A Career Survival Kit
By Marty Nemko
The stock price of most major financial firms have plummeted and Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, Lehman, AIG, and Merrill Lynch have tanked altogether. As of this writing (10/22/08) The S&P 500 is down almost 30% from just one month ago.
The impacts, alas, extend from Wall Street to Main Street. How can you protect your career in increasingly shaky times?
Want to hold onto your current job?
If you’re working for an organization you like, the rules for staying employed don’t change in tough times; they just becomes more critical:
§ Are you as good as you think? Most people live in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone, where everyone feels above average. Alas, they’re not. And don’t count on your annual performance review to reveal what you need to know. Those reviews are often misleadingly positive if your boss believes that bad evaluations demotivate.
Instead, get a 360-degree evaluation: Tell the following to a few people: a co-worker, a boss, a customer, a vendor, etc: “Like all good professionals, I’m trying to keep growing, so I periodically ask for feedback from people I work with and respect. So would you anonymously mail me a bit of feedback: a strength or two, a weakness or two, and an overall evaluation: excellent, good, fair, or poor. To ensure your anonymity, just write the note in a standard font and drop it on my desk or in the U.S. mail with no return address.”
§ Be as much a profit source as possible. That usually means being line rather than staff: for example, sales rather than human relations, product manager rather than public relations manager. But it also means keeping your antennae out for ways for building the bottom line. Be sure you get credit for your ideas. For example, email a draft of your ideas to the staff for feedback and so everyone knows it’s yours.
§ Be indispensable. When Keating, the boss in The Fountainhead, complained of too much work, Howard Roark offered to do some for him. Keating became addicted to Roark’s help, which made Roark indispensable to Keating.
Other ways to be indispensable: become an expert at something critical to the organization. Sure it can be something obvious like being expert on the new software your employer just bought, but it can be more subtle. One of my clients is a middle manager in a government agency in which there is ongoing racial strife. She became the bridge-builder between the feuding factions, making her indispensable. That was especially so because, in a government agency, it’s almost impossible to fire even a very aggravating employee.
§ Do things to make your boss look good. Of course, in meetings give the boss credit as often as ethically possible, but also consider less obvious approaches. For example, write an article for a trade publication in which you describe the innovation your boss initiated. Or give a workshop on that innovation at a professional conference..
§ Hitch yourself to a star. Is your boss a crashing meteorite? See if you can effect a transfer to a shooting star. For example, if you see a star in the break room, say something like, “I’ve heard great things about you. If you ever need a little help on some crunch-time project, I’d be happy to help out.”
§ Become beloved. Even if you’re not the greatest performer, if you’re popular among your co-workers, most bosses will keep you to avoid dispiriting the others.
§ Don’t be expensive. In tough times, even if you deserve a raise and think you can get it, consider holding off. That way, if the organization later feels it needs to cut costs, you won’t stick out as expensive and thus ripe for cutting.
Looking for a job?
In a weak economy, nonprofits will suffer: people donate less when times are tough. Private companies will be ever more aggressive in cutting jobs: automating, part-timing, temping, and offshoring as many positions as possible. So, I believe the smartest choices are to:
Work for the government. If you’re not a self-starter, I believe the smartest choice is government employment, especially in health care, energy, racial and immigration initiatives, and in education (special education and community colleges should grow most.) These are political untouchables--they’ll always get funded and probably expanded under the Obama administration and liberal congress.
Start your own low-risk business. Examples: a small chain of food carts, parking-lot-based oil changing, and even my own career: career coaching.
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