As economists debate whether or not a recession is coming soon — and how bad it will be — the fear of being laid off, or not being able to find work, might be in the back of your mind.
Record-high inflation and a string of high-profile layoffs have left working professionals across the U.S. increasingly anxious about their job security: 78% of Americans are worried about losing their job during a potential upcoming recession, a recent Insight Global survey of 1,004 adults found.
While it might be too soon to "read into the tea leaves" of such forecasts and predict when, or if, a recession will hit the U.S., "it's very clear that we're in an economic slowdown right now," Kory Kantenga, a senior economist at LinkedIn, tells CNBC Make It.
Even if economic growth is just slowing down, that environment can still be "very damaging" to employees and job-seekers, he adds.
No one is immune to losing their job — but learning what skills continue to be in-demand during economic downturns can help you stay competitive in a volatile market and pivot jobs, or industries, if needed, says Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.
Economists say these are the most "recession-proof" skills that companies will be hiring for during the next recession:
Each recession looks different — during "The Great Recession" of 2009, for example, some people who lost their jobs in tech or finance turned to the restaurant and retail industries, Pollak notes.
But during the Covid-19 recession of 2020, there were far less options to work in those fields as people remained at home. "Every time a recession hits, the fallback work option will change," Pollak says. "That's why flexibility is a really key skill to master."
To show that you're flexible, include examples of times where you've had to navigate different roles, functions or departments within a business; tackled a problem on an important project; volunteered to help with something outside of your normal job responsibilities; or worked with different teams on your resume, recommends Patrick Petitti, an economist and the CEO of Catalant, a platform that connects companies with independent consultants.
Highlighting your flexibility skills in your resume shows hiring managers that you're a person who can "operate in times of uncertainty," which is a critical skill to nurture even beyond a downturn, Petitti adds.
"For the past 2+ years, and for the foreseeable future, we have, and will continue to be, in a period of turbulence," he says. "Executives want people who can adapt quickly and don't overreact when plans change."
New challenges will inevitably emerge during a recession — and at a time when everything is in flux, companies will look for people "who can identify the new problems, articulate solutions and drive that plan forward," Pollak says.
"It's one of the top skills companies consistently hire for," Petitti adds. "Even during the darkest days of the pandemic, hiring managers in tech, finance, you name it, were looking for people who can break down an objective into actionable steps and guide a team toward achieving that larger goal."
Platforms like Coursera and LinkedIn Learning offer courses and certifications in project management, but you can also showcase project management skills on your resume (or during an interview) by noting times where you led a project from start to finish, helped with budgeting or launched a new product or campaign, for example.
The ability to communicate clearly and effectively at work is a universal skill that's "always in demand" across "all industries," Pollack notes, no matter what state the economy is in. "Employers feel that they can never find people who can write and articulate their thoughts well."
Mastering the art of communication can help you stand out as a job candidate and find work in different industries. "Even if you're sitting at your computer for work all day and reporting to one person, you need interpersonal skills to work on a team and convince an employer that your work adds value," Kantenga says.
Examples of communication skills include presentations, emails, giving feedback and negotiating a business deal.
While these three skills can help you weather the next recession, the most important skill of all, according to Pollak, is paying attention to the news and keeping track of which industries are making long-term investments in hiring.
"The costs and benefits of different jobs will change during a recession," she says. "The decisions that you made about your career even two years ago will no longer apply … you want to make sure you're putting yourself in a position to succeed through the recession and in the recovery."