Introduction Career Whiplash
Any changes in your work life lately? You might be laughing right now, saying, “Where do I begin?” Whether you’ve been let go from your company, chosen to leave, are looking for something new, want to grow within your current company, or just want to hold onto what you have, the dynamics of the job economy have changed dramatically in recent years. Career whiplash is now a preexisting condition for most of us.
Despite this new job economy, with its sharp transitions, intense competition, and high churn rate, too many of us are using old career management skills. Regardless of your age, it’s easy to have picked up old expectations, old habits, and old mind-sets. If people around us are looking for work, we assume that how they’re approaching it is correct, right? Bad habits are contagious. Ask yourself:
• Do I look primarily for approved job openings, typically through the Internet?
• Do I keep my head down at work, doing my job without tracking marketplace trends and developing skills I’ll need to be in demand in the future?
• Do I strategically stay in touch with those in my network and help them even when I don’t need anything in return?
• Do I negotiate win-win situations to get the money and working conditions I want?
If you answered “yes” to the first two and “no” to the second two, you have old job skills with the attendant career risk. In the new job economy, learning the 5 best strategies will put you out in front, making sure you’re in charge rather than unemployed or stagnating. Out in front is where you want to be.
This book is your guide to the new rules for career management. Using current research and information gathered from more than thirty years of experience as a national career management consultant, I have identified and integrated results-driven approaches for people who want to develop their own New Job Security. Contrary to popular opinion, there is job security out there; its location has just moved. The New Job Security is centered in you, not in a company. It’s portable. Creating Your Neck Brace for Career Whiplash
It’s a good thing that job security is portable, because we’re moving a lot! The statistics in ExecuNet’s Executive Job Market Intelligence Report (2009) bring home our dramatic lack of stability. Executives expect to hold a job for 5.6 years and end up doing so for only 2.3 years. We think that we’ll work for the same company for 6.6 years, but we remain employed by that company for 2.8 years. What we plan for and what happens are two different things. The call for our own independent plan for job (or career) security is clear. Is the idea that you’re in charge new? No. What’s new are the ways that people find jobs, whether they are looking for a new position within the same company or trying to break into a company from the outside. What’s new is the economy, in which you’re a hot commodity one year and yesterday’s newspaper the next. What’s new are the demographics: boomers are finding themselves searching for jobs at middle age, and Gen Xers are discovering that the start-ups have stopped. What’s new is the idea that not only are you responsible for your own career, but that you actually have a significant degree of control over it. You have the ability to make your own career neck brace that will allow you to observe the rapid changes in the job market but not be subject to their collateral damage.
The experience of working with professionals like you--incredibly accomplished people who take the risk of trying new career management strategies to accomplish their professional goals and succeeding--is what drove me to write this book. Unfortunately, nobody teaches us career management strategies before we join the workforce and realize we need them to develop our careers. Even if you were lucky enough to pick up some basic strategies in college, those strategies have changed. Mailing your résumé directly to companies you’d like to work for and responding to published job openings, which used to be considered best practices, now often result in low yields and a high level of frustration. The good news is that you can change as well, and The New Job Security will give you the tools you need to manage your career effectively, not just for a single job hunt, but for your lifetime.
Learning to predict and direct most of the forces that affect your work requires taking a step back to see the big picture. First, see if you recognize yourself in the following scenarios. They represent forces that affect all of us. Then we’ll get into exactly what the New Job Security is, and how you can get it . . . quickly.
“What do you mean, a pink slip? Termination? Me? There’s been a mistake.” Gordon had been working for his employer for more than twenty years, had been promoted regularly, had received good performance evaluations, and was doing the organic chemistry work that he loved. This pink slip, which wasn’t even pink, had to be an error.
Sure, he’d seen his shares of stock in his publicly held company erode in value as earnings had slipped, but his chemical research was at the heart of the company’s products. They couldn’t keep the money coming in without the core products that Gordon’s research helped produce. The idea of his job being vulnerable to some of the changes he’d seen in other parts of the company was so foreign to him that he had ignored the tremors going through his own division.
“Why me? This doesn’t make sense!” But to his company, cutting Gordon made perfect sense.
