Career Cushioning: A Modern Pathway to Job Security

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Navigating the world of work often feels like walking a tightrope. With each step, there are pressures to keep pace with fast-evolving skill requirements, continuous performance upgrades, and the intricacies of workplace politics. Then, there is always a fear of slipping — be it in terms of job security or a career setback. 

This is where the concept of “career cushioning” enters the picture, becoming a safety net for many to manage the uncertainties of their careers. Career cushioning is much like having a Plan B or safety net for your career. 

In this detailed exploration of career cushioning, we will delve into its intricacies, evaluating its ethical standpoint, understanding who needs it and why, identifying its signs, pros, and cons, and most importantly, discussing the practical ways of implementing it along with valuable tips and strategies. Plus, we’ll talk about the potential pitfalls to avoid while practicing career cushioning. 

What is Career Cushioning?

First things first — what even is career cushioning? This might not be a term you hear every day, but it’s actually an approach to one’s profession that many of us may have practiced at one point or another, perhaps unknowingly. 

In essence, career cushioning refers to the strategic act of keeping an eye on potential job opportunities while you’re still gainfully employed. It’s about creating a ‘cushion’ or contingency plan for your career in the event of an unforeseen disruption such as job termination, business closure, or a shift in your professional interests.

Regardless of how satisfied we might feel in our current role, the future is unpredictable, and having a contingency plan is simply a sensible approach to modern professional life.

The Ethics of Career Cushioning

As your optimistic and encouraging career coach, I believe it’s necessary to address the elephant in the room when we discuss career cushioning — is it ethical? The answer isn’t black and white, and it might change based on the individual context of each job seeker.

From a professional development perspective, maintaining an updated resume, expanding your skills, and staying connected with your network isn’t only ethical; it’s advisable! Cultivating a broad array of skills and contacts is a healthy way to continuously grow as a professional. It prepares you for new opportunities, within or outside of your current organization, and that’s not unethical.

However, I would say that the balance shifts when a job seeker begins to dedicate large quantities of company time and resources to their job search. For instance, attending job interviews during working hours, using the company’s resources for personal gain, or slacking off in current responsibilities while scouting for new opportunities, these actions can be considered unethical. This tends to strain the employee-employer relationship and can reflect negatively on professional integrity.

It’s also vital to consider the expectations and norms within your current employment contract. Some companies expressly forbid “moonlighting” or working another job while employed due to potential conflicts of interest. Ensure that you are clear about your contract’s stipulations, and consider having an open and honest conversation with your supervisor if you feel uncertain.

Who Needs Career Cushioning?

I firmly believe that career cushioning isn’t just for a select few. In fact, it matters to everyone in the workforce. However, there are certain individuals and situations that might particularly benefit from this approach.

Let’s take a look at a few individuals who might want to consider using this approach.

Those in Fluctuating Industries

Those in industries characterized by frequent layoffs or drastic fluctuations would most certainly benefit from career cushioning. 

For example, those of you in the tech startup sphere have probably observed a high amount of volatility. Businesses may boom quickly, but they can also falter fast. As such, having alternative job prospects in place could provide a vital safety net if your startup doesn’t work out.

Individuals Dissatisfied with their Current Professional Situations

If you find yourself counting down the hours to the end of the day or your heart is no longer in what you do, it might be time to explore other paths. Career cushioning can help you navigate your way without putting yourself in a dire financial situation.

Those Worried About Their Economic Future

For instance, the after-effects of the pandemic are still uncertain, with many industries undergoing transformation. If you’re in an industry that’s been heavily impacted, it’s a valid strategy to explore other job opportunities. Having a few options at hand not only provides an emergency exit but also potentially opens up paths to more fulfilling roles.

Early and Mid-Career Professionals

At this stage, many of us are still shaping our careers and figuring out what we truly want to do. Keeping an eye open for other opportunities could lead to interesting perspectives or even a shift in career trajectory that might not have been considered otherwise.

Those Lacking Growth Opportunities or Upward Mobility

It’s like being stuck in a career limbo, where learning and advancement seem to have hit a wall with no way forward or around it. If you’ve been in the same role for years without any promotions or new opportunities, despite your hard work and dedication, career cushioning could be the key to jumpstart your growth again.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Career Cushioning

At this point, career cushioning may sound like a pretty fantastic idea. However, while it certainly has its benefits, it also has its downsides. Let’s take a quick look at what some of those perks and cons are so that you can decide whether or not you should use this approach.

