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Saturday, 12 January 2008

Surviving job-market bumps

Whether you're in a weak industry or not, here are tips to stay ahead

By Andrea Coombes, MarketWatch

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Economists say the job-market is likely to slow in the year ahead. Should you be worried? Not really, said Cincinnati-based career consultant and author Andrea Kay, who operates AndreaKay.com.

The first thing workers should remember, Kay said, is that statistics don't necessarily reflect their own situation. "Don't jump [to another job] just because statistics are saying nobody is hiring."

At the same time, workers always should be prepared for things to change, even if their current position and job-market outlook appear rosy.

"Nothing lasts forever," Kay said. "It'll change because of whatever's going on in the market, because of economic factors, because of some event in the world, because of something you cannot predict."

Given that uncertainty, now is the time to think about preparing for your next job. The first step "is to know why you matter," Kay said. "If something were to change in your industry or your company, you need to know why you have value."

That means keeping notes detailing the moments when you make a concrete difference to your company. Ask yourself, "What new idea did I come up with, what relationship did I save, what process or procedure did I come up with, what thing did I develop that made the company increase customers or increase Internet traffic?" Kay said.

Track those moments. "These are things that you can take with you, and that you can transfer to another industry that might be aligned with the one you're in," she said. "A lot of people hardly ever think about this stuff, they're too busy doing their jobs. My advice is you better be tracking this stuff," she said.

"It sounds like a lot of work and it is, but there's a lot at risk" in not doing it, Kay said.
In the event of a job loss, "most people will be frantic. Even though the warning signs were there, they don't do the basics. But don't freak out, don't panic, just get your ducks in a row. Most people aren't doing that. You'll be ahead of the majority if you do that."

Job seekers' help line

For people currently seeking a job, a temporary advice line available later this month might be just the ticket. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the Chicago-based outplacement firm, offers advice free over the phone for two days each year. Job seekers can call in for help from the firm's job-search counselors.

"It's open to anybody who is looking for a job and is having difficulties and questions about how to do it," said John Challenger, the company's chief executive. "We get calls from all over the country, the whole gamut, from autoworkers to self-employed to mortgage bankers and lenders and sales people."

Note that the hotline does not offer specific job leads. "People shouldn't call thinking we can put them into a job. It's an advice line about the job search," he said.

"We spend our year working with people who are out of work, helping them find jobs. We've been doing that for a long time. We know the kinds of situations people face and what to do about them. But we're not a placement agency and don't have jobs to offer them," Challenger said. Also, Challenger does not seek new clients via the hotline -- the company only works with people who are placed with them by an employer.

The counselors at Challenger, who have helped nearly 40,000 job-seeking callers since the holiday call-in began in 1985, will be available Dec. 26 and Dec. 27, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central time. The call-in number is 312-332-5790. That is a toll number if you are not local to the area.
Rethink your title

Another tip to stay on top of the job market, Kay said: Don't let your title box you in.

"Quit looking at yourself as a title and start seeing yourself as a package of skills and knowledge ...who you know, what you know," she said.

"If you are a mortgage banker and mortgage banking jobs are not doing a lot of hiring in that field, then you feel stuck. You say, well I'm a mortgage banker and they're not hiring much, what can I do? It limits your own thinking about yourself," she said. Focusing on skills, knowledge and contacts will help you see beyond your title, possibly to other industries.
Also, "always be in learning mode," Kay said.

That means knowing what's going on in your industry, but also learning other skills that may help you get ahead.

For instance, "project management might be a skill that you incorporate into what you do. Just always be thinking about, 'What do I need to know to be up-to-date?'"

If you're considering another field, consider taking a course or two in that area rather than enrolling in a full-time program. "This whole idea of continued learning is an absolute must," she said.

"It's funny, because it's the whole mindset of learning and stretching your brain cells and exposing yourself to new information that will allow you to start seeing new connections in what you do," Kay said.

"It helps you to be creative, to see how to apply what you know into another discipline."

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