by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
While no politician in 2008 dared use the “r-word” to discuss the U.S. economy — calling it instead a slowdown or period of reduced growth — we now know officially what we have known all along — that the U.S. economy is in a recession. However, the one thing that is certain is that the job market has weakened dramatically, with little hope in sight for a full job market recovery until perhaps 2015.
Obviously, certain industries and employers are currently struggling more than others, but if the economy continues its downturn, many other industries and employers will also face financial pressures.
The key is not to panic or make any snap decisions. Unless some major negative (and unforeseen) economic event happens, widespread layoffs are unlikely; in some of the worst economic times, the U.S. has seen single-digit unemployment rates (the highest of 9.7 percent in 1982) — and only a few points higher than today’s 6.5+ percent rate. On the other hand, it is never a mistake to be prepared and proactive about your career — because no one else will be if you are not.
So, in uncertain times — and really in any economic situation — what can you do to stay focused on your career and protect your job?
This article provides you with seven strategies to help you be prepared for any situation while proactively building what some experts refer to as your career capital — your value to both your current employer and future prospective employers — and what we refer to as building your brand.
1. Stay Alert to Grapevine. You need to walk a fine line here, because you want to be alert to insider information about your employer while avoiding getting too caught up in the rumors that often swirl around the water-cooler. And even more importantly, do not be the person identified as spreading any rumors.
Your goal should be to avoid the office gossips while staying alert to real information that could have a direct impact on your job.
You’ll build your career capital by being perceived as someone who is calm and cool under pressure — and helps calm others around you.
2. Dust off the Resume. At no time in your career — except when you’re ready to retire — should your resume not be current. Without question, in times of uncertainty, there is no excuse not to have an up-to-date resume.
Remember, too, that there is no longer any such thing as one resume. What you really need is a current framework for your resume — which you can then modify to fit any situation — or employer — you face. Your resume showcases your career capital.
If it’s been a while since you updated — or used your resume — review some of the key tools and resources in the Resume Resources section of Quintessential Careers.
3. Build Your Brand Internally. Ideally, you have already been implementing many of the strategies suggested here to make yourself distinctive (and ideally indispensable), but if not, now is the time to activate them.
Your goal is two-fold. First, to become a go-to person for vital projects. Second, to carefully (and tactfully) showcase your accomplishments so management understands your value to the organization.
If you have not done so already, be proactive in work assignments rather than simply doing your job. Initiate a conversation with your boss about other projects you could undertake for your department. Be the first to volunteer when the organization seeks people for new assignments, task forces, cross-functional teams — especially for situations in which the result could be an increased revenue stream or substantial cost-savings for the organization.
Follow-up with your boss regularly so s/he knows your on-going accomplishments — and not just at the annual review — especially if you work in a different location from the boss. Keep your mentor and other higher-ups aware of your accomplishments. In other words, showcase your career capital. [Need more information about mentors? Read this article.]
Gain more insights and tips in this article published on Quintessential Careers: Moving Up the Ladder: 10 Strategies for Getting Yourself Promoted.
4. Become a Company Man or Woman. In bad and uncertain times, especially if there have already been a round or two of layoffs, it’s easy to become disillusioned with your employer — but now is the time to proudly show your loyalty to the firm.
Never be heard or seen bad-mouthing the organization — and instead, be known for being a staunch supporter of top management and the direction of the organization.
Being labeled a company man (or woman) sometimes has negative connotations among your peers, but workers who have questionable loyalty to the organization will be the first to get fired — even before more incompetent but loyal workers. Loyalty matters that much, so make the effort to be both extremely competent and loyal.
5. Build Your Brand Externally. By working to become better known in your industry or profession, you will add value both to your current employer as well as to yourself. Position yourself as an expert by writing articles for a leading trade publication or Website. Become an expert on your industry with one or more of the social bookmarking sites (such as del.icio.us, digg, stumbleupon) and knowledge-based sites (such as squidoo, knol) .
Better still, buy a domain name (such as yourname.com), and build an online presence by publishing your resume and portfolio online. Take it one step further and start a blog (or at least contribute to an existing one) on a topic for which you are knowledgeable and have passion about.
One warning regarding building your brand — focus on building your reputation as an expert in a particular area, and focus all comments, quotes, and blog entries so that you build your brand while also promoting your current employer.
Learn more in the Personal Branding & Career Self-Marketing Tools section of Quintessential Careers.
6. Focus on Professional Development Opportunities. A hallmark of successful people is that they never stop learning more about their profession/industry/career. Dispensable employees are those who still insist on doing the job as it has always traditionally been done while indispensable employees are on the cutting-edge of their profession.
Find conferences that offer seminars in which you can learn new ways to perform your job — or do it better. Consider additional training, certifications, and degrees. Continuing education is required in certain fields (healthcare, education), but it’s truly vital to your professional growth and success as well — and not just for trying to save this job, but for yourself.
At a minimum, read your industry trade journals and books, but do seek out greater educational opportunities as they greatly enhance your career capital.
7. Network, Network, Network. One of the fundamental rules of career development is never stop networking, and never stop growing and expanding your network of contacts. Many folks think that networking is only for when you’re actively (or about to be actively) job-hunting, but the truth is once you start networking, you should never stop.
Remember, as you talk with people in your network, you’re not asking for a job or telling them the latest layoff rumor about your employer. The point of networking is the sharing of information. And yes, you can certainly build your brand within your network — and then use your network to communicate that brand to others.
Besides keeping in regular touch with your network, you should also be looking for ways to build your network, such as by attending trade shows or conferences and mingling. You can also build your network through online social (think Facebook.com) and professional (think LinkedIn) networking sites.
Find more strategies for using and building your network in the Career and Job-Search Networking section of Quintessential Careers.
Final Thoughts on Recession-Proofing Your Career
Following these suggestions and strategies should put you in good standing with your current employer, perhaps even getting you a promotion sooner than expected, and surely giving you a strong foundation in times of economic uncertainty. But these same guidelines will also make you a marketable brand with strong career capital on the job market when that time arrives for you to seek a new employer.
Please note, however, that several — if not all — of these strategies require that you have a strong respect for your employer and a passion for your career. If one or both of these is not the case, you should seriously consider — when the time is right — finding either a new job or a new career. You don’t always need to love your employer, but you need to respect it. And you should always feel a passion toward your career.
Finally, some experts suggest, as a hedge against suddenly losing all income, that in uncertain economic times that you look for other revenue sources — such as turning that hobby into a money-making business, selling stuff on e-Bay, or enticing a book publisher to publish your book. These suggestions are all sound, but attack these seven strategies first to guarantee your standing with your employer while growing your career capital and developing your brand in the marketplace.
See also these Job-Hunting During a Recession Articles for Job-Seekers.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.