Advice for the employed: learn well from the struggles of your unemployed friends…
With the unemployment rate remaining at a record high for so many months, a lot of advice has been published to help the job seeker. But what about those who remain? They’re a group less likely to seek out career advice because they may not think they need it. Most just want to keep their head down, get their job done, and get through this recession unscathed.
While that strategy might be fine for this recession, it denies the fact that the economy moves in cycles. You don’t need a crystal ball to know that we will face another downturn. And you don’t need the Ghost of Christmas Future to show you what may become of you if you don’t start to take a more mindful approach to your career. Just look around at your unemployed friends.
Are you falling short?
1) Compelling skill set and contributions. Can they clearly articulate how they contributed to making money or saving money for their past employers? Did they continually innovate or increase efficiency? Or were they prone to accept things as they were?
2) Clear proof of expertise. Where’s the evidence that shows they’re one of the best at what they do and not merely average? What’s on their list of recent accomplishments? Have they been given increasing responsibility at a fast rate or gotten extra training? Are they recognized as an expert in their field?
3) Endorsements and referrals. Who referred them into the company? Are they known in the industry? Who can vouch for their work?
Build a foundation of skills and a strong base of connections
True career security comes when you can be plucked out of your current position, dropped off in the middle of an economic desert and still find your way to an oasis of job offers. And the only way to make that happen is to understand what will always be important to employers and reverse engineer your career to fit that expectation. In other words, build a foundation of skills, get involved in important initiatives, and develop a strong base of connections.
Do this for every job you have. Even if you’re starting out as someone’s assistant, seek out extra projects where you can fill in the gaps in your skill set and get to know people outside of your department and outside of your company.
And if you’re at the other end of the spectrum with years of experience under your belt, be careful that your skill set and your network haven’t become too specialized, useful only at your current company. Again, find extra-curricular projects to beef up transferable skills and meet new people.
Even if working for someone else isn’t in your long-term plans and you have dreams of starting your own business, these elements will be even more important.
You don’t have to map out your entire career, but as in chess, if you can think a few moves ahead and put yourself in the mind of the other player—your potential employer or client—you’ll be less likely to get boxed into a corner, and more likely to emerge triumphant.
Liz Lynch is founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online (McGraw-Hill, 2008). Connect with Liz on Twitter at @liz_lynch and get your free Smart Networking Toolkit at http://www.SmartNetworking.com.