Anyone who works in the oil sands industry knows that his or her job security can go up and down with the price of crude.
That doesn't make the current uncertainty caused by the dramatic drop in oil prices easier to stomach.
At least 1,000 workers in the oil industry across Alberta have already been laid off in recent weeks, while more are bracing to receive layoff notices. Just last week, for instance, Precision Drilling Corp. and Cenovus Energy Inc., said they would be laying off up to 2,000 workers combined.
If the price of oil doesn't rebound soon, corporate profits in the sector could fall by as much as 30 per cent, Capital Economics economist David Madani predicted in a recent note, "prompting further cuts in business investment and staff payrolls above and beyond those already announced."
Workers who have been let go should use the time to reassess their career options, employment experts say, while those left unscathed, at least so far, need to up their game if they want to improve their chances of being spared should another round of cuts come.
"If there was every a time to redouble your commitment, your contribution, your productivity and the impact that you have on your team and your company, now is that time," said Jeff Aplin, Calgary-based president of the David Aplin Group recruiting firm. "There are a heck of a lot more people lining up behind you now for the job you have."
Some people still on the payroll are also looking at their options in today's labour market, Mr. Aplin said, in the event they do lose their job, or if they don't like how their work is affected by the cuts. Others are looking to get out of the volatile resources sector altogether, seeking industries that seem more stable and less prone to boom-and-bust cycles than commodities.
"As headhunters, more people are wanting to talk with us right now about what their options are … what are the trends," Mr. Aplin said. "We have peoples' attention a lot more in the present environment than in the boom times, when people are pretty happy to stay the course."
Although jobs are being cut across the industry, Mr. Aplin said some employers are hiring workers with specific skills in demand in a cost-cutting era. Some are also looking to boost productivity, which may have waned during the oil industry's boom times.
"We're doing a lot 'top grading,'" Mr. Aplin said, explaining that companies are laying off less productive workers and replacing them with one or two high performers.
For those who have lost their jobs, Mr. Aplin said it's a good time to reflect on their career path.
"Look at yourself in the mirror and ask 'What do I want to do next? What am I passionate about?'" he said.
That might mean going back to school to upgrade skills or start a new profession, or it could mean persevering with other employers, trying to find a similar role in the same industry.
Tara Talbot, vice-president of human resources at job-hunting site Workopolis, recommends that workers affected by the current oil industry downturn reassess their skills.
"People don't do a great job looking at themselves objectively," Ms. Talbot said. "Take stock of what you have … and look at how your skills may be transferable, even outside the industry."
She said workers shouldn't be afraid to take on a short-term job in a role with less responsibility or in another industry, to help keep busy or make ends meet.
"Sometimes you have to make a short-term decision to keep things going," she said. "I wouldn't let that take you off your long-term plan."
Workers should also update their online job profiles, and make sure their Facebook, Twitter and other personal accounts don't include content that might turn off a potential employer.
"It's something that we all have to come to terms with, even if we aren't searching for a job," Ms. Talbot said. "You have to think about your own brand and the way you're putting yourself forward because it sticks."
That includes how you handle a layoff, said Dan Scott, a partner and employment lawyer at Calgary-based law firm Seveny Scott.
He said both the employee and the employer need to act professionally and try not to burn bridges during a layoff.
"For the employee, the reputation and whatever personal relationships they have will be important if there's a rehire or even just getting a reference down the road," Mr. Scott said. "On the flip side, companies that start developing a reputation of treating people poorly when they're working or during a termination or layoff, will have trouble recruiting when the economy picks up."
JOB HUNTING DOS AND DON'TS
Tailor your application to each specific job and employer.
Have an online presence. Keep up-to-date professional profiles and résumés that are searchable by employers.
Prepare. Research the company and the industry, practising talking about your skills and accomplishments in ways that are relevant to them.
Follow up with a potential employer after an interview.
Apply to every job you can find with a generic résumé.
Arrive late to a job interview.
Try to "wing it" at the job interview.
Publicly post inappropriate photos, rants about previous jobs, or anything else you wouldn't want a potential employer to see.