May 24, 2022

Managing Your Career Up in Uncertain Times © Cici Mattiuzzi

Like it or not, the economy is shifting. If you are not paying attention you may find yourself in a stagnant position or worse.

When my daughter applied for summer internships during her freshman year in college she expected to be noticed just because she submitted her resume. “Won't they just call me? Can't they just see that I am good from my resume?” She was shocked to learn that she had to follow up multiple times and pursue potential employers more directly. She came to understand that just applying is not enough.

For career professionals hoping to get noticed for doing a superior job it seems to come as a similar shock when they learn that getting promotions and raises is a contact sport.

It is your responsibility to ask for a promotion and deliver supporting documentation. You have to learn how to lobby for yourself and share pertinent information effectively. If you are not managing your career - no one is. Period. If you are not capable of doing it - get some help.

I know you think that you can put your career on autopilot after you are hired. It would be so much easier if you could just kick back and relax - not having to think about job seeking or having to worry about your career ever again.

Imagine having a boss that has your back and your career growth in hand - making sure you are being paid progressively more as you gain experience, increase your expertise, and refine career essential skills; staying on track for 40+ years, and finally retiring in comfort with money to spare.

Yes, it would be perfect if you just did your job exceptionally well and automatically got raises and promotions.

That is as silly as it sounds. Yet that is precisely what many career professionals lull themselves into believing.

These Are the Rules for Managing Your Career:

Anticipate Change and Be Prepared. Most people can expect to change jobs about every three to five years and will most likely make a major career change three times in a lifetime. Even the most charmed life has disruptions.

There is a “seismic shift” currently occurring in the global economy. It is your job to anticipate the impending disruption on the horizon by analyzing information. The never ending effects of the pandemic, the crushing war in Ukraine, and rampant global inflation are now fueling layoffs and hiring freezes.

Just as they always do in turbulent times, corporate executives are rapidly reducing expenses. The first signs are out there. The C-Suite chatter is telling in its language – “slowdown”, “overstaffed”, “scaling down”, “cuts”, “layoffs”, “paused hiring”… The reaction has been swift and will most likely get worse very soon for a lot of people.

Salesforce announced a freeze on hiring last week. Netflix is going through its second round of layoffs; Facebook, Wells Fargo, Carvana, Wayfair, Amazon, Walmart, Uber, Twitter… all announced hiring freezes or layoffs or both… Pay attention! These are the ones on the front end of this oncoming train and they have exceptional economists and analysts tracking all of the pertinent data.

There will be losers and there will be winners… It will definitely take serious effort on your part to be one of the winners in this.

Track your successes. Create a Career Binder – hard copy or digital and maintain it. The info you track will help you support your requests when you are ready to ask for salary increases and promotions.

Include in your binder: 1) An ideas section; 2) An accomplishments diary with pictures of projects and/or products you have worked on; 3) A “problems encountered, problems solved” diary; 4) A regularly updated version of your resume and a cover letter template (people forget dates if they don’t keep track); and 5) A list of potential companies that you might consider allowing to employ you with research on each. Include companies that are competitors who would definitely be interested in your skills if you decided to test your worth in the open market.

Include government agencies on your list of possible companies. There are probably ones out there that hire people with your expertise. Government is slower paced, less demanding, and is easier for parents. There is a time when letting go of a high pressure job works. The benefits long term are also an important consideration. Government workers have pensions and they keep their health benefits in retirement.

Be proactive and be informed. Career planning requires being prepared for opportunity, embracing change, and some measure of continuous awareness on your part. Even in the worst economy opportunity is there if you open your eyes. It is about having a purpose throughout your career and finding the next thing in your trajectory.

If you are going somewhere in life and want to have a little stability, you will have to take over the control panel and push the right buttons at the right time to keep your career and your life moving forward. You cannot do that if you do not have information.

This is especially important as inflation takes an increasing bite out of your income and instability brought on by war, inflation, climate change, and the never ending pandemic. Today may look good but knowing your options is important.

You should be looking regularly at competitors and options by visiting (my favorite!), Google Jobs, and Indeed - all excellent sources to see who is hiring, job descriptions being posted, requirements… even just to know what the competition is doing and how much they are paying gives you a wealth of powerful information. If you see something that is a bit interesting - visit the company website and see if what they are doing is more cutting edge compared to where you are. Find out what they are paying and what interesting benefits they offer. Compare what you see in competitors job postings with your current situation. Are there things you should be negotiating for? Are there more interesting places to be where you would be more challenged and excited about when you start your day? Do they have lots of postings - which implies significant business and perhaps more stability than where you are?

Self-driven change can be really good for your career… People who work in a variety of companies often make themselves more versatile, are paid higher salaries and have more opportunities. Each time you move you are the new pro they hired rather than the kid who arrived after college and gets taken for granted and over looked.

A technical sales manager laid off from a large Silicon Valley high-tech company after 10 years was asked by every company she applied with why she stayed so long at her last job… Staying that long was a liability in an industry where change is constant and expected.

Motivation for change requires a sense that there is more for you and a discomfort with stasis. No one makes change if they are not at least a bit uncomfortable with sameness or going nowhere. Finding out what the competition offers just might motivate you to start applying to companies where you would be more appreciated.

Regardless, you need to know where you stand and you need to be proactive about managing your career whether you are making a change or not.

