Insights of the Unemployed – The Rules Have Changed

7 Mar, 2009 | by


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I just celebrated the six month anniversary of being in transition.  That’s the vogue way of saying unemployed these days.  Like many, I was recently down-sized, or as I was told to say, my position was recently eliminated due to a re-organization.  However you word it, I am out looking for work.

Reflection is inevitable during this type of life change, and I find myself looking back at the “rules” of Corporate America and how they seem to have changed. You know the ones I mean, those unwritten truisms we all know and try to live by, yet never saw in any handbook.  I thought I would offer an updated perspective during these uncertain times, from the other side of the paycheck.

Before I begin, let me say, I am not an expert.  I am not a career coach with formal training or special insights into the job market.  I’m just a guy, like many of you, making some observations based on my journey.

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Stay Put – While I am not condoning jumping jobs like someone would skip stones, the old logic was longevity mattered.  I was with my firm for over twelve years and I had a great ride with tremendous opportunities.  If you have a solid opportunity with potential for growth, I applaud you.  If you are feeling uncertain, or your industry is the topic of congressional debate, you might want to keep a few thoughts in mind.

  • Companies looking to reorganize or cut costs will not weigh seniority as strongly as skill set or cost savings (this probably doesn’t include union shops). Your loyalty will not guarantee surviving a round of layoffs.
  • Searching for a job is a skill, just like project management or balancing a budget, and it never hurts to hone a skill, especially before you need it. While many have “feelers” out these days with the state of the economy, job searching is time consuming and requires great organizational skills. I found exactly one job in my life, through the want ads. (Remember those?) I know people that never wrote a resume who are now out searching. It doesn’t hurt to check out the grass on the other side of the fence before you get tossed over it.
  • Broader experience is a good thing. I spent amazing years at a Fortune 500 retail company, but that’s what I know. In a competitive job market like this one, specializing in a single industry may not work in your favor.

Staying put might be comfortable, but ask yourself if this truism still applies for your situation.

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Make Your Boss Look Good – No, I am not saying that this no longer applies, just that you may want to think of things more broadly.  With re-organizations, you never know how things will shake up.  Today’s boss might not be here tomorrow.  Yesterday’s peer could be the boss of tomorrow.  Or, you could end up reporting into a senior executive that has no idea what you even look like.

While it is still important to make those in higher positions “look good” with your work, it is also key to find ways to self-promote.  If you are accomplishing things and only your boss knows it, you may be seen as more expendable.  I wouldn’t start sending out broadcast emails to the company entitled “Look What I Did,” but perhaps you can work with your boss to increase your visibility and exposure to leadership.

So yes, you should always work to make your boss look good, but remember, no one is out there working on your image but you.

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There Is No I in Team – I love this one and it connects really well to the idea above.  Serving on a team is a skill.  It’s easy to be an individual contributor; you succeed or fail on your own merits.  But to participate on a team and do it well can be a great opportunity.  While it is critical to play well with others (and never run with scissors), you also need to find ways to stand out.  How?  Volunteer to take point on getting deliverables done.  Keep your supervisor updated on how things are going and your contributions to the work.  Educate your department (if appropriate) on the work that is being done, it will make implementation easier.  And ask questions.  If you are confused about something, I am willing to bet someone else on the team is also, and just to shy to speak up.

Like our last rule, it comes down to building your image and reputation in the organization and you can’t count on a project leader to do it for you.

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Don’t Burn Any Bridges – While the fantasy of telling certain co-workers or your boss exactly what you are thinking may cross your mind, reason will hopefully prevail (a few deep breaths help).  But any time you have the opportunity to burn a bridge, you can also build one.

What did you do with the last farewell email you got from a colleague moving on?  Did you wish him or her well?  Did you save their contact information?  Building bridges provides you a strong network, which is essential in any job search.

If you reach that moment when it is your turn to leave, especially if not by your choice, how you exit says a lot about you.  While it may feel strange to empower others to do your work (especially while you’re still sitting there), leaving a mess won’t serve you well.  And as strange as it sounds, down-sizing and re-organizations are stressful on the people that remain.  How you end your employment, approaching the situation with grace and sensitivity, is just as important as coming in your first day bursting with enthusiasm.  What’s the reward?  Networking contacts galore with a group of people that know your skills.

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Work Harder – Let me ask you this, who do think will fair better in these times of uncertainty, the guy at his desk at 10 PM or the guy that figures out how to do the same work yet leave by 5?

So we return to shifting the way we think.  Innovation is crucial to individuals and organizations during this time of economic natural selection.  It really is about working smarter, not harder, finding the opportunity when one isn’t apparent.

These are just a few of the truisms out there.  Would doing anything different have changed my circumstances?  Probably not, many times change is inevitable.  But now might be the perfect time to start asking yourself, what are the rules you try and live by?  Do they still apply?  Or is there a different way of looking at them to help you achieve?

6 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Brian Gibeault
    March 8th, 2009 at 1:07 am #

    I like the points you made. At a former job I once had to deal with a boss that hogged all the credit. It was not a lot of fun, but everything came out in the open when, while at a management meeting and presenting a new system I had just put together, he was asked a couple of basic technical questions that he had no answer to. I had to be called into the meeting to explain how this new system worked with our affiliate company.

    He continued to try and take credit for various projects, but nobody really believed him after that day. But without a circumstance like that, it can be difficult to get out of a shadow.. so to speak.

  2. Rich Vinhais
    March 8th, 2009 at 7:20 pm #

    Great post David! Thank you for sharing your insights and personal story.

  3. Barry D
    April 14th, 2009 at 8:58 am #

    Great article, always thought but never published.

  4. Michael Neamontis
    April 14th, 2009 at 5:24 pm #

    Very interesting and true perspectives. I can certainly relate to the issue of ‘visibility’ within an organisation. I think this was the major factor that I struggled with in my last role. Had I increased my profile, I think I would of been in a better position to have held my position. You are in charge of your own self promotion as no one else will really do this for you. You need to do it in a way that feeds your bosses self interest but gets you and your work in the spotlight of his peers and senior management. Its a case by case proposition.
    Thanks for sharing your views David.

  5. hey
    February 21st, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    This is the perfect blog for anyone who would like to understand this topic. You know so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa). You certainly put a fresh spin on a subject that’s been written about for decades. Great stuff, just great!|

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