Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Are We There Yet? Getting Ready for the Recovery

I’m asked continuously by job seekers and people in career transition how I see the job marketplace. The specific questions are: Are we at the bottom yet? How high will unemployment go? When will the recovery begin? When will the job market improve? And, what will the job market look like when things turn around?

This last question is the most pertinent and most useful. First of all, when I hear this one, I can see that people are looking ahead and are using their strengths in a positive way to envision where future opportunities will be. Secondly, this question indicates that people are putting their attention less on externals and (Does it really make a difference that unemployment is 10%, rather than 9%?) and instead are focusing on those things over which they do have control. That is to say, what can they do now to prepare themselves for when things turn around?

There are a number of things you can do to get ready for the recovery. You can make sure your resume is current and emphasizes your accomplishments, over and above what you are or were responsible for. Furthermore, it should paint a clear picture of your skills and the added value that result from those skills. Secondly, this is an excellent time to be enhancing or adding to your skill set. Take that class you’ve been putting off, read the book your colleagues have said is a must-read. Learning, whether through formal means or self-study, is fundamental to preparing for the recovery.

This is also an excellent time to be developing the habit of networking. I’m finding that people are very open to helping and advising others, so this is an opportune time to renew old contacts and make new connections. The key to networking is to make it a disciplined part of how you manage your career, regardless of whether or not you are in transition. You can also be scripting and rehearsing the story you will be asked in the not-too-distant future: “How did you weather the recession and what did you do to enhance your employability.” Practicing this now will build your resilience and make it easier to move forward in a clear and confident manner.

Finally, this is a great time to be working on what some have called “presence.” You can use your experience of being out of work or unhappily employed as an exercise in developing patience and persistence. You can learn how to stay calm and focused amidst the chaos and uncertainty that surrounds you. And, you can develop a sense of perspective when you recognize that no matter how bad things might be, this shall, as they say, pass.

Best wishes in preparing for the recovery.

Mark Guterman

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Cave

The entrance to one of the buildings where I work has just undergone a complete renovation. It’s now well lighted, with high ceilings and a very open and inviting feel. The other day I asked the security guard what he thought about the new entry and he simply shrugged his shoulders and answered, “It feels like a cave.” He wasn’t smiling when he spoke and I took his response to mean that he wasn’t entirely thrilled with the new entrance, beautiful as it now is.
That’s often how it is with change; even one that most would agree is an improvement. Almost no one really likes to change and most of us, no matter what we say to ourselves and others, resist change. The familiar becomes comfortable, creating a sense of stability. Just think of your current workplace, especially if business is not going well right now. This is the reason why people will stay in a miserable job or one where the boss is abusive, sometimes for years and then move on only when forced to. Homeostasis, our need to keep things the same and stay put, is powerful.
The challenge we are facing, however, is that the pace of change is accelerating and the changes we are faced with can often be dramatic. This causes a great deal of resistance, which in turn heightens our stress and anxiety. And as stress and anxiety intensify, it becomes more difficult to manage the demands we face each day. This process can easily turn into a downward spiral leading to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and possibly, depression.
So, how does one avoid this potential vicious cycle and instead make the process of change an ally? There are several things to do. One is to recognize and accept that change, big and small, is a fact in our lives. Next, once you fully understand this, you can then work to look for the positives in any change that comes your way. The security guard could have chosen any number of ways to describe the new entrance, other than as a “cave.” Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is to make change an opportunity for learning. That is to say, with every change, you need to pose the question: What does this experience of change teach me that will allow me to be more effective in the future?
One final note is to understand that all change, even the positive ones like a raise or a promotion, cause stress. This means that having a practice of stress management will serve as a preventive and can inoculate you to the negative effects of continuous and rapid change. Stress management techniques can include any or all of the following: regular exercise, getting plenty of rest, eating well, having someone to talk with about important issues, keeping a diary or journal, regular prayer or meditation, yoga . . . .
Best wishes in managing change.

Mark Guterman