and World Report, the following jobs are more recession-proof than most: registered nurse, air traffic controller, lobbyist, public school teacher, government accountant, college professor and federal judge.

Private accounting positions have also turned out to be some of the best jobs in the recent recession, as companies look to trim costs and maintain the bottom line.

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