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Endure or even prosper during job squeeze

Know the Score

Posted: March 29, 2008 1:11 p.m.
Updated: May 30, 2008 5:02 a.m.
With all the bad news going around about recession or economy in slow-growth, the one thing that's not debatable is that the employment market is weaker than it was a year ago. Let the economists figure out what's going on these days but you can do something about your income situation.

There are two ways for you to go. You can sit at your desk or in your shop with a "the sky is falling" attitude, or you can take the bull by the horns and become the master of your own fate. The time for depending on your company, your boss, your government, your social security or whatever has passed and the only one who controls your future is YOU!

For some unknown reason most people have abandoned the attitude of their parents and/or ancestors. The attitude of "I am responsible for my future and what happens to me," and has given way to "I put in my time and I get a paycheck every week." Well, things are getting tight and when profits and payrolls get thin, bosses are looking for more than the "just putting in my time" employees.

So what do you do, besides pray that if the corporate ax must fall, it falls on your annoying coworker? Actually, you can do a lot. If your company is feeling the squeeze and it looks like jobs will be cut, resist the gloomy urge to wait for the inevitable. Take steps to boost your job security by developing advocates inside the company and building a reputation as the workhorse who doesn't complain.

Looking for a job during a downturn takes even more heightened commitment. In a nutshell, your skills need to be better, you need to be more aware of career branding, and you must be more strategic about approaching employers. Some employees even find the downturn a golden opportunity to become all-around utility players rather than niche workers.  They rebrand themselves showing off additional skills.

Job-saving agendas

Different groups of workers need different job-saving agendas. For instance if you're an executive, you have noticed the revolving door of CEO turnovers up 58 percent in January. So when the buck stops how does a leader manage to stick around? Make your case to whoever is in charge (the board, the owners, a more senior executive) and if poor results are pinned on you don't let it go unchallenged. Leaders need to publicize their past efforts and current plans, and make it clear if a problem is industry-wide.  Take care not to align yourself too closely with a recently fired executive so that you're seen as part of the solution rather than part of the "old guard" problem. There's a strong case too for deep knowledge of the organization and its current situation. Both of these can be a major advantage over a new hire.

For new employees, the rules are a bit different. You should come in early, stay late, don't take long breaks, dot your i's and cross your t's. Be the workhorse, the person who doesn't complain and gets loads of work done. Be the one who doesn't have conflicts with other employees or a reputation for gossip. Keep a pad and pen in hand, and be prepared to listen and watch.

Older workers often fight the notion that they're not pulling their weight. They're equally challenged by the expectation that they may be retiring soon, but they've got a trump card. In times of economic instability, longer-tenured workers should take advantage of the dense network of relationships they've created inside the company, and begin reviving those bonds and building advocates. This is the time to wave the company flag to show your allegiance and take coworkers out for coffee. Executives find it harder to fire people they know well. When choosing between equally productive workers, they may select the employee they'll have the easiest time facing with bad news.

Even the nastiest recessions have way more survivors than victims, and if you play it smart you can actually boost your career in a downturn.

Every change presents opportunity, and it's all up to you how you choose to handle change. When companies are flush, they're able to create specialists among their workforce, but when profits and payrolls are thin they want "utility" players. Employees who can handle a variety of roles become highly attractive. Layoff survivors should actively try to pick up the work of their departed peers.

Look elsewhere

Now suppose you're already out of work - take advantage of it. The old thinking was that workers could only gain and expand skills at a regular job. The new thinking is that there's plenty of growth to be found elsewhere.  Generation Y-ers are driving this new concept of success. They'll live in their parents' basement, reject job offers that don't meet their criteria, and work freelance gigs or flip Web sites (buying sites, improving them and selling them for a profit).

When battling a tight job market, searching online for jobs may not be the best method. Many job boards and resume banks are just black holes that can't connect job seekers with potential employers. An even bigger issue is that the vast majority of jobs are never advertised; that's why you should put almost all of your job energy into networking. More important than what you know is whom you know.

If you want to work for a specific company, the key is to connect with a current employee. Stay in regular contact with your network so you're not asking for a favor once every couple of years. Periodically pass along a tip or an article, and think of it as putting money in the bank. If you must contact someone out of the blue, offer something in return such as an invitation to a lecture or a link to a Web site that might interest them.

Blogs can also be networking tools. Find blogs relevant to your industry that are written by professionals at the top of their career and become a regular commentator. Once you've developed rapport with a blogger, ask about career advice and job leads.

Pioneering spirit

These are just some ideas to help brighten the gloom and doom that appear on the news everyday. Let's get back to that good old "pioneering" spirit that helped our ancestors build this country.

The key is to become the change you want to see in your world, and to take responsibility for your own life.

Become the master of your fate and the captain of your own ship!

Commentary by Dr. Maureen Stephenson, a local author and owner of REMS Publishing & Publicity. Her column represents her own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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