10 strategies for job survival and career growth in uncertain times

These are tough times as I write this for you. I am certain that these bad times will pass and I am equally certain they will come again. In many cases, no amount of proactive career management can prevent bad things happening like lay-offs and prolonged unemployment. However, truly managing your career allows you:

  • To minimize and manage risk
  • To uncover and take advantage of key opportunities
  • And to respond effectively when the unavoidable occurs

So, what’s your strategy for survival and growth? Here are some ideas. And remember, it is in the doing and application of these that you realize their power.

How to Minimize Risk

 Become Indispensable  

Let’s invest a moment in thinking about how essential you are to your employer and / or to your customers. For most managers, the process of selecting which employees to lay off was a difficult task. Perhaps you have had to perform that duty. So, who gets picked for layoffs? This is not about non-performance or dismissal for cause. When the word comes down that head count has to be reduced by 1, 5, 20, 100 or 1000, who goes on the list and who doesn’t? How did you pick? Sometimes it is the most expensive employees. Often, cuts come from “nonessential” departments or departments where it is believed that head count can be reduced without an impact on getting product shipped or product sold. But at an individual level, who goes and who stays? Can you impact this decision? I think you can. Here’s how:


Be part of the solution:

Your manager has problems. The organization you work for has problems. So do your colleagues and the team that reports to you.  Find problems that you can solve and add as much value as you can.  You are embracing the fact that there are challenges and issues and that perhaps, it isn’t business as usual. Something needs to be done. Fires need to be put out. Processes need to be streamlined or reinvented. In some cases, solving problems requires attention and energy. Sometimes a decision. Others the discovery and implementation of a new way of doing things. Whatever it is, why not you?

Show your Potential:

If you aren’t growing, you are at risk. Often, managers and HR are more likely to keep people who they are invested in and who they have plans for. Employees who are perceived to still be on their way up. This is not an overnight solution, but behaving in ways and demonstrating clear cut performance One common weak area is around the leadership, coaching and development of people. You might be a performer in one aspect, but the organization might have issues with your people and leadership skills. Potential means having what it takes to grow into bigger leadership roles. The people side and leadership sides are non-negotiable. Another requirement of more senior roles is your ability to communicate and interact with other  department or business unit or functional heads. Again, this is often a stumbling block. When your job goes from becoming the business of your department to the business of the organization itself, a new set of behaviors are required. Be a source of strength to coworkers: Whether you are in a leadership role or not, you have the opportunity to be a source of positive energy to your coworkers. During times like these, we need that kind of strength and leadership. What if you aren’t leading a team, unit or organization? It doesn’t matter! Stop trying to be successful. Instead, focus on the success of those around you.

Expand your Relationship Base Across the Organization

If the only person who knows the good work you do is your immediate manager, you have a problem. Yes, sometimes are boss is our biggest champion. But more often than not, that isn’t the case. And your boss has their own career pressures. And their power within the organization is in flux. There is not getting around the fact that you need profile and you need relationships in other parts of your organization. Peer relationships are excellent. But even better are the peers of your boss as well as a level higher than that.
Your goal is to have important, influential people in your organization think you are golden and one of their most valuable employees.

Get Bold

One strategy is to have the courage to develop your brand. The reason I mention courage is that very few senior professionals feel comfortable “limiting” themselves. To them, definition and branding equate with narrowing and limiting. And that sounds scary. This is exactly what happens. In scary times (although frankly this is a common trap at any time), people want to keep their options open and be interested and available for everything and anything. The problem is that doesn’t work. When you get bold, you carve out a position in your market and you work on enhancing and promoting it. Not only will this give you purpose and meaning, but it will also separate you from the vast majority of folks who go through the motions. And, speaking from personal experience, it is way more fun.
Open up the conduits for people to find you

