Many of us have recurring dreams. Mine is that I’m driving down the freeway and can’t read the road signs until I’ve missed an important exit. Fortunately, it’s just a dream. But many people have trouble reading signs — not road signs, but career warning signs.

A career warning sign is any change that indicates possible career disaster. While warning signs may vary according to employment situations, here are four basic warning signs to look for:

Your industry is experiencing a downturn

An industry may have been one of the fastest growing in the country, with positions available at all levels. But things can change quickly. The first negative indicator to look for is unmet earnings expectations. Those who pay attention may find it prudent to leave the industry.

People who practise career management watch the growth trends within their industry and are prepared to leave ahead of the crowd.

Sales are down in your company

While not everyone in an organisation is involved with sales, all jobs are affected by sales levels. When revenues decrease, profits are held steady by cutting costs, which often means cutting jobs. Protect yourself by paying attention to your company's sales.

While not all employees are privy to sales numbers, there are ways of finding pertinent financial information. Public companies must publish financial statements. And employees of non-public companies can also read these signs of declining sales:

* There is a workload decline;

* Your boss suddenly is concerned about small costs, like pens and copy paper;

* The sales manager was fired or the sales department is being reorganised;

Alert employees are sensitive to such indicators. They keep their resumé updated at all times and cultivate a growing professional network for potential future job leads.

Management changes

Any management change has the potential to damage your corporate position. Be watchful during:

* Mergers and acquisitions;

* Successive short-term management (for example, there have been three senior bosses in two years); and

* The retirement or replacement of senior management.

Wise employees listen closely to new-management rhetoric. Is the chief executive officer making dramatic promises? Does he have a reputation as a job cutter? The first announcement of new management is the time to prepare your resumé and cautiously explore outside options.

You have lost favour with your boss

This is the sign that, for many, hits home first. If you once held the enviable role as “company wonder boy or girl” but now your gut feelings are warning you that you could be easily replaced, check for some of these objective indicators:

* A less-than-exemplary performance review;

* No performance-based salary increase;

* Smaller than expected year-end bonus;

* Your input is not requested at planning meetings; and

* Your suggestions are ignored.

If you sense your position on the corporate totem pole is falling, trust your gut. When jobs are at stake, yours will be one of the first sacrificed. Prepare your new career action plan.

These warning signs may seem obvious, but they are often ignored by those who fear change. Rather than take action, they lean on false hope that loyalty to the employer will pay off in the end.

Those who practise career management never confuse company loyalty with aversion to change. When career warning signs appear on the horizon, read the signs clearly so that you are ready for the next exit with a strong resumé, career action plan, and interview skills.