Setbacks occur at some point in most careers. The critical question: can you bounce back from a career setback? How long will it take? Can you rebound 100% or will you fall short in terms of employment, salary, or benefits? Can you turn adversity to your advantage? In considering the situations of many friends and co-workers who have had career reverses in the past few years, I realized that how well these chemical professionals are recovering from their setbacks depends less on technical abilities than on factors such as preparedness and attitude.
Setbacks can include job loss, not getting a coveted promotion or transfer, and seeing your professional opportunities diminish as a result of corporate restructuring such as a merger or divestment. Sometimes these setbacks are completely beyond your control; in other cases, timely modification of your own behavior can lessen their likelihood.
To increase your chances of recovering 100% from a career setback, you need to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. Begin by following the advice of former ACS President Helen Free, who has repeatedly counseled chemists, “Always have a Plan B.” This means already having an action plan should a likely career setback occur. For example, suppose your company is merging with another firm and staff reductions are expected. Plan A is maximizing your chances of surviving staff reductions. Plan B can be simultaneously preparing to enter the job market.
Advantages of Plan A are obvious – you retain your current position, don’t have to experience unemployment, and may not have to worry about possible long-distance relocation and its effects on your family.
What measures can your Plan A include?
Identify short-term contributions you can make that provide added sales or reduce costs. Then do the work necessary to make these contributions. If you get a new supervisor as a result of the merger, make that person aware of your contributions and discuss your future plans for additional contributions. Make it your business to get along well with supervisors and co-workers; mend political fences if necessary.
Remember that your fellow employees have the same concerns that you do. Look for ways you can work with them productively. It can be particularly useful to work with sales representatives. Help a sales representative make a sale to a new customer and you will have a new ally happy to sing your praises.
Plan B for bouncing back
What about Plan B? This is preparing for the worst. In our merger example, Plan B is your rebounding strategy should you lose your job or face long-term limitations on career advancement as a result of the merger. Your goal will be to get a new job at least as good as your current one while spending a minimum amount of time in the job market. Identify technology fields and industries for possible future employment. Prepare tailored résumés for each. Assemble a contact list that includes peers at these companies, recruiters (headhunters), former professors, etc. On a personal level, get your family finances in order in case you lose your income.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.”He has had more than 1200 articles publsihed in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.