As the economy worsens, more companies are making deep cuts in personnel — and many IT workers are bracing for the axe to fall. But it may not come to that, especially if you take steps now to increase your value to the organization.
When the economy is bad, we worry about our jobs. And although most of us would like to think we're indispensable, our employers may disagree. Here are 10 strategies to put you in control of your career and help you avoid becoming a downsizing target.
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1: Show value
Let's face it: If you are not adding value to your employer or your clients, there is little reason to keep you around. To put it another way, not adding value to the company is one of the fastest ways onto the layoff short list. Since this is what you're trading for a paycheck, constantly be asking yourself if what you are doing is adding value —and if it isn't, what you can do to begin adding value.
2: Stay current
Just because technology may become obsolete, that doesn't mean you have to go with it. Even if your job is the support of legacy systems, staying (or getting) current with newer technology increases the options your employer may have when it comes to leveraging your abilities. Besides, being stuck with legacy support is generally not a great long-term career strategy, and should the worst happen, the newer skills may help you land another job more quickly.
3: Network internally
People think about networking when looking for a new job, but don't forget to network within your current place of employment. It is a great way to find out about, and get a lead into, opportunities in other areas of the company.
It can also be a more subtle way of making the right people aware of skills you can or would like to offer the company. Suppose you're an operator who also knows Web development. If you, or a friend, can put a bug in the right person's ear, you might be able to trade handling backup tapes for cascading style sheets.
4: Sell your company or department
It doesn't matter how well you do your job if the company (or your department) lacks customer business. Become an advocate for your place of work. While your opportunities to do hardcore selling may be limited, that doesn't mean you can't contribute. If you're working on the front lines, you're in the perfect position to spot new opportunities you can then pass on to the appropriate person for sales follow-up. Everyone will benefit from having more business.
5: Sell yourself
Adding value is good. Having the right people know that you're adding value is even better. Do not be shy. Document your accomplishments and pass the information up the ladder. If your clients/customers are pleased with your work, remind them to inform your supervisor about it. Most clients are more than happy to sing the praises of someone who deserves it.
6: Do not be a whiner (show good attitude)
The squeaky wheel isn't the one that gets the attention— it's the one that gets fired. No one likes a complainer, and being one is another quick way onto the next-to-go list. You may think others care about the injustices the company is perpetrating on you, but guess what? They probably don't. They have their own problems to deal with.
Instead, show a positive attitude. After all, you have a regular paycheck at a time when many do not. Stop comparing things to what you would like them to be like and consider what things could be like in an even less desirable environment. If you have a constructive idea, share it through the proper channels. Be a team player. It's more productive and won't mark you as a downsizing target.
7: Assess your role
You may find this to be harder than it sounds. What do you really bring to the table, from the company's point of view? You can't sell your value to the company if you don't know what it is. Be objective and try to find the things you do that really help the company. Then, try to find the things that are uniquely you. If you can get through this introspection, you will discover one of the most important keys to your career. If you really can't come up with anything, you may want to put extra effort into the "stay current" point mentioned above.
8: Show flexibility
If you have multiple skills that you're willing to provide to your company, you will be much more valuable than a one-trick pony. Companies want to be efficient with their money. If they can keep one multi-functional, multi-talented person and have coverage for multiple areas of responsibility, that's a smart business decision. Be the one they want to keep by showing a willingness to be utilized in ways that benefit the company.
9: Build respect
You want people to have a favorable impression of you. You want them to respect your abilities as well as respect you as a person. It's more than simply being liked — respect runs a little deeper, and it leaves a more lasting impression. Do your work well and do the right things, and people will not only want you around, they may even seek you out. At a time when companies are looking for ways to make cuts, being a sought-after resource is about as good as it gets.
10: Have a plan
You're busy enough without having to worry about all the tasks that may keep you employed through this economy. Come up with a plan on how you will implement the tips mentioned here. What new things will you add to your skill set and how will you acquire them? Where will you begin your networking efforts? You get the idea.
Besides your plan for staying, it's probably a good idea to have a plan should the worst case come about. The plan does not need to be overly detailed, but it should contain enough information to get you started right away if you lose your job. Who will you use for references? Is their contact information current? What are your most marketable skills? Where will you begin networking outside the company? The first reason for this worst-case plan comes from my belief that if you make a plan for it, you will not need it. The second is that if you have a plan, you will be less likely to worry about that scenario and can therefore focus on providing the kind of high-value work that will keep you employed.
Weathering the storm
When the economy is bad, and the job market is tough, it is easy to think about how you will find your next job. But if you are still employed, there are many advantages to keeping the work you already have. Of course, if your entire company is about to fold, there isn't much you can do about it. If, on the other hand, downsizing is the order of the day, the suggestions above may make the difference between continued cash flow and an unwanted extended unpaid vacation. Good luck.