Stay Alive: 10 Career Tips to Win in Bad Times.

career-tipsI know - things are bad out there and you're worried about your position. Firings are capricious and no one knows where the axe is going to fall next. Based on many of my current client sessions and 20+ years of management and coaching, here are 10 productive actions you can put into practice to solidify your position. 1. Don't drink the Kool-Aid. The news is sensationalized and fear sells. Things are rarely as good as they seem and things are rarely as bad as they seem. If you allow yourself to give in to the news, you will determine your destiny. When people tell me about the bad economy, I tell them “I have chosen not to participate. So let's get to work.”

2. Reach out to your contacts - NOW. Past and present contacts, colleagues and friends are the lifeblood of any career (“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”). The ’robustness’ and recency of your contact list is a great barometer of your career’s health.

  • Call your closest contacts & colleagues and ask them how they are. Listen. Don't talk, offer help. Have lunch, drink coffee, and strengthen those contacts!
  • Send birthday or ‘just for being you’ cards to keep in touch and make them feel special. No one does this and it makes the recipient feel special.

3. Focus on what you do best. You need to present a extremely positive persona to management - this is the time where they might be looking at cutting the bottom 10%.

  • Be a partner to your boss - ask for more work. No one really does it and you will stand out as a “can-do” member of their team.
  • Come in early or stay late (or do both!). The perception of a hard worker is a valuable one during bad times. In addition, you might be there when your boss comes back from a grueling exec meeting and needs help with the newly assigned project.
  • Be smart and flexible - look at all of your activities and projects - which ones are more important and which are the ones that can be shelved, streamlined or retired?
  • The 80/20 rule comes into play - make a list and then review with your boss.

4. Keep your ear to the ground. It is essential in down times to have a clear picture of where your company’s revenues and expenses come from. Companies are retrenching and focusing on the areas that will deliver the highest ROI.

  • Stand back and see what projects, departments, or people are slated to be cut.
  • Ask questions, read industry journals/blogs, and keep up on the business news.
  • Track your company on the web - sometimes you hear something that isn’t currently communicated in your company. But take it with a grain of salt.
  • Listen to what your colleagues are saying - but don’t accept it as gospel. Also, don’t add to the gossip or play “what-if” scenarios with them - it will waste time.

5. Look at your “product”. It’s IMAGE, IMAGE, IMAGE. How do you clothes look? How does your hair look? How do YOU look? Hate to say it - it’s perception people. Not only when people first meet you - it’s when they work with you day in and day out. Critically look at yourself and see what you might need to change and how you would go about it.

  • Always dress one step above everyone else. No excuses. If everyone is casual, you wear country-club casual. Ensure that your clothes are made of the highest quality and are regularly pressed and clean.
  • Spend the money and go to a better barber/stylist. I don’t have much to work with and I still go to one of the most expensive barbers in the area. He makes me look as good as I can.
  • Do you need to tone your physique? Hit the gym - watch what you eat. It’s that simple.

6. Connect with new people. The best defense is a good offense. This may be a sports cliche, but right now, it rings true. Now is not the time to go into hiding, based on fear of the recession. It’s the time to ramp up your networking, personal public relations, and marketing to actively remind people of your presence.

  • Go to associations, meetings, conventions that are associated with your profession.
  • Not only will you meet a lot of engaging people, you will re-energize your batteries AND your might get a lead on a great position!
  • Set up coffees and lunches with people that you don’t know, but want to know. We all have people that we admire - reach out to them - take them to lunch. They eat just like you do! And what is the benefit? They are always on the lookout for new talent!

7. Review your resume. Too many people let their resumes grow old gracefully. When they really need them, they have to scramble and cobble together a mish-mash of experience that no one really wants to read. You need to get your resume in order NOW. So some tips:

  • Use a professional resume writer. They should run $200-$400, but you will get an incredible document that sells. Call me - I know the best!
  • Keep it concise. Unless you have been in the business for 30 years or are a CEO - keep it to 2 pages or less. Again - people are looking for someone who can say less with more impact - your first chance is your resume.

8. Get financially fit. One of the biggest worries people have during downturns is losing their job. They crawl into a hole and hope for the best. Usually, it is financially motivated. How would you feel if you had six months worth of available funds if you suddenly lost your job? A little bit better? A little bit more confident?

  • Start now. Having 3-6 months of current income stashed away in a cash account (savings, money market) will allow you to act normally during times like these.
  • Worst case scenario? If you do lose your job, you have 3-6 months of full-time looking to find a new one before you begin to really deplete your savings. In addition, you probably will get some type of severance with COBRA - so stop worrying!

9. Talk with your boss. During an economic downturn everyone is skittish and hungry for information. You’re wondering how the company is doing, whether the team is vulnerable to layoffs, or if the strategy for the next few quarters has changed.  Even if the situation is tight, being upfront with your boss about your concerns creates and reinforces an environment of trust.

  • Catch them at the end of the day - sit down and just converse with them. During a pause ask (in a very light interrogative tone): “So how are we doing? Is there anything we need to worry about?”. Your boss will probably open up and tell you info that normally they would not tell the team. Try it - it works.
  • But if you have a boss that tends to keep information or hide things, watch their body language - if their eyes look downward or away from you when talking - they might be hiding bad news.

10. RE-vision your career. I love downturns in the economy. Why? When executives get scared, they get going and they get SMART. They begin to look at everything they do - how can they use time more effectively? If the company is losing customers, where can they find new and different customers/clients?  Take a step back and RE-vision your career - understand your key interests and strengths and investigate new opportunities in YOUR marketplace.

  • Are you still a hot commodity on the market?
  • If yes, great - get out there and sell YOU to potential new bidders.
  • If no, you need to re-vision your career - measure your capabilities and apply them to the NEW marketplace. I know of a lot of realtors, hedge fund managers and financial planners that are doing this right now.

You need to partner with an expert and co-create your new career vision and direction.  So get going!