Always know your own worth. One of the more shocking things in life is discovering that the people who were hired after you and who are coasting along while you are doing double time are being paid more than you and being promoted to higher levels. They know how to connect and promote themselves… If you are not actively managing your career, someone who is, is going to lap you.

Ask. If you are in the private sector, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or the Act), gives employees the right to share information about their wages. Policies that specifically prohibit the discussion of wages are unlawful. If you work for the government in California your salary has been public information since 2009. The State Controller’s Office is required to make all state salaries public. The Sacramento Bee shares the information. You can also find all government employee salaries - city, county, state, on Transparent California.

Manage Your Manager. Start by finding the very best leader you possibly can, and tie your string to that kite. You should expect your manager to empower you to do your best by ensuring that you are well trained, challenged, knowledgeable, and with every technology you need to do your job. Your boss should work diligently to see that you are challenged and happy. The smart employer empowers you to do your job and encourages you to ever more amazing feats of brilliance. It may be that if you are having difficulties it is your boss’s bad.

Some organizations are dumping grounds for bad bosses and bad players. Bad attracts bad. Bad companies stay bad for that reason. Humans, given the power to hire, frequently hire people that look, think, and act just like them… making it pretty hard to turn the ship around and move it in the right direction.

If you find you are working for a bad boss - move! Internal moves are easier if your bad boss is an anomaly. If not change organizations. All you have to do is read the news and you know which companies are bad companies… They are the ones being sued or exposed for failure to create a healthy work environment - overworking, underpaying or ignoring harassment.

Maintain the Highest Ethical Standards. Sounds like a no brainer but doing the right thing is not always easy. Sometimes it puts your job on the line to stand up and refuse to do something that is unethical. Personal values and professional ethics are all too often challenged in the work environment. You will know it when it happens. Walk away. When USA Today, 60 Minutes, the State Licensing Board, the SEC or the FBI arrives you will be glad you weren’t part of it.

Never Stop Learning. It should go without saying but so often I see people who have stalled out… or attached themselves to a company that is locked in a time warp. Make sure your company is forward thinking and proactive in updating and changing. Then make sure you are current and up to date, continuously learning new things.

Hang around with the smart people, go to professional conferences, track down every learning opportunity that is available to you - technical training, security training, computer training, management training, communications training, customer relations training, conflict resolution training – go for it!

Get a Graduate Degree. Good organizations not only encourage you to continue your education but they will pay for your bachelor's and master’s degrees with tuition reimbursement and a bonus when you finish. You will have much more flexibility in a layoff situation if you are more highly educated than the next person.

If the worst happens and you are laid off then it is a good place to weather the storm and have a good answer to the next employer’s question ... What have you been doing since you were laid off?

Get Licensed. If your profession has a licensure requirement or option associated with it - get the license, even if it is not necessary for the organization you currently work for. It is a no brainer and it is an insurance policy for the inevitable ups and downs of the economy. The people with licenses are frequently the ones moving up or spared in a layoff. In addition, you will have more options if you get the license. You can always set up a home office in the backyard and go after business.

Maintain a Contact List. Keep in touch with other professionals in your field who work for other companies or government agencies. They will be your life-line if you need to move quickly to another job. They will also be a good resource when you are stumped by a problem. And if you set up your own business they will probably be your first customers.

Assume your co-workers want to help you so do not be afraid to ask for help or advice if you need it. If you discover a distinct lack of team spirit… you may be in the wrong place.

If you are an experienced team member - turn around and help the person behind you be a productive member of the team. One former student told me “I have several analysts that I work for. I love when I get projects from them where I have to learn something new that challenges me.”

Join Professional Organizations. This is the absolute best way to keep up with what is happening in your field. You will have access to information, legislation that affects your career, professional journals and newsletters that will keep you informed about all things professional - technological breakthroughs, emerging fields, political issues, licensing changes, and job listings.

You will also know when there are conferences and events that will put you in contact with other professionals in your field. This is soooooo essential to your success. You need to be able to connect and network with people who are in other organizations that might provide you with upward career opportunities.

Take on Responsibility. Smart companies in crisis look to keep the high performers. No one ever made a good impression by shirking responsibility. Stop hiding and volunteer for that big project. It will get you noticed!

Be Aware of Changes Around You. Read technical journals, business publications and a weekly news publication in addition to your usual news feed. Stay informed - big disruptive events rarely happen without warning.

Your job is to pay attention to what is happening in the labor market and the overall economy. Figure out right now what your next move will be both inside and outside of your organization. Stay informed about what is happening in your profession and in your industry. Keep abreast of the broader field you are in to identify areas of growth and companies that are innovating.

Pay attention to world news - global events wreak havoc on the economy - and your job.

Maintain a Solid Financial Cushion. When the economy is good it seems like it will last forever- it never does. Have a backup plan - a solid savings and investment plan goes a long way to helping you weather any storm that occurs. Have enough resources to last up to two years. It is as simple as spending less than you earn and paying off your debt immediately. Do both. You will sleep better at night if you know that you are covered even if you never use it. Let's face it - if you have ever been a starving student you have learned to live on less.

You got this! Now get on it!

Cici Mattiuzzi is the Author of ‘The Serious Job Seeker’ and the founding director (emeritus) of the Career Services Office for the College of Engineering and Computer Science at CSU Sacramento.