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Navigating a tough job market

Review your options before taking a buyout, read the fine print on your health plan and keep contacts in tough times.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Rising unemployment and fewer benefits - that's just a small part of what employees can expect down the road. Here are tips on how you can hold onto your job and navigate those tough choices ahead.

1. Evaluate your options

Chrysler is the latest company to announce that it's cutting 25% of its workforce and offering buyouts to its salaried workers.

Here's what you need to know before you accept a buyout: First, keep in mind that the goodies you'll get to retire early probably won't offset the drawbacks of spending fewer years at the office.

But if your job at the company is in jeopardy, then it may be worth your while to accept the buyout. The risk is that if you don't take it now, the option may not be there down the road.

So, review your buyout package and if you do accept it...keep in mind, it's not the end of your life. It's just the end of the job. Accept it and move on.

2. Watch the 401(k) match

General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) announced that it's going to be suspending its 401(k) match for employees. This isn't a new concept. The company also cut its match in 2005. And other companies like Charles Schwab (SCHW, Fortune 500), BF Goodrich and Goodyear (GT, Fortune 500) also cut their matches in 2003.

Bottom line here, if this happens to you - keep contributing to your 401(k), but you may want to start polishing up your resume. That's a clear sign that your company is in serious trouble.

For the rest of this year, experts say its likely more companies will follow in GM's path - especially around this time of Open Enrollment.

3. Continue your coverage

If you are fired from a job, you do have a right to continue group coverage under COBRA for up to 18 months. But it's not cheap by any means.

If you still have a job, you know it's open enrollment time. And as you decide what health care benefits to take advantage of, make sure you don't become complacent.

The plan you had this year may not look like the plan options you have this enrollment period.

4. Be prepared

First, you want to keep your ears open. Whispers about layoffs often circulate around a company before they happen.

And while you're at it, keep up with industry news by reading newspapers, journals, and trade publications. This way, you'll be ahead of the game.

And you want to become more visible. Volunteer for projects. Do any inter-departmental cross-training you can. It will be harder to let you go if you do an essential chore.

And don't forget to maintain your contacts. Make it a point to set aside some time each day to reach out to colleagues in the field.

It's not always what you know, but who you know. To top of page

Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send e-mails to toptips@cnn.com or click here - each week, we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and CNNMoney.com.
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