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When Others are Losing Their Heads: Thriving in a Down Economy

By Taunee Besson, CMF, CareerCast.com Senior Columnist

Having been a career planner for a number of years, my clients and I have gone through:

  1. The oil, real estate and banking bust of the 80s (remember the RTC?)
  2. The dot.com debacle of the late 90s when high tech industries were hit hard
  3. The stock market crash and recession post 9/11

To employers and job seekers, these difficult times seemed like they would never end. And yet after each one there came a new period of prosperity, job growth and increased stock value.

Now we are in the midst of a financial services/real estate meltdown that is really frightening and unpredictable. Housing prices and the market have collapsed. Credit has dried up. People are worried about their jobs and their businesses. No one, not even the experts, knows what will happen.

The usual response is for individuals and companies to cut back on spending, lay off employees and hunker down in a state of paralyzed hibernation. This is exactly the wrong behavior, because it perpetuates fear and validates self-fulfilling prophecies.

What should you do in times like this? If you are an employee, increase your visibility. Don't hide below the radar screen.

  • Make sure you are doing everything you can to add value to your company.
  • It's much harder to layoff an indispensable person.

  • Identify areas of potential growth or find a solution for an ongoing problem.
  • If you suggest ways to increase revenue, decrease expenses, improve efficiency, etc., you will be a keeper.

  • Take this time to learn something new, even if you have to pay for it yourself.
  • Versatility along with added expertise will make you more valuable in both your current position and the job market.

  • Focus on networking outside your organization.
  • Having a vibrant group of networking contacts is particularly important in down times.

  • Think of your career as Me, Inc. You are responsible for your marketability and success.
  • Your employer is a client of your consulting business, who could end the contract at any time.

If you are a business owner:

  • There may be professionals available that you typically wouldn't be able to hire.
  • Bring them on board now while you have the chance.

  • Ramp up your marketing efforts.
  • With everyone else cutting back, you will stand out.

  • Take this opportunity to give your employees training they needed, but didn't get, when they were really busy.
  • Examine your business processes to find ways to improve them while you have time.
  • Invest in equipment, software and other assets that will increase efficiency long term.
  • Network, network, network.
  • Give your customers lots of TLC.
  • They will repay your effort with more business now and later.

    Whether you work for yourself or someone else, down times are the best times to prepare for the next growth period. When the economy turns around, you will be way ahead of your colleagues and competition because you "bought when the market was down."


Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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