It’s a Jungle Out There: Nine Career Survival Strategies

There’s no ques­tion about it: We’re still in a tough econ­o­my.  Busi­ness­es are reluc­tant to hire, employ­ees are still being laid off and many peo­ple are wor­ried about keep­ing their jobs.  In such a dif­fi­cult work­ing envi­ron­ment, what can you do to enhance your being seen as a valu­able asset to the com­pa­ny you work for?  There are nine basic steps you should imple­ment on a reg­u­lar basis in order to not only sur­vive but thrive, in your cur­rent career.

1)      Con­duct an annu­al per­son­al per­for­mance appraisal.  Per­for­mance appraisals help you eval­u­ate your strengths and weak­ness­es, and iden­ti­fy ways in which you would like to grow and devel­op in the com­ing year.  In many per­for­mance appraisals, you’re asked to iden­ti­fy  com­pe­ten­cies you’d like to devel­op fur­ther and the steps you’ll take to achieve this.  These appraisals are stan­dard oper­at­ing pro­ce­dure for some employ­ers.

If you are not required to con­duct a per­son­al per­for­mance appraisal at work, you should do it on your own.  Take the time to inven­to­ry your strengths and the areas where you could improve.   Plan spe­cif­ic action steps you can take to devel­op the par­tic­u­lar areas you’ve iden­ti­fied for improve­ment.  Sched­ule a time to meet with your boss and dis­cuss your thoughts about the actions you’d like to take to devel­op your com­pe­ten­cies. Seek your boss’ ideas and advice.  If you get stuck iden­ti­fy­ing your strengths and areas where you could improve or action steps, con­tact a career coun­selor for assis­tance in assess­ing your­self and forg­ing a spe­cif­ic plan for your own career devel­op­ment.

2)      Take charge of your own skill devel­op­ment.  In today’s econ­o­my, most orga­ni­za­tions expect their employ­ees to take action to devel­op their own careers –  the employ­er isn’t going to do it for them.  Once you’ve iden­ti­fied skills or com­pe­ten­cies you want to devel­op fur­ther, seek out a min­i­mum of six new learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties per year.  Choose new work tasks that will help you to learn these skills.  Take a train­ing sem­i­nar.   Attend a class. Vol­un­teer to assist with some project.  Look for ways to con­tin­ue to expand and enhance your skills.

3)      Assess the busi­ness issues fac­ing your orga­ni­za­tion or depart­ment annu­al­ly.  Fig­ure out what issues your orga­ni­za­tion or your depart­ment faces, now and in the future.  Is there any­thing you can do to help address these con­cerns?  Match these busi­ness issues to your skills to iden­ti­fy areas where you can make con­tri­bu­tions that will help your orga­ni­za­tion deal with the con­cerns it’s fac­ing.  The more you take action to help           your orga­ni­za­tion respond to its crit­i­cal busi­ness issues, the more indis­pens­able you will be.

4)      Build a port­fo­lio of sam­ples of your work.  One way to be pre­pared for a per­for­mance review, for a new job oppor­tu­ni­ty in your orga­ni­za­tion, or for a job change is to have a port­fo­lio of sam­ples of your work that you can show an employ­er.  Your port­fo­lio may con­sist of projects you’ve worked on, cus­tomer reviews, let­ters you’ve writ­ten, reports or pre­sen­ta­tions you’ve made or what­ev­er demon­strates the var­i­ous respon­si­bil­i­ties you’ve car­ried out on your job.  Cull through every­thing you’ve done on your job, cre­ate a port­fo­lio, and keep it cur­rent.  Be sure, how­ev­er, that you don’t put any­thing in your port­fo­lio that would be con­sid­ered “con­fi­den­tial” or “clas­si­fied” infor­ma­tion by the com­pa­ny.  Such a tool can be a won­der­ful reminder for your cur­rent boss of what you’ve accom­plished and, for prospec­tive boss­es, it shows sam­ples of what you can pro­duce.

5)      Stay com­put­er lit­er­ate.  This may sound like a strange point to make, since so many peo­ple use the com­put­er in some capac­i­ty in their work.  But, ensur­ing that you are up-to-date and can use the most cur­rent com­put­er tools is impor­tant.  For exam­ple, if being able to make Pow­er Point pre­sen­ta­tions or devel­op Excel spread­sheets would enhance your abil­i­ty to per­form effec­tive­ly on your job, get a book or take a train­ing sem­i­nar, and learn how to use Pow­er Point and or Excel.  Be aware of the com­put­er skills that your cur­rent or desired future job might require, and be sure you are trained in those par­tic­u­lar com­put­er skills.

