How to Recession-Proof Your Career

The worst thing you can do right now is freak out and hide. Here’s how to stop acting scared and start making progress.

Yes, unquestionably, the rules of work have changed. We’re in an angst-ridden environment now. Planned layoffs in July rose 26% compared with June, according to consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. But don’t let that anxiety stop you from moving forward. Learn the new rules and get on with rocking the house.

1. Don’t jump into a fulltime position just because it’s supposedly safer.

Working for a big company slows your ability to achieve a lot quickly. It usually takes at least six months to ramp up, develop relationships and become entrenched in juicy projects. When layoffs come, the newest employees are the most vulnerable because of lack of tenure and track demonstrable record. Freelance/consulting, on the other hand, provides new-client experience and more exposure to more people.

2. Warm and fuzzy are no match for cold hard revenue.
Bosses may love you and you may be a hit at the office cocktail parties, but layoffs happen to the best of us. No one can take away your professional wins, experience, and knowledge.

3. Don’t assume you’re safe because of political ties or a winning personality.
In a recession, political ties can quickly go south. Make sure you’re connecting to others in your company and industry, and keep gathering the experience to stay valuable. If you work someplace where the ax is about to fall, don’t get so wrapped up in politics of sucking up. Focus on building your own brand, so that you’re armed to stay in the game.

4. Be a team player, yeah– but not at the expense of investing in yourself.
Supporting the company’s goals is important, absolutely. But remember that ultimately, your company won’t save you– your own resume will! For example, instead of designing the office holiday card, find a new way to design new business materials. Learn a new skill like writing an RFP. Find ways to contribute to the financial viability of a company, even if it’s outside of your existing scope.

5. Bring more to the party.
Constantly find new ways to add value. Every single interaction with your boss or client should reinforce your contribution. In meetings, bring more than a smile.

6. Button-up the details.
In cushier times, people might not care if you breeze into a meeting 20 minutes late or turn in your project behind schedule. When stress goes up, however, don’t draw any negative attention.

7. Cut the drama.
Moodiness and personal issues are deal-killers in this environment. There’s already too much angst and too much competition to indulge any personality issues. Don’t bitch about your personal life. On a related note …

8. The whole I’m too cool attitude just got a lot less cool.
Same with acting bored in meetings or world-weary on conference calls. Prove you’re ready to deliver, now, here. Coasting is death.

9. Invest more in yourself.
Don’t wait for your organization to offer a class; spend your own time and resources on independent study. Focus on results with that will add a new line to your resume, rather than merely pleasing your boss.

10. Overdeliver to the hilt.

Inject urgency into all you say and do. Deliver exceptionally within the scope of work, and, provide additional solutions outside of what you were asked to do (and don’t bill for those ideas).

11. Spread your bets.
Create new revenue streams. In a recession, laurels count for less; your last accomplishment drives market value. Often you can earn more interesting exposure on a solo basis. One advantage of freelance/consulting is that companies will more likely invest in part-timers during a recession, and you can bring your work to more people.

12. Make yourself indispensable.
What can you do that no one else knows how to do? What jobs or relationships can you handle in a way that no one else can? Become so entrenched that it’s too difficult to replace you.

13. Get tactical, executional, and specific.
Solve immediate needs. Shift your mind-set away from big and general and more to the immediate bottom line. Your client and your boss want results that show up now. What can you do to increase revenue today? How can you shorten timelines?

14. Don’t hide.
You know how toddlers cover their eyes and think they’re invisible? People do the same thing during a recession: make themselves invisible to avoid getting axed. Don’t cower under your desk. Get out and prove yourself daily.

15. Attach yourself to revenue-generating projects.
When budgets are being cut, align yourself with people and projects that actually make real revenue. If you’re assigned to a client that’s tanking, or spending time on feel-good initiatives, be careful. Find where the growth is.

16. Instead of just soliciting, make yourself worth talking to.
Reach out to old clients, current clients and potential partners with meaningful contact. But don’t just solicit for business; provide them value. For example, research articles that may be beneficial to their business and forward with communication.

Bottom line?

Don’t kiss ass. Save your own.

Originally published in Advertising Age, Sept. 22, 2008

9 Responses to “How to Recession-Proof Your Career”

  1. Conspirama Says:

    Recession-Proof Your Career Now…

    In a recession, political ties go south. Make sure you‚Äôre connecting to others in your company and industry, and keep gathering the experience to stay valuable. If you work someplace where the ax is about to fall, focus on building your ……

  2. Cindy Gallop Says:

    Sally – excellent advice. Will be spreading this around.

  3. Sally Hogshead Says:

    Thanks, Cindy.

    If any of ya’ll aren’t familiar with Cindy and her work, check out her site… she’s a quintessential recession-proof brand.

  4. Jon P. Says:

    There’s an upside: Recession means there’s some talent available that wouldn’t have been otherwise.

    Or, if you’re one of those fresh-out-of-a-job creatives, you may think reality has just given you a kick in the ass, but it’s just that the deck has been reshuffled . You might end up with a better hand.

  5. Kevin McIntosh Says:

    Great post and very relevant for the times. And hopefully the patterns agency employees will establish now will become habit for the rest of their careers.

    The ad agency world is changing (as is the rest of the world). It’s more competitive than ever. And being an employee in ad agency is more competitive than ever. And given how competitive our business has always been, that’s saying a lot.

  6. Nozama Says:

    There is a business book circulating from Bach Anon called Dropping Almonds.

    As we see tough times with our economy and management, this may be a book that employees can connect with to understand upper level leadership.

  7. Britton Manasco Says:

    Not sure what has changed now that we have entered a downturn. As you show here, it’s still about building “the brand called you.” Remain committed, passionate and focused. Oh…and don’t be the one who designs the company Christmas Card. Apparently, that’s the kiss of death.

    Britton Manasco
    Illuminating the Future

  8. How to Recession-Proof Your Career | The Daily Anchor | Media tips and tools Says:

    [...] via How to Recession-Proof Your Career | Hog Blog [...]

  9. mudskippah Says:

    Hi Sally. Back here in Nairobi (somewhere in the ‘third world’) the global mess just messed up a whole lot of people I know. The agency I used to work at lost its biggest client, a pan-african satellite TV provider based in London, as a result of funding difficulties. Nearly all the people working on the account, from account handlers, media to creative, have lost their jobs, with 24hr notice :(

    Used to be the main copywriter on the account, but had resigned in October (fired myself :) in search of something more interesting. Now I’m freelancing and producing music. Being solo is tough, hope I can survive long enough not to go looking for a job. But it’s much much more challenging and fulfilling.

    Just a thumbs up to the best career guide ever. Cheers!

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