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Create your own career insurance policy

(MoneyWatch) You've got car insurance and (hopefully) health insurance. But do you have a career insurance policy?

It's not something you buy, it's more something you build, says Debra Feldman, an executive talent agent, and owner of JobWhiz. "The job market has changed and you no longer can count on applying for a job when you need a job," she says. "You have to have the network and connections to find out about your next job. Because you have to rely on contacts, it makes much more sense to have those connections before you need them." A good career insurance policy can let you relax, knowing that should your current gig go south, you've got lots of options. Here's how you create such a policy:

1. Make a list. What organizations would you consider working for? What people could hire you -- or could introduce you to people who could? Who do you admire?

2. Start making friends. There's nothing worse than purely transactional networking. You want relationships because strong social ties make people happy, as does being around people who inspire us to do our best. The professional upside is a side benefit. But it's an important one. So start meeting people on your list at conferences, at professional events, by volunteering in industry organizations, by following people on Twitter and occasionally responding to tweets, by commenting on their blogs (this works quite well!) or even just sending over a note if you think you could help a person out.

3. Keep in touch. "You're never done," Feldman says, and like health or car insurance, you have to pay regular premiums if you want to keep your career insurance policy in place. Relationships grow based on the number of times you see and talk to each other. Don't go overboard, but sending someone links to articles they'd find useful a few times a year, and saying hello at conferences, or grabbing coffee if you're visiting his or her town, goes a long way.

4. Keep your skills sharp. These days your work is your resume. Becoming known for doing great work -- and getting on people's radar screens for it -- decreases the chances you'll spend a long time job hunting.

5. Watch your finances. The ultimate career insurance, of course, is not needing to work. That changes the whole dynamic of a job search and how you approach your current job. After all, if you don't like it, you can quit. While most of us will have trouble building up enough assets to make working optional until retirement, having two years of your family's living expenses built up outside retirement accounts can get you pretty close to that feeling. So it's worth aiming for.

What's your career insurance policy?

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