6)      Keep up on tech­nol­o­gy.  This point ties in with the last point.  Fig­ure out what type of tech­nol­o­gy your cur­rent job will require in the near future and be sure to learn that tech­nol­o­gy.

7)      Learn.  Keep learn­ing about your field.  Many peo­ple get into a job and then sim­ply stop learn­ing about it, except through on-the-job expe­ri­ences.  In today’s world, this is a mis­take.  You need to look ahead, and learn and under­stand new infor­ma­tion being devel­oped about your field.  For exam­ple, it’s said that the “half-life” of an engineer’s knowl­edge is 2.5 years.  This means that, unless an engi­neer keeps learn­ing, what he or she knows about the field will be out­dat­ed with­in two and a half years.  New infor­ma­tion is con­stant­ly being gen­er­at­ed in every field.  Set a goal of read­ing at least two new books in your field every year.  Attend con­fer­ences, sem­i­nars and train­ing class­es.  Join a pro­fes­sion­al or trade asso­ci­a­tion so you’ll receive per­ti­nent jour­nals and infor­ma­tion about what’s hap­pen­ing in your field.

8)      Net­work con­stant­ly.  Don’t assume that because you have a job, you’ll have it for­ev­er.  The world changes con­stant­ly, so find ways to net­work with peo­ple in your field.  Par­tic­i­pate in local or nation­al pro­fes­sion­al asso­ci­a­tions.  Par­tic­i­pate on out­side boards.  Iden­ti­fy five to 10 peo­ple in your field you’d like to meet and then find ways to meet them over the next year.  Stay in touch with peo­ple in your field.

9)      Stay nim­ble!  Be pre­pared to seek employ­ment with a dif­fer­ent type of employ­er, or in a dif­fer­ent depart­ment with your cur­rent employ­er.  Remem­ber: you are more than your job title.  Define your­self by your skills and your inter­est areas, not by one type of job or one type of  orga­ni­za­tion.  Employ­ers look for peo­ple with skills, so think about the skills that you pro­vide for your cur­rent employ­er – ones that you could bring to a future employ­er if you had to change jobs.  Define your­self by what skills you can per­form for oth­er peo­ple and stay alert for orga­ni­za­tions that might poten­tial­ly use your skills.

Career sur­vival does not mean that you will stay in your cur­rent job for­ev­er.  It sim­ply means you will be tak­ing the nec­es­sary steps to make your­self as skilled and pre­pared an employ­ee as pos­si­ble, so that you will be high­ly val­ued by either your cur­rent employ­er or a future employ­er.  Know­ing what skills and assets you have, being able to artic­u­late those assets to oth­er peo­ple, and con­tin­u­ing to grow and devel­op new skills will go a long way to make you a high­ly regard­ed employ­ee.

Writ­ten and adapt­ed by Ele­ta A. Jones, Ph.D., LPC on Octo­ber 3, 2013 from a col­umn writ­ten by Dr. Jones and pub­lished in the Hart­ford Busi­ness Jour­nal, “Strat­e­gy Ses­sion”, on Sep­tem­ber 1, 2003, pp. 14–15.


Are You Presenting Yourself Effectively?

If you want that new job, if you want to move up in your orga­ni­za­tion, if you want your boss to give you new respon­si­bil­i­ties and chal­lenges, you need to be able to explain your skills and strengths effec­tive­ly.

Don’t expect oth­er peo­ple to know what you can do and, espe­cial­ly, don’t expect oth­er peo­ple to know what you can do for them.  Don’t expect your boss or any hir­ing man­ag­er to read your mind.  Hav­ing won­der­ful skills and pos­i­tive aspi­ra­tions are great attrib­ut­es but they make no dif­fer­ence for you in the work­place if your boss doesn’t know about them.

San­dra, who worked in a large cor­po­ra­tion, came in for career coun­sel­ing because she was unhap­py in her job.  She liked the com­pa­ny she worked for but felt bored and unchal­lenged in her work.  She didn’t know what she want­ed to pur­sue next.  Through career coun­sel­ing, she became very clear about what her skills and strengths were and what she want­ed from her next job.  Based on her new knowl­edge about her goals and skills, she iden­ti­fied a job open­ing in anoth­er com­pa­ny and applied for it.

