Fireproof Your Job In The New Economy: Be More Employable

Ten things to think about when it comes to your job

fireproof your jobThe economy is a little like the weather — if you stay around long enough, it will change. Whether it’s a bull or a bear market, it’s always a good idea to take a look at where you are in your present job to see if there are ways you can make yourself more employable — or at least less expendable. These tips are designed to help you audit your attitude about, and your aptitude for, staying employable and being nimble as an employee in the fickle world of work.

  1. First, there are no guarantees. “New economy” or old, there are never any guarantees that you’ll have your job for the rest of your life, till death do you part. Unless you’re in sales or in a top-level CEO position, few companies offer employment contracts. Being employed is an agreement to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and you settle up whenever you get your paycheck. No matter how collegial and “family-like” the atmosphere, don’t confuse work with family, unless you’re in a family business and your last name is on the company letterhead. Business is business.
  2. Make like a Boy Scout and “Be Prepared.” This isn’t to say the specter of doom is hovering over you and you should live in fear every day. Just know that no company, however stable it may be, is exempt from shifts in management, changes in structure or unforeseen economic trends. Your company could be acquired tomorrow… your boss could be transferred to Louisville… or the stock price could plummet, and then a lot of things are up for grabs. Assume you’ll need your network and nurture it accordingly, inside and outside the company.
  3. Keep your ear to the ground. Most companies don’t implode overnight. Be aware of what your company and your industry are doing. Read the business section of your local newspaper, or the Wall Street Journal, or surf the Internet to learn what your leaders are doing and saying in the media. Stay in touch with colleagues and make sure you’re tapped into the company grapevine. This isn’t a green light to gossip: just listen and stay alert to what’s happening around you. Take rumors with a grain of salt, but don’t ignore them if they’re persistent and do some quiet homework if you think there’s merit in what you’re hearing at the company water cooler.
  4. Keep your head above water. Sometimes it’s easy to get buried in our jobs, pressured by the day-to-day details. Don’t let this happen to you. No matter how much you love your job, you have a responsibility to develop yourself professionally and prepare for your next rung on the career ladder. Take classes and get as much training as possible, both inside and outside of the company, to keep your skills current. Most companies have tuition reimbursement for continuing education… use it. Participate in your industry association and get active on a committee to keep your knowledge and your contacts fresh. Teach a class if you can, even if it’s an in-service about your department’s resources to those people in your company who need and use your services.
  5. Keep your wits about you and don’t panic. If those rumor mills start to churn and you hear of a company buy-out, or if the news of a layoff reaches your company’s doorstep, do not panic. Take a deep breath and survey the land from a distance, getting as much perspective as possible. Do an assessment of your network: is it alive and kicking? Do you need to jump-start some of those old contacts? If you choose to do so, make it casual and without an agenda. And start thinking about some alternative scenarios to your present employment situation that might interest or excite you. This is also a good time to make sure you’re exercising and eating right. You might have to be “in training” for a job search and you want to be in shape and at your fighting weight, so to speak.
  6. Keep your resume updated and in the top, right-hand drawer of your desk at all times. Your resume should always be up-to-date and ready to fax, mail or e-mail, even if you aren’t actively job searching. You never know when you’ll need it. Whether your company’s fortunes are shifting or you get a call out of the blue from an industry recruiter, you should be ready to respond with a resume that has your present job at the top of the “employment” category.
  7. Keep a file or portfolio of your results and accomplishments, keep it current and keep it at home! Picture this: you’ve been given notice and invited to pack your stuff in a box that same day, then escorted to the door with a severance check. An ugly scenario, but it’s been known to happen. Even with two weeks or more warning, we don’t always have the time, or the emotional fortitude, to gather samples of our work. Without committing industrial espionage, keep a file at home that documents your accomplishments and results. Assume that someday, you’ll need it.
  8. Remember what your parents taught you about playing nice. My dad always said, “Be nice to people on your way to the top: you could be working for them tomorrow!” And guess what? He was right. People who play politics according to the organization chart sometimes forget that the org chart, like the rest of things in life, can change, and it often changes dramatically. That colleague you despise today may end up as CEO tomorrow, and people have very long memories. Use the Golden Rule to your advantage, and you’ll always have options.
  9. Make networking an on-the-job priority. We’ve all been taught to keep our nose to the grindstone, but just picture what that will get you. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay includes keeping your network current, so use company resources whenever you can within appropriate codes of conduct to keep your network humming. Take a moment and call an old friend and colleague to see how he’s doing… take a former boss to lunch and let her know how much you appreciated her contribution to you. Participate when and where you can in outside groups that support your company’s mission — chambers of commerce, economic clubs, and industry associations. It’s good for the company and it’s especially good for you.
  10. When life hands you lemons, open a lemonade stand. Corny but true… some of the most trying times in life test our true mettle. Staying nimble and flexible, like the willow, can help you withstand the winds of change. How many people do you know who said that a lay-off or getting fired was “the best thing that ever happened to them”? Change can be a test of faith. Make sure that you have a life outside of work to sustain you… family, friends, hobbies or interests and a support structure to get you through a job transition. And remember — it’s only a job.

About Vicki Austin

Career coach Vickie Austin launched CHOICES, a career coaching and business development practice, in 1997. Austin works with people to develop strategic plans that help clients with career transitions. A writer and lecturer, Austin has published articles on career development in newspapers, magazines and on the career Web sites of the Wall Street Journal.

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