Being in transition is tough so advice is often offered with a spoonful of sugar. While well intentioned, however, that approach sends the wrong signal to those most in need of candor. So, being as frank (and respectful) as I can, here’s the unvarnished truth. This job market is filled with “irrational expectations.” You cannot find a job today using job search strategies and techniques that were devised for yesterday’s workplace. To put it more bluntly, you won’t find work—any work—in such a tough environment with a weak career record.
And sadly, that’s what a lot of people are bringing to their job search. They haven’t kept their skills up-to-date. Their ability to make a contribution commensurate with their experience has atrophied. Even their network of contacts has all but withered away.
Historically, such an out of shape career didn’t matter much. You could be laid off and, with little or no change in your credentials, hit the job search trail and in relatively short order, find another, similar (or even better) position. Basically, we had a come-as-you-are job market.
Unfortunately, those happy days are gone and gone forever. Why is that? Remember the jobless recovery of the 2001 recession? Well, this recession built on that development to create the “less jobs” recovery. When things start to get better, there will still be fewer jobs—not more or even the same number—as there are right now during the recession. Jobs aren’t being left open until things get better. They are being destroyed.
What does that mean for people in transition? Now, you have to enter the job market in a very different way. If you want to find employment in the new world of work, you have to fix your career first. Or, at a minimum, you must be fixing it while you’re searching for a job. But, the point is that Step 1 in a job search today—not step 2 or 3 or 4—is to upgrade your capabilities and your credentials. Whether you have 20 years in the workplace or 20 minutes. From now on, you have to have a strong career if you want to conduct a strong job search.
And then, once you find a job, you have to go on building up the strength of your career. You can’t stop simply because you’re earning a paycheck. Why? Because only a fit career will enable you to hang onto that job you have and get an even better job once the recovery starts.
How do you build career strength? It takes a regular and repetitive commitment to seven kinds of activities. As detailed in my book Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System, they are:
I. Pump Up Your Cardiovascular System The heart of your career is your occupational expertise, not your knowledge of some employer’s standard operating procedures. Re-imagine yourself as a work-in-progress so that you are always been adding depth and tone to your knowledge and skill set and memorializing that enlarged capacity on your resume.
II. Strengthen Your Circulatory System The wider and deeper your network of contacts, the more visible you and your capabilities will be in the workplace. Adding to your network, however, means exactly what the word says—it’s netWORK, not net-get-around-to-it-whenever-it’s-convenient. Make nurturing professional relationships a part of your normal business day.
III. Develop All of Your Muscle Groups The greater your versatility in contributing your expertise at work, the broader the array of situations and assignments in which you can be employed. Develop ancillary skills—for example, the ability to speak a second language or knowledge of key software programs—that will give you more ways to apply your primary capabilities in the workplace.
IV. Increase Your Flexibility & Range of Motion In the 21st Century world of work, career progress is not always a straight line, nor does it always look as it has in the past or stay the same for very long. Moving from industry-to-industry, from one daily schedule to another or even from one location to another is never easy, but your willingness to adapt will help to keep your career moving forward.
V. Work With Winners Successful organizations and coworkers aid and abet your ability to accomplish your career goals, while less effective organizations and less capable peers diminish it. Working with winners enables you to grow on-the-job, develop useful connections that will last a career and establish yourself as a winner in the world of work.
VI. Stretch Your Soul A healthy career not only serves you, it serves others, as well. A personal commitment to doing some of your best work as good works for your community, your country and/or your planet is the most invigorating form of work/life balance. It regenerates your pride in what you do and your enthusiasm for doing it.
VII. Pace Yourself A fulfilling and rewarding career depends upon your getting the rest and replenishment you need in order to do your best work every day you’re on-the-job. The human body and mind have limits, and those limits cannot be extended by multitasking or even a Blackberry. Instead, you have to discipline yourself and your boss to set aside time to recharge your passion and capacity for work.
Understanding what’s involved in these exercises and then performing them on a regular basis is the foundation of a “system” for building Career Fitness. Think of it as a strategy for surviving and prospering in today’s and tomorrow’s workplace.
Who is Peter Weddle?
Peter Weddle is a recruiter, HR consultant and business CEO turned author and commentator. Described by The Washington Post as “… a man filled with ingenious ideas,” Peter has earned an international reputation, pioneering concepts in human resource leadership and employment. He has authored or edited over two dozen books and been a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, The National Business Employment Weekly and CNN.com. Today, Peter writes two newsletters that are distributed worldwide and oversees WEDDLE’s LLC, a print publisher specializing in the field of human resources. WEDDLE’s annual Guides and Directory to job boards are recognized for their accuracy and helpfulness, leading the American Staffing Association to call Weddle the “Zagat of the online employment industry.”