Advantages of Career Cushionin 

One of the first benefits of career cushioning is that it can give you a sense of security. If you’re worried about a project or position being eliminated, sprucing up your CV and reaching out to your network can help you feel more secure that you won’t be left jobless. 

Another benefit is that it can encourage exploration and continuous learning. When you have your eyes on the job market, you will inevitably discover new trends and skills in demand. Based on those insights, you can attend workshops, take up online courses and even add a certification to your portfolio, which can greatly help to make your profile attractive to potential employers.

Disadvantages of Career Cushioning Time and Effort Required

Despite the upsides of career cushioning, there are a couple of downsides as well. For starters, it requires a fair amount of time and effort. When you are actively engaged in career cushioning, the process is quite time-consuming, juggling between your existing work, job applications, interviews, and learning new skills.

Another issue is that it could generate a conflict of interest with your current employer. In many companies, it’s frowned upon to look for other opportunities while employed. Even though you can be discreet in your job search, you can find yourself often worried about what would happen if your employer finds out. 

Finally, it may cause you to lose focus on your current job. When you’re busy exploring new opportunities, your current work performance can suffer.

How to Apply Career Cushioning

Now that you’ve weighed the pros and cons of this approach, if you’ve determined this is the right move for you, it’s time to learn how to apply career cushioning. 

Remember, career cushioning isn’t about actively seeking another job; it’s about being prepared when opportunities come knocking. By adopting this proactive strategy, you’ll be better equipped to navigate any future professional challenges or changes you may encounter.

Here are some steps to take in order to start career cushioning. 

1. Develop Your Skills

No matter the field you’re in, there’s always room for improvement. For instance, if you’re in digital marketing, you could focus on learning more about SEO, content marketing, or social media management. 

These newly learned skills not only make you more valuable for your current job but can potentially make you more attractive to prospective employers.

2. Expand Your Network

Networking has always been a helpful tool for professional growth. Attend conferences and seminars within your industry whenever possible, connect with new people, and maintain those relationships.

3. Keep Your Resume Updated

Remember, you’re always a potential job candidate, so keep your resume always ready and up-to-date with your new experiences and newly learned skills. Also, don’t forget to update your online professional profiles like LinkedIn. 

4. Monitor Job Market

Allocate a certain amount of time each week to browse job sites and company websites. Even if you’re satisfied with your current position, it’s good to have an understanding of what’s out there.

5. Engage with a Mentor or Career Coach

They can not only provide objective feedback about your career progression but also offer advice and strategies tailored to your career goals and aspirations.

Pitfalls to Avoid When Career Cushioning

Navigating through your career cushioning journey can be challenging. It’s like walking on a tightrope where you need to maintain a balance between the act of looking for new opportunities and commitment to your existing job. You don’t want to lose the job you have while trying to find one you might like better. 

With that said, here are a few pitfalls you should strive to avoid to ensure your career cushioning efforts are a success. 

Neglecting Current Responsibilities

While the idea of career cushioning is to have a safety net, it doesn’t mean you should let your current job responsibilities fall by the wayside. Remember, your current role is your primary commitment.

Lack of Discretion

It’s crucial to keep your job search confidential when applying career cushioning. While you might be excited about potential new opportunities, sharing this with colleagues can backfire. 


Job searching requires significant time and energy. At times, trying to juggle your current responsibilities and a job hunt can lead to burnout. Be careful not to overstretch yourself.

Unprepared for Opportunities

In career cushioning, you need to be ready to seize opportunities when they come — and sometimes, they come out of nowhere. For example, you can get caught off-guard by a sudden interview call. If you haven’t reviewed your resume in a while and haven’t looked up the company, you can be thoroughly unprepared for the discussion.

Becoming Complacent

Avoid becoming complacent in your current role just because you’re looking for new opportunities. If you have an opportunity to grow and improve within your existing job, don’t disregard it. Good performance in your current role can translate into excellent recommendations, no matter where you go next in your career.

Stay Secure With Career Cushioning

Career cushioning can offer a safety net for professionals navigating through uncertain times or pondering their career trajectories. However, just as with any strategic undertaking, there are considerations to factor in and possible pitfalls to avoid.

The key takeaway here is balance. Career cushioning requires a delicate touch – remaining loyal and dedicated to your current role while also taking calculated steps to prepare for any wave that may rock your professional boat. Be discrete, be discerning, and remember that the aim is to ensure your employability and not to undermine your commitment to your current position.

With that said, if you need more guidance on career development, we can help. Check out our guides to help you grow into a career that you love.

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