Go to Menu Stand Up To Downsizing
By Nick Corcodilos

You're a little nervous. Why is that?

We need look at nothing more than the recent headlines. Asia is melting down. The economy is on a roller coaster. The Fed is nervous. Major companies are downsizing left and right.

That's why you're nervous.
You're worried your company could be next to join the ranks of those that tanked. While some parts of the economy may be improving, the downsizing hasn't stopped and probably won't. So, what should a smart but insecure worker do?

Stop worrying and get ready. Don't let downsizing scare you. Consider it nature's way of prodding your career to its next level.

Be calm by being prepared.
People worry when they have no control over their future. Ironically, this makes their prospects worse. When you worry, you get distracted and the quality of your work suffers. When the axe falls around you, you worry about being identified as an employee whose work hasn't been up to snuff and your fear of losing your job becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But that axe is a good thing. It's a signal that change is coming, and it offers you some lead time to start a job search before the axe actually falls on you and panic sets in. Panic provokes poor career decisions. So, take advantage of any lead time you have to develop desirable options while you still have control.

I'm not suggesting you should start emptying your desk. But, you should keep worry at bay by starting to do all the preliminary tasks necessary to help you land a new job. This will help you feel more in control and less anxious as you go about your work. Most important, you will be prepared if downsizing results in your job being eliminated.

It shouldn't take an axe to make you spend time every week cultivating the contacts you will need to survive nature's next storm. This is as simple as talking to others in your field about the work you do, because any headhunter will tell you that's what job search is all about. It's not about emailing resumes. It's about constantly talking to new people in your field about your work. The more "connected" you become, the less you need to worry about being alone when that axe comes down.

Be valuable.
When a company downsizes, it's like the building just tipped over. An entire wing comes down all at once. What you need is a lever to help you keep your job from going down with the rest.

The most important lever you have is your value. The more valuable your are to your company, the more likely you are to be viewed as a cornerstone of the enterprise.

Know your value.
Check your value against the measuring stick of profitability. Do you contribute to it? You see, profitability is at the core of every decision to downsize. It's rare that a downsizing leads to a complete business failure. Companies don't just go out of business when they lay people off. Healthy companies are among the most likely to downsize: they're trying to stay healthy in the face of adversity. Cutbacks reduce cost, and that contributes to health.

So, ask yourself: do you offer your employer enough value that it can be said you contribute to your company's health? Does your work help reduce costs? Does it help increase revenues? Does it contribute to profitability?

Know the lay of the land.
Make sure you understand where your division, your product, your project, your department and your job fit into the profitability scheme. (When is the last time you had a chat with a finance officer at your company, for a lesson in "the numbers"?) While you probably won't be able to come up with exact numbers, it's important that you try to calculate whether your work is costing the company more than it's yielding. If you're in a questionable function, don't be a sitting duck. (Check the sections below, about being aware and being in touch.) If you can explain how your work is profiting the company, you've got leverage.

Keep your boss apprised.
Make sure your employer knows what value you add to the company's bottom line, no matter what your job is. Workers who contribute to keeping profits up and costs down are desirable in any company.

If your boss doesn't know how you're helping to hold the building up, show him. Have regular meetings where you discuss not only the progress of your work, but also how the budget is doing and what you've done to minimize expenditures of assets (time, money, parts, or other resources). Ask for feedback and suggestions. Your job is a partnership: you can't do it profitably without regularly assessing (and demonstrating) how your work fits into the larger profit picture.

If you become recognized not just as a good employee, but as a valuable asset, you're more likely to be re-deployed than downsized.

Be aware.
Keep abreast of other opportunities in your company. You might lose your job but find another without changing employers. Don't wait till the last minute to learn which other departments might be ready to hire you.

I'm a big believer in JHBWA: Job Hunting By Wandering Around™. As we've said, downsizings happen in companies that are quite successful and in no danger of going under. While one operation may be decimated, others thrive. When is the last time you wandered around the parts of your company that are rife with opportunity? They're the safe harbors in a downsizing.

I do presentations before large groups of employees of my corporate clients on the subject of internal career development. I teach them how to find good reasons to stay with their company. My exhortation? Start wandering around. Don't be limited by the job postings your HR department circulates.

You have an edge that outsiders trying to get into the company would kill for. You can wander down the hall into any department you want and poke your head into any manager's office to inquire, "How are you doing with that new project I've heard about? Can I offer some help?" You can also ask whether there's an opportunity coming up, or just request advice and insight about working in a new area of the company.

By building your awareness of where success is growing, you also build awareness of how you might contribute to it. It takes time and an investment on your part. But that's how a department knows to "pick you up" when your own organization is eliminated.

Be in touch.
Stay close to your professional community, whether you're a sales rep, an engineer or a senior executive. That means getting out of your company now and then. Participate in professional events and meet the people in charge.

Get to know the experts in your field. You will need them when you start a job search. When you read a good article in a business or professional publication, call the author and introduce yourself. Ask for more information on the topic and engage him in a conversation. If you wait until the downsizing happens, it's too late because at that point you can't afford the price of affiliation: time. Getting to know the people who can help you doesn't happen overnight.

We all get too busy to circulate among our cohorts outside of our own companies. But professional associations, conferences, vendor and customer events, and continuing education are critical to any career.

Participation yields affiliation, and it's your affiliations that in turn yield opportunities when you need them. (Sometimes before you need them -- a chat with the right person at a convention or in a training class can lead to a referral that leads to a job offer, whether you're ready or not. That's how headhunters find the people they place.)

Be smart.
If you're caught in a downsizing, don't let yourself be pulled under by the current of panic. Everyone grabs the same life preservers: the want ads, the resumes, the cover letters and the random interviews. At that point, the channels of the employment system are clogged with so much information that surviving the trip is debilitating, if not impossible.

Keep your head.
Don't jump into the maelstrom with the competition. Forget about submitting hundreds of resumes for hundreds of jobs where you have thousands of competitors. Think like a headhunter (actually, like a smart worker when she's thinking straight): What's the shortest line to what I want? Choose your target (a specific hiring manager), make a path (get introduced; don't go in as an unknown), approach head-on (treat the interview like a working meeting) and act like an employee (show how you're going to add profit to the business).

People are shocked to be downsized -- unless they were smart enough to be prepared.

Stay in control.
The best way to stand up to the threat of a downsizing is to be in control of yourself. Keep your cool by always being prepared. Know your value, and make sure others know it. Always be aware of, and prepared for, other opportunities, especially in your own company. Stay in close touch with your professional community; don't wait until you need a friend.

Finally, remember that you're a talented worker. You're smart; act that way. Go only after the jobs that are right for you. Always lead with a demonstration of your value, and focus only on employers who can profit from your work. You may find that your current employer is the first one in line to hire you.

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