The United States is nearing its longest period of economic expansion in history. But after more than a decade of steady growth, economists are now predicting a downturn within the next 12 to 18 months. The questions isn’t if, it’s when.

Are Americans financially ready for an inevitable recession? To find out, Harvard Business School Online worked with market research firm City Square Associates to poll 1,000 U.S. adults and found the majority are not prepared to ride out a recession.

Here are some of our findings:

  • Two out of three are not prepared, if there is an economic downturn in the next six months
  • One-third have less than three months’ savings
  • Fifty percent say their resume is not up-to-date
  • More than half feel their current network of professionals is moderate to weak
  • Only one in three are actively networking for potential career opportunities

If you’re among those who are not ready, there’s still time. Here are five tips to help you prepare for the next recession.

How to Prepare for a Recession

1. Cut Expenses


Many experts recommend an emergency fund equivalent to six months or more of income. Yet only 27 percent have that much money saved, according to our survey.

Curb your spending. To really move the needle, go beyond skipping the Starbucks lattes. Start with bigger bills to see if you can refinance loans or eliminate little-used recurring expenses, such as cable TV. Every dollar saved can be set aside for a rainy day.

2. Polish Your Resume


More than half of survey respondents said their resumes are not up-to-date and
21 percent are not prepared to begin looking for a new job.

Step one to getting career-ready is to make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are current. Add recent roles, new skills, certificates, and awards. To further bolster your credentials, consider taking an online course. Nearly one-third of respondents have sharpened their skills that way, and it’s easy to fit into most schedules.

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3. Activate Your Network


Networking is more vital than ever, with 85 percent of new job opportunities coming from people you know, according to a recent LinkedIn and Adler Group survey. Despite that, 56 percent of our respondents said their network is only moderate or weak.

Tools like LinkedIn make it easy to cast the net and identify people who can help find your next job. Begin with family and friends, and restart and reinvigorate old relationships. Leveraging the people you know and building your professional network is essential for getting through harder times.

But it’s not enough to simply “connect” on LinkedIn. Get out there and make solid connections with people who can open doors when you need it.

4. Focus on Your Day Job


It’s an old adage: Nothing succeeds like success. If your position is susceptible to a layoff during a slow economy, it’s especially important to work hard and demonstrate your worth. Exemplary performance could save you a job or surface new opportunities within your organization if a downsizing occurs.

5. Consider a Side Hustle


Making a career contingency plan with a secondary source of income could help minimize financial hardship if you lose your job. More than 54 percent of those surveyed said they would consider a side gig. That extra income could help make ends meet or even turn into a full-time position.

Learn more about how to recession-proof your life by watching our Facebook Live session with HBS Online Executive Director Patrick Mullane:


Recession-Proof Your Life

Worrying never helps, but with a downturn in the economy, it’s important to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. These steps can help ensure you’ve done what you can to get recession-ready. 

If you are interested in bolstering your credentials and sharpening your business skills, explore our online course catalog to discover how you can start recession-proofing your career.