There are lots of things you can do to be prepared for whatever happens, without violating your promise
I've been at my job three-and-a-half years and it's been great, I must say. Our company has had two layoffs during the past year and like everyone else I was starting to get nervous. Last week my boss took me to lunch, gave me some very welcome praise for my performance and told me that my job is as secure as anyone else's job here—his included.
He asked me not to job hunt despite the company's somewhat shaky situation, but rather to stay and help turn the company around. He asked me for that commitment and I gave it to him. I don't regret it, because he's been a great boss and mentor. However, if the worst happens, I could be out of a job suddenly and my boss might not have much to say about it.
What can I do to be pro-active about my career without violating my promise to my manager? I want to be ready for anything but I don't want to job hunt.
Hats off to you for inspiring your manager's confidence to that degree, and to him for the pat on the back and reassurance he gave you. I'm sure that his words made your afternoon a little brighter.
There are lots of things you can do to be prepared for whatever happens, without violating your promise to your manager in any way. All of us, Chris, not just you, can benefit from the occasional career-planning-and-readiness refresher.
Let's run down the list:
First off, every one of us should have a current résumé that points in the direction of the next job we'd like to have—IF we were job-hunting. If you haven't looked over your résumé in a while, dig it out of wherever it's lurking on your hard drive (Google Desktop (GOOG)) may be a big help with that) and polish it to make sure that it's up to date and brands you the way you'd like.
Next, take a look at your LinkedIn profile. Make sure that your Summary and Specialties, in particular, speak to what you're especially good at and how you'd like to be viewed in the talent marketplace. LinkedIn has added some cool features lately; you can add a presentation, your full-text résumé, a blog, and even audio files to your profile these days. (If you gave a speech to your Sales team at last month's meeting, visitors to your profile can hear a snippet of it via the Box.net file-uploading feature. Try it!)
Once you're happy with your LinkedIn profile, take a look at your connections on the site. Are you connected to all of the old colleagues and bosses, classmates and business-friends you could be? Use the LinkedIn Colleagues and Classmates features to let the database match you with folks you worked with or went to school with, and send them connection invitations. Be sure not to use the canned invitation language—write your own invitation instead, and make it specific to the recipient.
Now, jump over to your Facebook profile and make sure it represents you as the professional person you are. Don't trust Facebook's privacy settings to protect you if you should find yourself on the job market and a prospective employer decides to check you out. Get rid of any three-b photos (that's beer, bongs, and bikinis) that may appear on your site, and prune your friend list if you need to—guilt by association isn't just a term in old cop movies, it's real.
Diving into these dusting-off and cleaning-up activities may get you thinking about what you like and don't like about your current job, and what you'd be looking for if you were to begin a job search for any reason. That's a good thought process to begin. As much as you trust and respect your current manager, no boss (not even the CEO) is in a position to guarantee us employment for any specific period of time. Career planning is on us, from here on out. The more specifically you can define the sorts of roles you'd be looking for (if you were looking, which you're not) the better.
You can begin to identify target employers, if you were thrust into a job-search situation without warning. LinkedIn is handy here, too. You can also consult BusinessWeek's company index, a great research site called ZoomInfo.com, and your local business publications for lists of the top (by size or best-place-to-work status) employers in your area.
SimplyHired and Indeed.com are two fantastic job-ad aggregators, and in your situation I'd set up a couple of searches on each site, sending the results (new jobs posted each day, that is) to your e-mail address at home. That will give you a feel for the number and type of jobs that fall into your target zone (by employer size, industry, and other factors) even though you're not actively looking now.
Energize your network by scheduling at least one coffee meeting per week. If coffee doesn't work, you can make it lunch, drinks after work, a walk around the lake, or a bike ride, but get that network going BEFORE you need it!
With these steps in place, you can focus on the job at hand, help your boss turn the company around, and with luck stay on the team for a good long time to come. If the unexpected happens, you'll have your job-search engine already built and ready to rev up fast.
Best of luck!