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Maureen Stephenson: How to handle careers in a recession

Know The Score

Posted: February 13, 2009 8:30 p.m.
Updated: February 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Today, as in any recession, there is one thing you can count on and that is "change." As companies tighten their belts, reorganize and merge, preparing yourself for transition is crucial to your career.

Times like these make companies look at projects that create immediate revenue, so a long-delayed product launch can shift to the front burner and you may have to move quickly onto new projects. You must remain flexible and work with your project leader.

The company may need to reduce head count or implement a hiring freeze and either way remaining staff will have to take on additional assignments. Some of these may fall outside your normal role, so show a willingness to learn new skills. Your firm may even subsidize training, so ask your manager what is provided. In addition, help your boss by identifying tasks that can either be delegated or put on hold while you handle the extra tasks.

If you're fortunate enough to be working for a company that still is set to fill open positions, they may be looking to do this from within. This saves the cost of recruiting new talent and advertising, and could be a boost to your career. There could be an opportunity for you to advance within the organization.

If your company doesn't have a system for posting internal openings, maintain a strong network of contacts within the organization. This will help you hear of chances outside your department. Speak to your manager about a position that interests you and he or she can help you learn more about the job or support your campaign.

You may find yourself doing more reporting to your manager than usual because he or she needs to know how money is being spent. Don't be surprised to have to report how many hours were spent on a particular project and look for ways to save the firm money or improve efficiency.

Being proactive will show your manager that you have a "big picture" mind-set.

Tight times like these cause firms to sacrifice some celebrations, donuts at Monday morning meetings or smaller bonuses in an effort to reduce costs. Don't let the changes negatively affect your mood, and understand that these sacrifices need to be made to ride out the economic storm.

With all this said, the reality may be that some businesses may need to let people go. Nobody likes to hear about this possibility but you should be prepared anyway. Make sure that your resume is current, noting how you've added to the value of your company, and increase your networking so you'll be ready if you are forced to find another position.

When sprucing up your resume remember to "specialize" by focusing on a specific goal. Connect the key skills that you have to a "niche" and add additional skills that make you stand out from other job seekers.
In a market like the current one, employers have plenty of candidates to choose from, make choosing you the one with the right skills.

You should strive to be visible beyond your workplace, and present yourself as a "shaker and mover" in your industry. To do this network with others in your field by joining professional organizations, publishing a Web log relevant to your career or offering your experience to your readers.

Keeping your skills up to date should be a no-brainer but many professionals become complacent once in their chosen field. What many people overlook is that developing additional skills can go a long way in making you seem more valuable and attractive to employers.

Some of the skills that can always use honing are:

  • Social perceptiveness
  • Writing
  • Reading comprehension
  • Service orientation
  • Persuasion
  • Active listening
  • Critical thinking
  • Speaking
  • Learning strategies
  • Instructing

Remember that the economic downturn can also present opportunities.

Changes within your organization may enable you to learn marketable skills, take on new assignments or prepare for future advancement. By being flexible and open-minded, you'll demonstrate the ability to deal with any hurdle that comes your way.

Most importantly is the ability to stay positive and believe in yourself. Look at your layoff as a fresh start to find more rewarding work.

Maureen Stephenson is a local author and owner of Santa Clarita-based REMS Publishing & Publicity. Her column represents her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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