Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 9 — October 2001
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• Hiring Line •
How to Recession-Proof Your Career
The best time to prepare for the worst is before it happens
by Richard Ream

The new millennium has brought fresh meaning to the ancient Chinese expression "May you live in interesting times." Depending on whose numbers you like—and there seem to be no shortage to pick from—we have just escaped the classic definition of a recession by posting .07-percent growth in the second quarter, thereby avoiding 2 consecutive quarters of negative growth. To say we are not out of the woods yet would be an understatement equivalent to suggesting that California has solved its energy crisis. Ponder the following facts:
  • Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas tells us that since 1993 there have been only 6 months during which job cuts exceeded 100,000 in the U.S. Four of those have occurred since December 2000 and I'm certain that when these figures are updated for June and July, the company's estimate for the year will be close to a staggering 1 million jobs lost.

  • Silicon Valley Business, Inc. states that 406,806 jobs disappeared nationwide in the first quarter of this year. This compares to approximately 650,000 jobs lost nationwide in all of 2000.

  • According to several surveys of hiring managers, the majority now believes that the economic downturn will end within 12 months (28 percent) or in more than 1 year (23 percent).

  • 35,000 resumes are posted daily to
So the thunderheads appear to be still on the horizon, and as Yogi Berra once said, "It gets late early out there."

Don't Be Clueless in Seattle
Risk assessment needs to take place at both the macro (think company, industry, and competitive landscape) and micro (that's you and your department) levels. Corporate restructuring, mergers, and acquisitions can create a sea change in your otherwise calm world with the force of a tsunami. Some early signs to watch for are the following:

  • Senior management spends much more time in meetings with little information forthcoming in terms of purpose/results.

  • Major functions in the company are outsourced, facilities are closed, and inventory is reduced.

  • Middle management is turned down flat or grilled more closely when asking for additional funding or staff.

  • Your company's stock price is plummeting, its debt rating has been downgraded, or both.

  • Your boss no longer holds planning meetings dealing with any business issue or project that has a 6-month or longer implementation horizon.

  • Company focus has shifted from competing in the marketplace to serious cost containment.

  • Surprise! You have a new senior management team.
Of course, not all signs of a total collapse are as self-evident. And as we all learned during the go-go years of the dot-com economy (1995­1999), even turkeys can fly in a strong wind. But if we assume that we can read the tea leaves as well as most, it's now time to take a dispassionate look at our own vulnerability by asking ourselves the following questions:
  • Do I add more value to my organization than most of my co-workers?

  • Do people consider me enterprising and entrepreneurial?

  • Is my department highly regarded and involved in mission-critical work? It doesn't require the "sixth sense" to recognize deadwood.

  • Continuing on the movie theme, Jurassic Park III was a summer box-office hit. How does my company treat fossils—also known as workers over 40? Are they encouraged to grow and given the chance to achieve great things? Or are they simply dismissed as the unspoken reason things are in such bad shape and put on the road to extinction?

  • Do I work for a recognized leader in my company who can and will step up to the plate for his or her people and projects?

  • Do I know what I contribute to my company? Take some time to figure it out.

  • Am I a go-to person for problem solving and objective advice?

  • Do I involve myself in continuous learning and skill upgrading? If my job were currently an open requisition, would I get it?

Best of Times, Worst of Times
Maybe we should call it "A Tale of Two Economies." There's no doubt that if there's such a thing as an emotional economy, that emotion right now is one of anxiety. The good news is that job creation is still running ahead of layoffs overall and the shortage of talent and leadership is still a major problem for many companies. Another phenomenon of today's new economy is that the stigma of "losing" your job (now just where did it go?) happens daily to everyone. Been there, done that, or at a minimum have close friends and family whom I actually know and respect who have been through this.

The job-hunting resources available today are unlike anything offered during past economic downturns. A recent poll of job-seeking executives found that 97 percent used the Internet to research potential employers. And until fairly recently most job boards were the purview of techies and entry-level job seekers.

So you've done a realistic assessment of your current situation. Now what? Well, the Boy Scout motto "Be Prepared" is difficult to argue with. And there's no doubt the best time to prepare for the worst is before it happens.

Consider the following basic survival steps:

  • Yes, you really should have a current resume that you review at least every 6 months for clarity, focus, and content.

  • If change is imminent or upon your organization, try to get involved. Market yourself and explain how you can contribute rather than waiting for something to happen.

  • Don't job hunt sequentially. Pursue multiple paths until you're clear about what you want. Be honest and tell people that you're researching to find a good fit for you and your skills.

  • Don't go after vacancies, go after any place and position that interests you.

  • Explore all points of entry to a company with personnel being the port of last call.

  • Network, network, network! I know you've never heard this before and can't wait to try. Networking really doesn't have to be manipulative or a contest to see who can collect the most business cards at the latest pink slip party. It means staying in touch with former colleagues and past bosses and identifying people you like and respect. It's more about giving than getting and thinking about whom you've helped in the past. Seventy-two percent of upper-level jobs are filled through personal acquaintances or introductions. Yes, this can include working through a recruiter.
Reader feedback is always appreciated as are suggestions for topics you'd like to see explored in future columns. Remember the old Yiddish proverb, "If fortune calls, offer him a seat."

Richard Ream, formerly with KRI Dialog, is a principal in RMC Associates. His e-mail address is

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