Top 5 Strategies For Surviving A Recession

Layoffs. Recession. Bad economy. Job hunting. Those are the topics around many water coolers right now. I was quite a bit younger but I lived through and tried to get a job right out of college during the recession of late 1970's and early 1980's. There weren't many jobs around when I graduated with a CS and Business degree but I did find work right out of college, something not all of my classmates were able to do right away. The present day media seems afraid to say we're in a recession but when mortgage defaults reach record highs, unemployment is on the rise, and banks are failing or being propped up by the federal government, it's a pretty good sign the economy is experiencing more than just an "economic downturn". During 2001-2004 we also saw a huge displacement of many workers in the IT industry as businesses worked to survive through the 9-11 terrorist induced depressed economy.

From those experiences, I've learned there are some things all of us can do to help your career, bring value to your employer and keep a job, or find one during uncertain and tough times. No one can predict for sure what the turmoil in today's financial markets will bring to the economy, or how long it might last, but it's a good idea to button up and focus on the work you're doing to give yourself the best chances of maintaining good employment. Rather than the typical "update your resume" and "make sure you're right with your boss" kinds of recommendations, I have some deeper strategies to help you keep yourself employed and bringing in a steady income.

1. Do you know what's important to your employer? In tough times, the frills are the first to go. Projects get cut and purchases are delayed. That means optional work gets eliminated, cut back or reallocated to other projects. The faster you recognize this, the better. Contractors and consultants are easiest to let go, but it seems that employers are much more at ease about letting employees go these days too, often times with little severance. If you're working on core systems, operations or infrastructure vital to the business operations, you have a much better chance of surviving a cut back. Beyond just core business operations, activities that bring in revenues to the company are also the place to focus. The more you understand about the industry you work in and how your employer makes money, be better chance you'll be able to understand what's important. Make sure you know what's important to your employer's business, really important, and align yourself with the priorities of the business.

2. What's the biggest value you bring, and are you bringing it? This might be funny to say but we don't always leverage our own strengths in our work situations. We might be branching out, trying new areas or may not even really know what value you bring to the job. If you don't know, ask and find out. If asking doesn't work, try something like the Strength Finders book, so you know you're delivering the maximum value to the business. Regardless of however you figure it out, make sure you're in aligment with those who judge the value you're bringing to the job.

3. Beef up those skills. If you've been procrastinating about learning that new skill or technology, now's the time to get off the pot and do something about it. Bosses love employees who are multidimensional and can help in more than one way. You might be able to do parts of three different jobs, compared to the person who gets laid off because they can only do one. Take your own initiative and your own time to learn those new skills. Buy a book, download some free software to use, set up software using free virtualization software if you don't have the hardware. Even if gaining these new skills doesn't end up helping you keep this job, it might help you get the next one. Time's a wasting, so get after it.

4. Differentiate: Go above and beyond. Rather than waiting around for the other shoe to drop, get busy and start going beyond expectations, going that extra mile, again and again. Managers love workers who are self motivated and produce an unbelievable amount of work. And there are employees who clearly deliver more quality output than others, and they're the first ones managers want to keep. Put in an extra hour or two per day, work on Saturday, and don't expect anything from it. Just do it, but make sure that extra time is producing more or faster results, and make those results visible. Just clocking in the time doesn't count. While those other guys are getting in an extra game of foosball during some free time, or cavorting around the water cooler discussing economic news or a buddy's layoff woes, you're kicking butt getting stuff done. You're boss will definitely notice.

5. Keep the network warm and don't be afraid to look. It's easy to pull into your shell, hunker down and just focus on the job situation at hand. But it's important to keep in touch with your network as people make changes, or move around. The hardest time to ramp up your network of contacts is when you need them the most, so invest in making sure you have a strong, up-to-date network. Tools like LinkedIn and Facebook are great tools worth the time you'll invest in connecting with other people. Invest an hour every night updating your LinkedIn network, refreshing the contact information in your Outlook contacts, or reconnecting with someone you haven't emailed in a long time. And don't be afraid to look for a new job during tough times, even if you currently have one. The irony of most businesses is that they are hiring at the same time they are laying people off. It sounds strange but it almost always seems to happen that way. So don't be afraid to keep your job antennas on the lookout for that next position, but don't do it at the expense of your current work unless it's clear things aren't going to work out there. The best time to find a job is when you already have one. [via networkworld]

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