When San­dra was offered the job, she told her super­vi­sor that anoth­er com­pa­ny had offered her a posi­tion.  He was quite sur­prised that she want­ed to leave the com­pa­ny and asked her why she was think­ing about leav­ing – what she was look­ing for in a new job.  Based on all the infor­ma­tion about her­self that she’d iden­ti­fied in her career coun­sel­ing, San­dra was able to tell him very clear­ly and explic­it­ly what exact­ly she want­ed in a new posi­tion.

Her boss was thor­ough­ly impressed by her clar­i­ty.  As he said, “I’ve nev­er heard any­body explain so clear­ly what they want in a job.”  He asked her to hold off on her deci­sion for a cou­ple of days and soon returned to offer her a dif­fer­ent posi­tion in the com­pa­ny that matched what she want­ed from her pro­fes­sion.

Too many of us, like San­dra, make the assump­tion that our boss knows what we do in our job and how we want to devel­op in the future.  We assume our man­ag­er is clear about our skills and strengths.  Often your super­vi­sor has an idea about what you do but isn’t think­ing about what your strengths are and how your skills could best be used in the orga­ni­za­tion.  Nor can he or she spend a lot of time think­ing about how you might grow in the com­pa­ny.  Pre­sent­ing your strengths to your boss and help­ing him or her see how your skills could be used in new and dif­fer­ent ways is your respon­si­bil­i­ty.

Three key steps you can take to help your boss under­stand your strengths and how your skills could be used include:

1)      When you com­plete a project or suc­cess­ful­ly fin­ish an impor­tant task, be sure your boss knows about it.  Send an e‑mail explain­ing what you have done and what the out­comes were or hand your boss a writ­ten sum­ma­ry of the project and what result­ed from it.  Show your boss the prod­ucts devel­oped as a result of your efforts.  What­ev­er way you choose to share, keep this infor­ma­tion short.  You’re not try­ing to swamp your boss with infor­ma­tion.  You are com­mu­ni­cat­ing the good effects your efforts are hav­ing.

2)      When you meet with your boss for an annu­al review, come to the review pre­pared to present your spe­cial skills and traits effec­tive­ly.  To do this, pre­pare a typed pre­sen­ta­tion that lists the activ­i­ties and projects you have com­plet­ed on your job dur­ing the pre­vi­ous year.  Present this list and then use it to talk about what you’ve accom­plished, what your skills are and what skills you’d like to be using more.  Dis­cuss with your boss infor­ma­tion about how you’d like to grow and devel­op and what new chal­lenges you’d like to assume.  Don’t expect that you will imme­di­ate­ly be moved into a new posi­tion but, if your strengths and goals are clear­ly described, you are giv­ing a strong indi­ca­tion that you want to be con­sid­ered for new chal­lenges or posi­tions as they arise.

In some sit­u­a­tions, and with some boss­es, you may decide that it would be advis­able to give your boss your typed pre­sen­ta­tion about your activ­i­ties and projects pri­or to meet­ing with him or her – so that your boss has time to review the infor­ma­tion before meet­ing with you.  You need to decide whether it’s more effec­tive to bring the infor­ma­tion to the review ses­sion or to share it in advance.

3)      Be cer­tain to use spe­cif­ic exam­ples when­ev­er talk­ing with your super­vi­sor about your skills and strengths.  Whether you’re try­ing to con­vince your man­ag­er you have lead­er­ship skills so you’ll be cho­sen to lead a project at work or whether you’re inter­view­ing for a new posi­tion, in addi­tion to telling the man­ag­er that you have these skills also describe spe­cif­ic times you used these lead­er­ship skills.  Giv­ing spe­cif­ic exam­ples makes your abil­i­ties clear­er, more rel­e­vant and more mem­o­rable for the per­son lis­ten­ing to you.

Mov­ing up in an orga­ni­za­tion or into a new posi­tion requires speak­ing up for your­self in an effec­tive way.  You have skills and strengths you would like to use so be sure the peo­ple who can influ­ence your career path know about them.  Iden­ti­fy­ing your unique pos­i­tive traits and match­ing them to appro­pri­ate work is an impor­tant part of being suc­cess­ful and sat­is­fied in a career.  How­ev­er, iden­ti­fy­ing and effec­tive­ly explain­ing your spe­cial traits and skills to oth­er peo­ple makes all the dif­fer­ence in ongo­ing career suc­cess.

Writ­ten and adapt­ed by Ele­ta A. Jones, Ph.D., LPC on Octo­ber 1, 2013 from a col­umn writ­ten by Dr. Jones and pub­lished in the Hart­ford Busi­ness Jour­nal on Octo­ber 28, 2002, p. 16