Surviving the Topsy Turvy Job Market

It’s a funny thing about how I write this blog. Last week, I couldn’t stop the posts from falling out of my head. This week, it’s everything I can do to come up with just one decent idea. So today, I decided to reach out to my network for some inspiration. I put the call out on Twitter, of course. I got several great responses. Some of the ideas are going to take a bit more time to research and put thought into, but this one suggestion from @plabonte really stood out to me as something I could easily talk about. His suggestion: “The economy and tech…how to stay current and valuable in tough times to not get laid off”.

I was immersed in the high tech industry during the big tech bust. In fact, I was working at one of the largest and hardest hit corporations, Nortel Networks. When I started there in 2000, there were over 98,000 employees worldwide working for Nortel. When I left a year and a half later, there were 28,000.

As the layoffs started to rampage through our division, I watched as entire teams of people were let go around me. Every day I went to work wondering if it would be my last. I cringed every time the phone rang, thinking it was going to be my turn to head down to the HR office. But, I was fortunate to be one of the survivors. I lasted close to a year before I got a better offer and decided to quit.

I’ve been asked before what I think the reason was that I survived. I do think that a lot of it, at that time, had to do with the luck of the draw. But I also like to think that there were some behaviours that helped me to stick around as long as I did.

In this time of economic turmoil, people always say “there’s no guarantees”. But you know what? What I’ve learned is that whether the economy is good or bad, there are no guarantees. Anyone is at risk of losing their job at any time. There’s really no such thing as job security anymore. Sound depressing? It can be. Does it have to be the end of the world? Absolutely not. It’s all about finding ways you can try to gain some control of an otherwise uncontrollable situation.

Be a Valuable Employee
When I was feeling insecure about my employment status, I took it upon myself to be an even more valuable employee. Part of the problem with laying off 30% of a department in one go is that the workload doesn’t decrease by 30% to go along with it. So when times were tough, instead of complaining about it, I stepped up to the plate. I took on extra work, offered to help out people who were struggling, and did what I could to make sure I was making a valuable contribution. Sure, I ended up not sticking around. But, my positive attitude and extra effort won me enough points that I ended up forging a great relationship with my boss. Even though neither of us work there any longer, I’ve been hired by him many times since then for other projects. Why? Because I was a trooper, and proved to him that I could get the job done, even when the chips were down.

Have a Plan B…and a Plan C….and a Plan D
Feeling confident about your job? Well, what if you were to consider that every day you go to work could be your last day? It’s true – and it can happen to anyone. Never get too cozy has always been my job security motto. I have had jobs I thought were the best jobs in the world – great money, great benefits, great environment, great people…but even still, I always kept my resume up to date. I always went out and networked and let people know that I was seeking new challenges. Not that I was unhappy with my job – but I never closed a door. As a result, when the bottom did fall out on a few jobs, I didn’t have to work too hard to sweep up the mess. I remember getting laid off from a job, and on the drive home, I called my brother with the news. A few weeks before he’d told me that someone in another department was looking for a web content developer. I asked him for that person’s number, hung up that call, and phoned her right away. The next day I was in her office for an interview and the next week I started at Nortel. Always have a back up plan. And a back up plan to your back up plan too.

Consider Making the Break Anyway
Three times I’ve had great jobs, and quit them cold turkey. Once was when I worked for the community channel. After 7 years I gave it all up and went back to college. The second time was at Nortel, when I couldn’t take the stress of impending layoffs anymore and quit to take a better position elsewhere. The third time was when I quit my proposal writing job to start my company. Was it scary? Damn straight. Do I have regrets? Not in the least. If you are truly fed up with the job market, consider what you would need to do to break free of those corporate ties. Maybe you can start part time, building up a clientele in your off hours.  See how it goes. You may realize that you can find a market for your services or products and start a business that will survive the tough times we are facing. Always consider that you have the power to do what you want with your career. YOU ultimately hold the cards.

Develop Your Network
Now more than ever, we have the opportunity to build a worldwide network of people that can open our eyes to new career opportunities. Now more than ever, you need to be working on building solid relationships with people. Now more than ever, you need to secure your place and build your reputation in the online world. This is where the new opportunities are. You need to spend some time seeking them out.

Seek Opportunity in Adversity
Not only must you seek the opportunities in the online world, but you must seek these opportunities IN SPITE of the dark days ahead. Great opportunity often comes out of the most adverse situations. Don’t be dragged down by what’s going on around you. Stay positive, keep your eyes and ears open, and find ways that you can make a contribution. With the right attitude, you will be amazed at what can transpire.


Career, Job, or What You Do. What’s the Difference?

Back in the 50’s, when my parents were entering the workforce, choices were different. Many people dropped out of high school in Grade 10 or 11 and got a JOB.  JOBs were things like working in a factory or working for your Dad in his hardware store. Or selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. If you didn’t want to do any of those things, you could join the Army. If you were a woman, you had even fewer choices: you were either a housewife or you went to business school and became a secretary.

Getting a JOB in those days offered a few extremely important things. Benefits. A steady paycheque. Bonuses. Security. The makings of a happy life.

These days, we teach our young people to stay in school. Go to college. Get a CAREER.  I used to have a CAREER. I was a high-tech worker. It had benefits. It had a steady paycheque. It had bonuses. I falsely believed it had security. I gave it up.

Now, I believe that what I do for a living is not a JOB or a CAREER. These labels don’t fit anymore. Now, my work is what I DO. It’s how I survive, not just financially, but spiritually, and emotionally too. I knew I didn’t fit in to the corporate world. Oh, sure, I did a good job. I got just as many pats on the back as the next guy. But at the end of the day it meant nothing to me. I was doing it for someone else, and that left me wholly unfulfilled.

Perhaps we should be teaching our young people that it’s okay if they don’t want to fit into the mold of a CAREER. But more importantly we should be teaching them HOW to make it on their own if they want to. I certainly didn’t learn anything about owning a business in high school or even college. And that’s not right.

I’m not saying that everyone has to be an entrepreneur. Of course there is room for more than just the self employed. Otherwise, nobody would have any employees! But we need to be giving our young people options. We need to make them aware of all of the possibilities.

On the flip side, there’s nothing wrong with having a CAREER if that’s what you want. Case in point:

A good friend of mine has made a CAREER out of what many would consider a regular JOB. He started many years ago working at a convenience store. In fact, that’s how we met. I lived in the neighbourhood and was a regular customer. I loved watching my friend work, he was so happy in it. He loved helping customers, would strike up conversations with anyone. As a result, the store he worked at was like the social hub of the neighbourhood.  After about 10 years as a convenience store clerk, he moved on to work for a large retail chain – a job that pays more but is still, what some would consider, just a JOB. There isn’t anything else he’d rather be doing than working in retail, serving customers. He will absolutely be doing it until he retires.

I bet if you were to ask him, he’d tell you that his work isn’t just a job. It is what he DOES.