The worst of the Great Recession may be behind us, but a full recovery is far from a sure thing. If there is one clear take-away from the May 6th stock market slide or the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, it has to be just how tenuous the global recovery is. With many states still churning out a steady stream of home foreclosures and small banks’ books still laden with unhealthy assets, it seems that at any moment the other shoe could drop. Indeed, many prominent economists are forecasting a “double dip” recession in which output slips back into negative territory following a short period of positive growth.
Economic prognostications aside, one thing’s for sure: We are living in uncertain times. Don’t wait for the next downturn. Start building career resiliency today. The following 10 steps will help you enhance your value to both your current and future prospective employers, and ensure that you are prepared for whatever the broader economy throws at you:
- Improve Your Attitude – Don’t be seen as someone who is down on the organization. Put on a happy face and avoid engaging in gossip or negativity. Be publically supportive of management decisions and the direction of the organization. While you may incur suspicion and the resentment of a few disgruntled peers, in the long-run your loyalty will pay-off. Happy and loyal employees are less likely to be laid off than unhappy workers whose loyalty to the company is questionable.
- Work Hard – Most senior-level managers get an early start, and so should you. Arrive at work early and stay late when necessary. Not only will this give you an opportunity to prepare for the day ahead before the email begins to fly, but it will also create an opportunity for quality one-on-one interaction with your supervisor. Coming in 9-to-5 and just doing your job is not enough. Look beyond your job description for tasks that can have a measureable impact on the organization, especially those that tie-in to your manager’s accountabilities.
- Make Yourself Visible – Take advantage of opportunities to build your professional reputation both within your organization and beyond. Build your online persona by authoring an industry blog and connecting with others in your profession. Contribute ideas to team meetings and cross-functional brainstorms, and volunteer for key initiatives with broad organizational impact. Meet with your supervisor regularly and make sure they are made aware of your accomplishments through delicate self-promotion.
- Broaden Your Prospective – Think beyond the immediacy of your day-to-day job functions. Understand your organization’s long- and short-term goals and tie your own projects and initiatives back to key strategic priorities. Consider the organization’s competitive landscape and emerging market pressures, and focus on bringing in new business and growing revenue.
- Have a Contingency Plan – While loyalty is important, it would be foolish to put all of your eggs in one basket. Don’t ignore the possibility that you could at some point find yourself unemployed. Keep your resume up-to-date, and craft a generic cover letter. Maintain a list of your professional accomplishments, and be careful to return calls from recruiters, even if you are gainfully employed. You never know when you’ll need them. Finally, maintain a home office and personal email address, so you can hit the ground running in the event that you find yourself without a job.
- Keep an Ear to the Rail – Be alert to insider information, especially strategic decisions that could signal new opportunities or have the potential to impact your job security. Stay apprised of the organization’s financial health, without participating in gossip or water cooler talk. If the organization is reeling in benefits or cutting back on travel reimbursement, it may be a reflection of the organization’s overall financial health. If you suspect a wave of cutbacks is coming, don’t do anything rash. Get job-hunting materials in order and proactively about research which companies in your industry are thriving. Then use your connections to identify potential points of contact.
- Network, Network, Network – Even if you are not looking for a job, you should be careful to cultivate and maintain relationships both within and beyond your organization. You never know what doors will open, so stay in touch with former bosses and co-workers, and build your online network through social media activities. The business world is not a meritocracy. Professionals who are well-connected and well-liked are more likely to be offered new roles, more likely to be promoted, and less likely to escape the axe should the organization decide to downsize. It’s a lot easier to ask a favor of close contacts and those with whom you have kept in touch.
- Take Advantage of Professional Development Opportunities – Read articles, attend workshops and establish mentors in your industry, or pursue a graduate degree or specialized certification or credential to show your employer that you are disciplined and serious about career advancement. Successful people never stop learning.
- Tread Softly - Know your boss’s communication preferences and hang-ups, and tailor your interactions appropriately. You should know whether they prefer email, phone or in-person meetings; how frequently they like to touch base; and whether they are looking for executive summaries or copious detail. While it’s o.k. to disagree or express a difference of opinion, know when to back-off. If you make a mistake, own up to it. Apologize immediately, but don’t beat yourself up. Assure the affected parties that you have taken the necessary steps to mitigate the damage, and then move on. Before you notice, your transgression will be forgotten.
- Add Additional Income Streams – Consider consulting, taking on freelance work or starting an ad-supported blog on the side. Not only will you enhance your reputation as an expert in your field, but the side money will help cushion the blow and sustain you in the event you are presented with a major career setback.