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.