We have enjoyed the benefits of the longest economic expansion in U.S. history – over 120 months of positive economic growth. Like all expansions, our current one will at some point slow and reverse, though, hopefully, not as precipitously as in 2007 – 2008. As we see possible signs of an economic slowdown, what are some of the things you can do to help secure your career? Though there is no panacea for such macroeconomic ills, the way you plan and work can help see you through. Here are five things you can do now:
- Grow Your Skill Set. Whether you are new to the workforce or a seasoned pro, it is always helpful to add to your toolbox. Early in your career, your prime directive is to learn, learn and learn some more. If you are lucky, your formal education has prepared you well to generally analyze and tackle a problem, but (unless you studied in STEM or technical disciplines like accounting) you probably have not been provided the tools you will actually apply in your employment. So, treat your first job(s) like an apprenticeship that will provide you the substantive foundation for the rest of your career. The more you know, the more value you can add for your current and future employer. This holds equally true at every stage of your career. In times of change, it may be that one extra skill you have acquired that differentiates you from your peers.
- Demonstrate Your Adaptability. Related to #1 above is your demonstrated willingness to take on new challenges and extra assignments. So, in addition to building your toolbox, show an eagerness to take on new challenges and pitch in when there is a need. You would be surprised at how often a fear of failure or a mere discomfort with something new inhibits someone from taking on a project. Be the one to step up. You will gain appreciation from others and more latitude from your bosses when you are learning on the fly. You will be known as someone who can be relied on in more difficult times.
- Make Yourself Indispensable. Own an area of expertise. Be the person on whom colleagues and clients come to rely. This trait builds on many factors – your skills, your attitude, your hard work and your judgment. In hard times, companies need to do more with less. By pulling an oar and keeping a cool head while navigating turbulent waters, you will make yourself an indispensable member of the crew.
- Continue to Build Your Relationships. Keep building your relationships. If you have not started, do so now. If you have been, double down on staying in touch and starting new ones. As a recruiter, I counsel my candidates and clients alike that maintaining strong internal and external business and personal relationships is the best long-term guarantor of success and security. These relationships are sources of advice, support, referrals, entrée and business. They help in so many ways and are an asset you can take with you. Whether in your current job or in transitioning, your relationships provide feedback, advocate for you, and provide introductions and opportunities for advancement. These relationships are often your best means to a new job. Virtually every senior executive I have encountered has had at least one significant job or professional advancement generated through a relationship. I am one of them and have had several. Look at the most successful people around you and you will find they are invariably excellent networkers. Networking need not come naturally to you; it can be honed through discipline and practice.
- Manage Your Expenses Wisely. At all times, but especially in times of economic uncertainty, you will benefit from making yourself a budget, saving some money if you can and managing your spending. Take a sharp pencil to what you spend and take an honest view in distinguishing what you need from what you want. You know what to do with the latter. Similarly, distinguish your fixed monthly costs – like a mortgage or rent and utilities – from those that are variable and can be changed. You know the old (but true) observation – you end up saving a lot by foregoing the $5 daily cup of coffee. I am reminded of former colleagues of mine from years ago. I noticed they started bringing in lunch each day instead of going out in the afternoons for $15 or $20 lunches. They did not do this out of desperation or failure; indeed, they were stars of the company. Turned out that their thrift was part of their saving to start their own business, which became highly successful and continued to thrive during our last economic downturn.
There is no one magic potion for job security when economic troubles hit. But there are steps you can take now to better position yourself for any turbulence ahead.