Professionally, Gordon was in a holding pattern. He’d done most of his intellectual development in college, more than twenty-five years ago. He’d gone to work for his current employer shortly after finishing his bachelor’s degree in biology. He’d taken some workshops that his employer had offered, but not many, and only those on topics he believed would directly benefit his current work.
Staying in touch with professional trends outside the company had been difficult for Gordon. He occasionally read articles in professional journals, and he had taken some graduate courses in chemistry twenty years ago. He found professional association meetings painful, so he avoided them. “Too many people are standing around, and there is too much chitchat,” he said.
Socially, Gordon was a private person. He did his job and kept in touch with a small group of friends. At work, he wasn’t terribly interested in life in the other divisions, corporate politics, or company finances. He was only interested in his research, saying, “I thought if I just kept my head down and did my work I’d be safe.” That approach proved to be fatal.
If Gordon had taken the time to look up from his work, he would have seen two warning flags waving wildly in front of him:
• Most of the people who worked with Gordon had advanced degrees, a master’s or doctorate, while he had only a bachelor’s.
• His colleagues had degrees in chemistry, the department’s main focus; Gordon’s degree was in the less directly related field of biology.
Gordon had assumed that his increasing experience would offset his professional weaknesses, but his colleagues were becoming increasingly experienced at the same time, so when his company hit an economic speed bump, he was vulnerable.
Could Gordon have changed his direction?
Barbara was brilliant but had sharp edges. She worked for an organization that wasn’t planning to let her go because she could deliver hard messages that other people couldn’t about performance, compensation, and terminations; they also valued the diversity that she brought to her division and her twenty years of experience. Barbara, however, wasn’t convinced of her permanence when she called me in for coaching. She was shocked and angry that she had received a negative 360-degree evaluation and word-of-mouth feedback. The consensus was that she wasn’t a good team player and she wasn’t acting as professionally as she should for her level in the organization. Her lack of political savviness was proving to be her undoing, and her reputation was on the slide.
Head of human resources for a large division of her company, Barbara was used to reacting quickly. Fires on her desk were self-igniting; she could stamp out one and more would appear. Attending meetings with groups outside her division was required but not welcomed. More fires would ignite in the meantime. What Barbara couldn’t see was that:
• She was keeping her head down dealing with problems as they came up rather than prioritizing her time.
• She wasn’t delegating some of the more routine jobs to her staff as her work grew, and therefore she was not setting aside time to do the planning and strategy that was critical at her senior level.
• Her staff wasn’t helping her reputation. Between irritating people outside the division and not following through on certain tasks, several staff members were affecting Barbara’s reputation without her knowledge.
• She wasn’t widely known in her company and had no profile at all in her profession outside her company.
Barbara had become so comfortable in her job and organization that she had stopped thinking about staying awake to the outside world, continually developing her skills, or being conscious of how she was building support within her division and organization.
Could Barbara change her patterns?
Michael is twenty-six years old and, by all measures, he should be a hot commodity in the job market. After finishing his undergraduate degree in finance at a major university, he headed for an investment banking firm to get some firsthand experience. He followed through on his master plan to get three years of work experience before enrolling at a well-known business school for a master’s in business administration (MBA) degree that would make him eligible for some of the most prestigious and well-paying jobs available.
As the source of our economic wealth continues to shift from manufacturing to information and services, the “knowledge worker” continues to rule. Graduates of well-regarded MBA programs comprise a pool of knowledge workers that the world’s best companies target for bright, motivated hires. Michael put himself on the path that leads to these high-level jobs by enrolling in a world-class MBA program. When he started classes, however, he discovered that he had become a little fish in a big pond. He’s now in classes with people who are as smart as or smarter than he is. His first job successes have paled as the bar has moved higher. Having completed the first year of his program, he’s now competing for coveted summer internships at companies that could catapult him to long-term career success.
I met Michael in a networking seminar I presented to MBA students. He was clear about his own goals. “I want to be a consultant with a professional services consulting firm. I want to design strategy for Fortune 500 companies, become a partner, and reap the rewards.” What he wanted, he could articulate, but when I asked him, “Why should a company hire you?” there were five seconds of dead air. That’s a long time for an aspiring consultant. He hadn’t thought about the company’s needs. Most of his fellow students are targeting the same consulting firms, investment banks, well-funded start-ups, and a select group of other companies.
