Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Specialists, generalists and navigating the path to career advancement 5: understanding and surmounting unexpected challenges 1

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on April 26, 2014

This is my fifth installment to a series on the changing nature of specialist and generalist career path options, and both as their choice impacts on job search and the immediate here-and-now of employment and employability, and on longer term career advancement opportunity (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 359 and following for Parts 1-4.)

I ended Part 4 by noting that even when you develop your jobs and career plans and campaigns as carefully and thoughtfully as possible, “the unexpected and the disruptively new and novel can, and with time will arise – and in our current and developing work climate we have to expect that to happen at a rapid pace across the jobs market in general.” And I followed that by raising a fairly fundamental question:

• What should you do if the worst happens and you suddenly find yourself out of work, and with a compelling need to make even fundamental changes in the specializations that you do practice?

I stated that I would discuss that question and the issues it raises here, and that I would at least briefly look into the new emerging generalist role here too. And I begin with that question itself, which I rephrase here as two questions, and offer with a prefatory comment:

• Even the most effective employees who demonstrably offer real and sustaining value to their employers can lose their jobs and through no fault of their own – through downsizings and headcount reductions as a business seeks to scale back to control costs, or through any of a variety of other means (e.g. layoffs of redundant staff during a takeover or merger, or from outright business failure.)
• What can and should you do to avoid becoming one of the long-term unemployed?
• And what can you do to more effectively find your way back into the actively employed workforce?

I begin my response to that from the fundamentals, and by noting that if you wait until you have a pink slip in your hand before you act, you have waited too long and lost significant opportunity.

• Prepare for this possibility when you already have a job, and keep yourself prepared for it as a basic part of your ongoing employment and career due diligence.
• This means developing and maintaining a set of skills that you can have ready when and if the unexpected happens.

I am repeating myself when I say this, but never, ever stop networking, and both to expand your reach of contacts and keep them fresh and active. And network as a means of gaining wider insight into your particular industry of employment, and the industries it serves. And keep networking to more effectively update your skills areas and to know where opportunity for them and need for them are headed, and to keep abreast of where the job market and its needs are changing. If you become complacent and stop networking you throw away sources of information and insight that could help you to see potential problems and opportunities for you before they fully emerge, and you throw away or at least let grow rusty, the tools that you would need most when the unexpected does happen and you need them the most.

I cited my four part series: Jumpstart Your Networking in Part 4 of this series and repeat that citation here (see that series’ listings and links at the top of Social Networking and Business.) In a fundamental sense, the balance of this posting is about how to use the insight that social networking, and I add other correlated and supporting research can give you. And I couch that in terms of the focus of this series.

If you want to prepare for and where possible limit the likelihood of being laid off or downsized you need to reconsider and even redefine what it means for you to be a specialist as a hands-on worker. If you do find yourself out of work, you need to be prepared to make changes in what you do and in how you present yourself quickly, if you have not already been evolving your hands-on skills and what you actively do.

• You need to become a serial specialist, and a preemptively anticipatory one at that, always seeking out the next in-demand skills set and the experience base needed to demonstrate what you can do with it.
• And this means stepping out of any potential rut you could work your way into before it can become a role and work limiting rut, by taking on challenges and opportunities when you see them. Be the member of any work team you are on who volunteers to take on new and emergent tasks and responsibilities that your manager needs to get done now.
• This means developing and demonstrating a width of value to an employer that would limit your vulnerability to being caught up in a layoff. This means developing and demonstrating the skills and experience that you would need as your crucial accomplishments bullet points in a resume – which you should also keep actively up to date and even if you are not actively looking.
• This means you’re being able to secure more compelling letters of recommendation that do not simply say you would be a good choice as a new hire – that say precisely why you would be, on the basis of your ongoing work performance and workplace accomplishments.

Use your networking along with a range of other professional research activities to keep up with current trends and workplace needs so you will be better prepared when deciding what new specialist skills, and if necessary what new certifications to go for. If you are already employed and certainly if your employer needs more skilled hands with those abilities, see if you can negotiate with your employer to get support from them in your gaining this new training and/or certification. That can mean their paying for some or all of this on the understanding that you would use these new skills for them, or it might means their offering you work schedule flexibility so you can attend training sessions, or both.

• This can make you more directly and immediately valuable to any current employer, but at least as importantly it can make their losing you look more costly to them and according to their staff retention criteria.

But downsizings and layoffs still happen and sometimes in ways that fall outside of any control or influence of the employee and at whatever their level on the table or organization, and sometimes in ways that are at least very largely outside of the control of the employing business too. So I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, with a question that I presented above:

• And what can you do to more effectively find your way back into the actively employed workforce?

And I will begin that at the moment that you arrive at work, most frequently on a Friday, and find a note on your computer keyboard – which I add probably no longer responds to your usual login. I will also, after this, look into the new generalist role in employment and careers development. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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