Success Builders Inc. Article of The Month
Summer, 2001

Be Prepared

(Note to readers: I'm taking my own advice here and taking a bit of a vacation break, so this article is for the summer season rather than a single month. Please enjoy. We'll return to monthly articles starting in September!)

By Barbara Poole, M.S., MCC


What a difference a year makes. It seems like only yesterday that we were riding the crest of a booming economy with nothing but good news. Unemployment was low, the stock market was climbing through the roof, and the dot.com world was leading the pack in business hypergrowth. My, how times have changed!

Turn on Bloomberg Business News these days and you’ll hear a different story. Not only are financial and industry forecasts much more pessimistic, we’ve all personally had the opportunity to see our stock portfolios and 401K’s plummet in recent months. There’s nothing like watching the numbers on your quarterly reports going in the wrong direction to drive this fact home.

In spite of our knowing that the economy is cyclical, this reversal in trends is a sobering reality that seems to have come as a shock to many people. Just as we were settling into letting the good times roll, the gravy train came to a screeching halt.

One inevitable by-product of this pattern is that we’re once again seeing downsizing in the news. Call it “right-sizing”, “organizational restructuring” or whatever you want, the impact is still the same when it’s your job that gets eliminated. Don’t think it can happen to you? Neither did the folks at Cisco Systems, 3M, or Dell Computers.

A study released by the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on April 26 reported that layoffs increased by 25 percent during the first quarter of 2001 as compared to the same time frame a year ago, and that reductions in force are likely to escalate.

Despite the panic and worry that occurs when a layoff hits close to home, there’s one real positive that I’ve observed over my years as a career coach: The vast majority of the time, people whose jobs have been eliminated go on to find situations that are much more satisfying and rewarding for them. I can’t tell you the number of times clients have said to me, “I wouldn’t have wished for my job to be cut, but I have to say that it’s the best thing that could have happened to me.” It’s as if finding themselves suddenly unemployed gives people permission to explore a career transition that it was time for anyway.

Still, it can be emotionally upsetting and financially disruptive to go through that period of time when you’re “in between” jobs. And it typically comes as a shock for most folks, even when they’ve known that their employer is in a downturn and there’s been talk of cost cutting and tightening the belt.

So what can you do to be prepared for the volatility that’s out there? Even if you love your job and your company is doing well, it makes sense to balance the good work that you do every day with a little foresight to protect yourself if things should happen to change. Call it an “insurance policy” if you will, here are some tips designed to maximize your options and your marketability if you should suddenly find yourself in the job market:

1. Stay connected. Make sure that you nurture your networks and stay visible in your professional community. It’s a lot easier to call on people for help if you had lunch with them last month vs. haven’t talked with them in three years.

2. Keep your resume up to date. The resume is the basic tool for job-hunting. It’s like a business card – you want to be able to provide it not only to prospective employers, but also to your friends and colleagues who could act as referral agents if the need arose. And it’s much easier to update your resume from time to time than it is to create one from scratch.

3. Stay abreast of what’s happening in the marketplace. Yes, I know you’re crazy about your job and you’re not looking to make a change, but it’s important to stay on top of who your target companies might be if that change suddenly became an involuntary reality.

4. Know how you add value. You should always be able to tell someone, very succinctly, what you bring to the table that is unique and valuable. Some people refer to this as the “elevator speech”, meaning that you should be able to effectively convey your information in the time it would take for an elevator to go from the top floor to the bottom. Call it a commercial if you want – it’s important.

5. Continue to develop professionally. Part of how you add that value that you can describe to people in elevators is by staying on top of your game. The shelf life of knowledge and information becomes shorter every day. So it’s important to acquire new skills, keep up with developments in your field, and make continuous learning a high priority.

Be prepared. It’s not just the Girl Scout motto; it’s also words of wisdom for a crazy marketplace.

©Barbara Poole, Success Builders, Inc., 2001

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