How is Michael going to get their attention and differentiate himself from the rest of the pack?
As you can see, controlling your career isn’t about age, experience, when and where you got your degree, or what your plans are for the future. It’s about attitude. It’s an orientation to the outside world. It’s learnable.
To evaluate your level of risk in your career stability, go to www.thenewjobsecurity.com and complete “Work Risk/Old Dog Analysis.” What Is the New Job Security?
The New Job Security is a work agreement that you make with yourself. You consciously decide to take the initiative in your work life, to set your own course for your current employment and future alternatives. No, this doesn’t mean that you’re going to tell your boss what to do and tell everybody else to get out of the way. It does mean that you will have your own professional goals and fallback plan. You decide how you’re going to play to win, and you tweak your strategy according to the cards you are dealt. As you transfer the control of job security to yourself, you’ll develop an overall strategy to help you get what you want from your work. You’ll learn how to develop a demand for your services, either at your current company or a new one, so you will always have choices. You’ll identify goals and the skills that you’ll need to reach them. You’ll develop backup plans to help you conquer the challenges that will inevitably appear. Anticipating change and being ahead of the game, positioned where you want to be before shifts in the economy or company occur, will keep you vital. Watch out world: you’re taking control and you’re going to make a difference.
Once you’ve created your New Job Security, you can:
• Move successfully within a company
• Move externally, with little trauma, to interesting alternative jobs
• Create multiple income streams, if you choose
• Shape your job so that it reflects your values and goals as well as your expertise
• Plan for your career transitions (including your eventual retirement) so they’re under your control rather than someone else’s
To achieve the New Job Security, you just need to become comfortable with the 5 best strategies that I teach in my practice, which thousands of people are now using successfully. Without these skills you are at a significant disadvantage, both while you’re employed and while you’re in transition. With them, it’s like being the only person to have discovered SAT prep courses when the exam is coming up. Who’s going to do better? The 5 Best Strategies
The order in which I’ve presented the 5 best strategies is not random. I begin by laying a strong internal foundation, move into more external concerns, and end with steps for negotiating the conditions of your new (or revised) job. If you jump straight to the money (Strategy #5: Negotiate in Round Rooms), you won’t typically have the base built yet that allows other to say “yes,” so take your time and work your way through them. Once you master these five strategies, you’ll continue to use them throughout your career to achieve the type of work life you want. (They’ll even work with your kids or partner, but I’m not going there in this book.) Send Clear Signals
Sending the right message determines your results. Of course, you need a plan before you know what your message is, right? If you’re reading this book, you’re going to have both. You will no longer say, “There are no job openings,” “I don’t have the right qualifications,” “I’m too old or young,” or “I can’t move up in my company,” because you’ll be sending out the more positive signal that you’re a catch. You have a lot more options than you realize. Market for Mutual Benefit
If you lead with the business needs of your “target markets” rather than your own needs (focusing, for example, on ways to increase their profitability rather than your interest in a promotion or employment), you will get their attention and differentiate yourself from the crowd. Using their vocabulary shows that you already understand their business at their level. Stop Looking for Jobs
The number of approved job openings is finite. The number of problems to be solved is infinite. Which category would you rather go after? Build Sustainable Networks
Developing networks wisely has taken some hits and changed a lot in recent years. Social networking sites have added to the noise and the pressure to nurture everyone in your network simultaneously. The goal is to feed and sustain a network that you select from the noise so that the members of your network are motivated to help you over the long term. Negotiate in Round Rooms
Negotiating strategies are simple and often require only that you use the right vocabulary at the right time. You can put them to work quickly, and you can use them for more powerful results for the long term. These alone will pay not only for this book, but for some nice vacations as well.
What’s the bottom line? The New Job Security comes from you. It is within your control, not your company’s. Does all this sound like a tall order? Actually, it isn’t. All 5 of the new strategies, which are illustrated in Jim’s story below, are learnable. And if you practice them until they come naturally, you’ll be prepared for change. You may even create it.
Jim leveled out the career roller coaster with impressive speed and skill. In his early fifties he left his position as a senior administrator at one of the world’s most prestigious hospital systems because his division had been restructured and it became clear that his work style wasn’t going to fit in with his new boss’s. He had always done a little consulting on the side to improve operational efficiencies for healthcare product manufacturers, so now was his chance to develop that business. He knew how to do it, so he did. Promoting a consulting business over several years came easily, but it didn’t bring the job satisfaction that Jim desired. He wanted to be part of a team, and he wanted a more predictable income, even though his current one had increased substantially.
