Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Career Proofing

Today's SideWise Insight is a reminder that in uncertain times, it's always wise to "career-proof" your job environment. This piece is focused on Federal employees, but there's good advice here no matter what field you're in.

In the career services field, it’s not uncommon to meet people who haven’t looked for a job in literally decades. They are long out of practice, their skills are rusty, and it’s often a desperate job situation that has driven them to this extreme.  Such people often have a difficult time in career transitions, even though they often have tremendous skills and experience to offer.

A job isn’t a marriage, so continuing to date a little on the side isn’t cheating.  The job, let us note, has not made a marriage commitment to you.  It is a professional relationship that may be very pleasant and very successful, but it is situational and capable of being set aside by either party in the event circumstances change.

Job hunting is not just the narrow activity of sending out résumés in response to vacancy announcements and going on interviews when asked.  After all, at certain points in your career, you may not actually want another job.  Should you still job-hunt?  Absolutely yes, although the job-hunting activities a career-proofing strategist uses in such a case may be different.  You don’t want to be caught unprepared in case of an emergency, and you don’t want to miss that perfect opportunity when it reveals itself.

Keep up with the market.  Whether you are actively seeking a new position or not, you should always stay up to date with what’s actually going on in your field, in your agency, in your market, in your private sector equivalent, and in other agencies that employ similar specialists.  What newspapers or newsletters cover your areas?  What websites or professional organizations or other resources can you follow that will give you the news?

Read postings in your field; track job offerings in various agencies and programs to see what kinds of skills are in demand, and what kinds of skills are on the wane.  That’s often a good leading indicator of the kinds of skills you should work at acquiring.

Check whether Federal publications are released covering agencies and programs that concern you.  Monitor Congressional committees whose work impacts your agencies or programs.  Which lobbying groups or public interest groups focus on issues that have an impact on your field?  (Don’t only study the side with which you may sympathize; learn about the other side(s) as well.)

Remember that “lunch is a verb,” and use some of your lunch hours as networking opportunities.  Try to expand the number of people with whom you lunch at least occasionally just to trade general gossip about what’s going on.  While you don’t share confidential information, of course, there’s a great deal of general information that can be shared quite appropriately.

As you develop your sources and your network, you’ll find yourself increasingly in demand as someone “in the know,” and knowledge is an important ingredient in practical political power.  What is most interesting is how it makes you more effective at your job and in your organization as well.  In-the-know people understand the bigger picture.  They tend to have influence.  They can get things done.  They often panic less when bad news (or bad rumors) happen.  And valuable news sources are valuable to their bosses and others in the organizational hierarchy.

Adapted from “Federal Career Development: A Strategy Guide,” by Michael and Deborah Singer Dobson, from The Federal Résumé Guidebook: Second Edition, by Kathryn Kraemer Troutman (JISTWorks, 1999; article copyright © 1999 Michael Dobson). Current editions are available from The Résumé Place at http://www.resume-place.com/books/.

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