Managing A Career In An Uncertain Economy: The Flexible Stance

By March 9, 2017Bitcoin Business
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Will your career have to change? The economy is changing rapidly and the Trump administration may accelerate change. It’s time to think about career flexibility.

Most of us change jobs and even occupations. The fortunes of companies rise and fall. Even the most talented and valuable workers may find themselves at a failing or downsizing company.

When I was young, there were television repair shops all over town. Today’s TVs are more reliable, and when they break we simply buy a new one. It doesn’t matter how good you are at repairing television sets; it is no longer a viable career.

You might be good at your job, get great performance reviews, and seem to have a bright future. But your company may downsize. It could be acquired by another company, with your job function consolidated at another location. Any number of things could jeopardize your job. How should you prepare for such a shift?

Networking is the first step, and it should begin well before the risk is apparent. That is, even if the company’s fortunes are excellent, make contacts outside the company.

A professional organization is a good starting point. Virtually every occupation has an organization of people who do that work and want to better their skills. Think of an association of purchasing managers or graphic artists. Improving skills is important but the contacts made even more so. Get to know people who do your kind of work at other jobs. The best new job I ever got came exactly this way. I told a fellow economist I had met through the that I was looking for a new job.

He replied, “Did you know that Ray is retiring?”

I talked to Ray, applied for his job, and a few months later replaced him. It was a far better job than I previously held.

Trade associations are additional ways to meet people. Whereas an occupational group’s members are do the same kind of work, a trade association’s membership includes people who perform a variety of functions within a single industry. Think of a banking association or a restaurant association.

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For a great way to network, volunteer for a committee at either a professional or industry association. You’ll make good contacts and quite probably become more valuable to your own employer.

In addition to associations, try to meet random business people every month. Reply to LinkedIn invitations from people you don’t know but who are geographically convenient. Suggest getting together for coffee and learn about the other person’s job and company.

If you ever go hunting for a new job, you will have a large list of people to contact.

You’ll probably get calls from headhunters now and then. Always take the call, but cautiously. An executive recruiter is a salesperson, typically paid on commission. The headhunter’s motivation is to get a person placed, not to improve your career. On the plus side, headhunters can be a source of great information. (After I wrote that, I spoke with two computer programmers who get so many headhunter calls that they no longer bother. If you're getting more than one or two calls a month, feel free to ignore some of them.)

In addition to making contacts, flexibility requires that you have the best skills used by the top performers in the occupation. If there is a new software package being used in your type of work, be the person at your company who volunteers to try it. Look for training courses and new projects that will build your skills. As I write, computer programming is the hottest occupation, but there are plenty of old programmers who have not upgraded their skills to the latest languages.

Flexibility and Occupational Change

Sometimes a big change is needed. It could be due to declining opportunities in the old occupation, or it could be an awareness that a different type of work would suit you better. Many career decisions are made when people are young and not aware of the many different types of work available. Don’t be embarrassed if it’s time to re-tool.

A flexible career strategy includes preparing for an occupational change long before it’s time to make one. The range of contacts that was suggested in the previous section applies here. The customer service professional who wants to become an outside sales representative may prefer to stay within the industry, so trade association contacts are worthwhile.

The early stage of an occupational change usually begins by learning more about the new field of work. Those contacts at other companies can be tremendously valuable. Give someone a call and say, “Can you introduce me to some of your company’s outside sales reps? I’d like to learn more about that job.” Most people like to help others, so take advantage of the opportunity to be helped.

The skills you develop in your first occupation can frequently help you in a second. Computer skills are highly transferable, as are communications skills. The ability to learn new subjects is also transferable. For instance, the customer service team may need someone to learn more about bitcoin, because customers are asking about it. Volunteer to learn more. Your next occupation may not have anything to do with bitcoin, but you’ll be a little better at learning new subjects.

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In general, try to learn as much about other occupations as you can well before you see a need for a change. Ask questions—people love to talk about their work. I’m continually amazed when people I contact to learn about something never ask me about my work in return. In some cases I could probably help them, but they don’t think to ask.

Anyone who accepts the premise that the future is difficult to predict will not bet a lifetime of income on picking the right occupation, in the right industry, in the right company. Be humble about your ability to know what the future holds, and develop broad contacts and broadly useful skills so that you are ready for whatever changes come your way.

(Portions of this article are reprinted from The Flexible Stance: Thriving in a Boom/Bust Economy; all rights reserved.)

Learn about my economics and business consulting. To get my free monthly newsletter, view a sample, then hit the pink box. I'm a great speaker on the economic outlook, futurist, strategist.

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