Getting into a larger, for-profit company when you’re an independent practitioner with not-for-profit experience is a major challenge. He started out by doing a direct mail campaign, sending unsolicited letters to potential employers, and he got no results. Old dog tactics. Jim began to feel discouraged and trapped in the job he had created but didn’t want any longer. As he started learning and practicing new career management skills that oriented him toward marketplace needs, his results changed. He targeted where he wanted to be and what he needed to do to get there. He repackaged himself in both his verbal and written communications. He networked deliberately, not randomly. Within months, he had accomplished his goal: a job in the for-profit world, developing business in the new healthcare practice of one of the world’s fastest-growing information storage companies.
The story doesn’t end there, however. Within fourteen months, Jim was laid off. When a company’s cycles clash with an economy’s cycles, something is bound to give, and the most recent hires are usually the first to go. But Jim’s attitude was entirely different this time around. When he was given his termination notice, Jim had the presence of mind to be complimentary about his experience with the company that laid him off. He told the senior-level executive who eliminated his job, “On a scale of one to ten, this job was a twelve. Thank you for the opportunity to have been part of this team. I really enjoyed it.” The executive immediately started scrambling to find a way to save Jim from the list of those cut. Jim didn’t want to be saved if the rest of his department was gone, but he left with great references.
The layoff didn’t catch him off guard. Jim was tracking business, industry, and company trends long before the announcement was made. He had interviews lined up. He was much more competitive than before he took the job because he had created a strong network; developed new, highly marketable skills; and could clearly articulate how he would be an important part of his next employer’s success. Jim wasn’t going around to companies asking them what jobs they had open. He had a specific plan about how he wanted to combine his skills with targeted companies’ market opportunities and how he wanted to set them up to capitalize on emerging business. Companies were drooling over his ideas. By the way, the company that laid him off offered him a different job one month later. He was now in a position to negotiate his conditions. What would you do?
Let’s take a look at the 5 strategies that Jim used. His positive, externally oriented mind-set (Strategy #1: Send Clear Signals) kept him in touch with his markets both inside and outside his company, even when he didn’t need them. The ideas that he presented to companies as he was developing new relationships were based entirely on identifying and meeting their needs, not his (Strategy #2: Market for Mutual Benefit). Not waiting until there were official job openings but finding ways for companies to be more successful meant that people were eager to hear his ideas and create work for him (Strategy #3: Stop Looking for Jobs). He already knew the people and the companies that he wanted to approach before the cutbacks came at his company (Strategy #4: Build Sustainable Networks). He did not discuss compensation until a job offer was imminent, when he would have maximum leverage to negotiate for his personal and financial goals (Strategy #5: Negotiate in Round Rooms). Practicing these 5 strategies made Jim highly desirable. You can be, too.
When he learned new career management strategies, Jim’s results changed. Using his five new strategies he stopped projecting anxiety about work, he started planning and networking strategically, he identified work he loved doing and who was having problems getting that type of work done, and he discontinued his old pattern of sending out direct mail. As his information base and confidence grew, people sought him out. And he made sure that the skills he needed within his profession remained sharp. Whether it was new product knowledge or relationships with potential clients, Jim stayed in front of where he saw the growth coming. By the way, since the last edition of this book, companies are now chasing Jim. He’s a hot commodity. It worked.
What does the future hold for your career? People are looking for their next jobs and planning their careers in a whole new way. The five new strategies in this book are more subtle and persuasive than any interviewing tips or how-to-write-your-résumé ideas that you learned years ago, if you were fortunate enough to get any career training at all. The five new strategies go far beyond the concepts taught in outplacement seminars, alumni groups, and self-study programs. They will teach you how to develop yourself not only when you need a job, but also while you’re on the job and into an active retirement. Career management is no longer just a between-jobs task. It’s something you’ll want to adopt for the long term, and it is within your control. Welcome to the New Job Security.
Excerpted from The New Job Security, Revised by Pam Lassiter. Copyright © 2010 by Pam Lassiter. Excerpted by permission of Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.