Let’s think about the concept of push vs. pull. Is one better than the other? In the case of managing your career, I recommend that you need equal portions of both. The average job search is focused on push. Push means forcing things to happen. You apply to jobs and approach targets and take the other necessary steps to find work. Those actions are important and when you get hit with a lay-off or you feel that cutbacks are imminent, you have no choice but to push, and push hard. What is pull? Pull is about attraction. A book came out acouple of years ago called The Secret and it garnered a lot of attention about this concept of attraction. Attraction really does work, but I am not recommending positive thinking. You generate pull by engaging in activities over time that create conduits and reasons for people to find and come after you with opportunities. Think of planting seeds. You are not sure which seed will end up being a strong tree, but you do know that if you plant the field, there will be trees that crop up. Let’s go back in time for a second to my days as an executive search person. One of the things that I noticed very early was there were many executives, from Directors to CEOs to Board Members who were fielding a regular stream of calls from headhunters, industry peers, investors and Board search committees. In fact, they had managed their career in a way that meant that they have never really had to engage in job search since landing their first job. Would you like that same sort of opportunity stream? It takes time and sustained activity to make that happen. Unless of course you can make news in a positive, compelling way in the short term. Who knows, the world may beat a path to your door. While you work on the long term, you can get started now. Invest some of your time and attention in opening up those channels and conduits. Implement strategies to ensure that you end up on someone’s call list when they have a need or asked to refer someone. That means networking as much as possible. Nurture your existing relationships and expand your network. Rather than haphazardly, build it strategically. Use selected online tools. And FYI, these actions are going to be far more effective if you have a bit of a brand, something that demonstrates that rather than being a commodity, you have a unique offering in the market. When you are a commodity, it is hard to find you. When you have a focus and a brand, you jump to a more exclusive short-list of competitors, for those places that really need and get what you do and what you offer.
Cultivate Your Reference List

If there is ANY chance that you might intentionally, or unintentionally be on the job market in the next year (and even if you think not), do yourself a big favor and invest some time developing and updating your professional and personal reference list.You have heard that business is about people and relationships. This is doubly important when it comes to your references. Sure, you can email a boss from 7 years ago out of the blue and he/she might help you out, but wouldn’t it have been better to have
maintained that relationship over time? Would the results be a bit better perhaps? This is not only a smart move in terms of being prepared, but it will also highlight potential gaps in your reference list in advance of the critical moment. In fact, ideally, I want you to look at your reference list as an opportunity, not a burden. What might it mean that someone is willing to be your reference? Obligation certainly. But in the rulesdrive, litigious world we live in today, probably more than that. How can you help them? Working again with former colleagues in new environments is a tried and true method of progressing your career.

Show some thought leadership this year


Thought leadership is the act of contributing to the intellectual evolution of your professional area or industry. But it might be as simple as championing a new process in your company and becoming the “guru” for that new (and hopefully important) area of knowledge. Being a thought leader is a powerful means of boosting your personal brand, profile and success. Here are some ideas for you:
–Write a white paper
–Do a survey and publish the results
–Champion a new, important initiative
–Conduct and write-up an analysis
–Blog on your industry or do a podcast
–Pose provocative, future-based questions
–Present to small or large audiences
–Study, research, investigate so that you have the expertise
Of course, most of these will not be applicable to your situation. And, you need to have a level of confidence that your department,
organization or market would welcome this sort of initiative.

 Update your resume

Yes, I know, so obvious. But, I am suggesting more… I recommend that anyone who has been in a job for more than 6 months should update their resume to include their current role. You never know who is going to call. Or what internal or external
opportunities might come around. (Or, what negative surprise might await you one Monday AM.) More strategically, the process of capturing what you have done and what you are currently working on is an important, ongoing career management imperative.
To do more than just dusting off your resume, consider…

–Getting a handle on your target market and how you want to brand yourself for this market.
–Focusing on outcomes, the difference you have made rather than solely on duties and responsibilities.
–Capturing your true professional strengths and putting them on the resume. Don’t be shy.

–Developing a summary pitch about what you offer and where you fit. You can’t and shouldn’t be all things to all employers, so don’t try. Figure out what you do and do very well, and capture that. It takes an investment of your time, but one that will pay off. Make
it part of your to-do list to boost your career for 2009 and beyond.
Cultivate Those Relationships

Almost all of the good things that have happened to me in my career were a result of managing and cultivating relationships.
Most people get jobs through people they know. Opportunities are usually created through networks. Your highest quality
references are not obligation-driven but rather relationship-driven. Mentoring involves a relationship. I noticed very useful behaviors when I worked in the high end executive search industry. Over the course of hundreds of executive searches, thousands of interviews and I don’t how many phone calls talking to people in a never ending quest to find the best talent available for our search assignments, I saw some executives and managers behaving in ways that produced streams of opportunity for them. Yes, they were talented business people. But there was more. They had taken the time to develop and cultivate relationships with other good people, and the network exchanged information. It was that simple. For most of us, our careers are not significantly impacted by hundreds of personal contacts. Usually, it is just a few key relationships that shape the course of our lives. Which relationships of course is the mystery. You need to plant a lot of seeds in order to get this benefit. Next time you have the opportunity to meet or talk to someone, go out of your way to make an impression.

There you have it, 10 strategies for job survival and career growth in uncertain times.  What strategies would you add?


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