Recession-Proof Your Career

A road map to resilience


Once upon a time in the world of work, professionals at all levels could expect to not only keep their position, but move up the ladder based on their dedicated service and eventually retire from the same employer with a good pension. Those days are history. And in fact today quite a different scenario shakes the lives of professionals in all organizational ranks.

How do you manage and recession-proof your talents within a global economy where constant technological and (thus) organizational change are commonplace? How do you sustain your career in a work world where there’s no job security?

Let’s take a look at two different approaches to career management that illustrate the answers pretty neatly.

Keith was a director at a telecom company who was blindsided when his position was eliminated. He’d noticed that his division wasn’t performing as well as in prior years, but concluded the situation was beyond his control and adopted a ‘wait and see’ stance. Keith didn’t update his skills — nor did he study for certifications in his field. He also didn’t have a clue about other industries where his skills could be applied. When he was laid off, Keith didn’t know where to begin.

Mary Anne, in sharp contrast to her colleague, continually remained one step ahead of the curve throughout her career. Not only did she heed the early warning signs in the division and study global industry trends, but she actively diversified her personal career portfolio. She continually expanded her skills sets, achieved professional designations, became a recognized expert in her field and carefully maintained her network. She also clearly identified her marketable skills, maintained up-to-date career marketing tools and became knowledgeable of the other industries to which she could transfer her experience.

Consequently, Mary Anne is well-positioned and armed with knowledge of her internal and external options, as well as tools to launch her search in advance of job loss. Her re-employment efforts were more focused, efficient and successful. Would you rather be looking for work with 15,000 others from your industry or three months in advance?

Unfortunately Keith didn’t fare so well.

In today’s ever-changing business climate, managing your work life requires vigilance. The basis of successful career management is the process of dealing with continuous change. Nothing can equip you better to manage change than adopting the strategy of exhaustive situational assessment — understanding and awareness of your total environment. Just as it’s an integral part of every pilot’s training, you can incorporate this basic principle into your own career management to optimize your career resilience.

Think of your career as a business and of yourself as the owner of that small business. Your career, in essence, is the product. Similar to any entrepreneur, you wear a number of hats that range from research and development to marketing and senior management.

For example, as R&D manager, you diversify your product offerings, develop new or improved versions of your products and identify new applications and uses. As product manager, you need to understand how your product measures up to the competition, what its features and benefits include and how to price it effectively. As marketing director, you must be constantly alert to industry trends within your industry and across others; you also need to understand customer needs and market changes over time. As sales manager, you create visibility for your product, introduce it to the marketplace, identify potential buyers and close the deal with customers. Finally, as CEO of your business, you’re accountable for overall product quality and effectiveness.

Just as any organization needs a business plan, so does your career. It remains in your control to develop a business plan and strategy for effective career management, to articulate your guiding mission and values and to define your product identity. Through this combination of roles, you build a career that will satisfy and better position you in the marketplace.

At the heart of your planning should be the knowledge you acquire of internal trends (your department, division or business unit) and company and external trends (your industry, related industries, and others). Become and remain informed about emerging trends and technology advances both within and outside of your company through research, courses, seminars, professional/industry associations, business publications and other sources.

Equally important is to engage in activities that boost your visibility and credibility in your profession — those pursuits that aid you in becoming a known entity in your field or industry. What are some of the avenues that will help you build professional status? They include:

  • Identifying your talents, expertise and interests as the basis for designing and executing your career vision.
  • Developing a strategy and game plan to turn your career vision into a reality, complete with a plan B in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
  • Maintaining a leadership role on committees, special initiatives or as a board member on professional, civic or community organizations that allow you to meet other ‘movers and shakers.’
  • Achieving recognition in your area of expertise through speaking engagements at professional meetings, conferences, seminars and other venues attended by those in your industry.
  • Authoring articles or books on business topics and being interviewed by the media in industry publications that are read by recruiters, hiring managers and other executives in your field.
  • Actively developing, expanding and maintaining business relationships and other contacts — keeping in touch periodically.

A proactive approach to planning, directing and managing your professional life — in terms of a new position, occupational direction or industry change — is how to recession-proof your career and avoid being caught unexpectedly in the tides of change without a lifeline.