Debra Feldman
Debra Feldman

Avoid a career crisis

Plan ahead for career emergencies.

December 20, 2012
by Debra Feldman

Unforeseen career turns are bound to happen. Being prepared for a career twist or an all-out emergency, such as the sudden loss of a job, can shorten the transition time needed to get back into the workforce.

Job seekers who have landed a new position have many insights to share about job searching success. We can also learn from those who’ve had to go through a sudden job loss.

Here are a few ways to prepare for career emergencies:
  • Heed the warnings! If times are uncertain at work, start your job search engine in time to motor safely away from career danger. Don’t deny the signs of reductions in force (RIFs), such as an announced or recent merger or acquisition, appointment of new management, or a new owner or controlling interest. Anticipate and plan for the logical consequences of a poor performance review, adverse board meeting decision or being passed over for a promotion, more responsibility, or more authority. Start a network-based campaign while you are still employed. Buy yourself time in addition to severance by initiating job search activities while still in your current role.
  • Organize resources. Package yourself online. Review your LinkedIn profile, scrutinize its meaning for alignment with your future career goals, add recent accomplishments and revise achievements, experience, and skills. Ask for endorsements and recommendations. Update your status regularly. Join appropriate groups and monitor discussions. Consider changing your title to a headline indicating area of expertise, rather than showing your active job title (though realize that some of your current contacts may be curious about the change).
  • Promote yourself. Increase your visibility and accessibility by commenting on or writing industry blogs. Publish a white paper, write a letter to the editor, schedule a program at an industry conference, volunteer to lead a meeting, organize a social activity for your professional colleagues, or call to catch up with contacts.
  • Offer help. You have to give before you ask for help. Don’t let a negative attitude turn off those who might boost your spirits or offer concrete advice or who need you to help them.
  • Review your employment benefits. Check the status of your health insurance, disability coverage, life insurance, and unused vacation or personal days, and make inquiries to secure bridge coverage if needed.
  • Get your financial house in order. Maximize your cash on hand to meet expenses if you are not drawing a salary. Cut back on unnecessary purchases to accumulate funds for that rainy day. Figure out how you will manage without a company car, mobile services, travel reimbursement, and a laptop. Get your own mobile devices. You do not want to be unreachable or unable to access information.
  • Set up a professional-sounding email account for personal business correspondence.
  • Save electronic copies of personal files and nonproprietary work examples to your own devices.
  • Make a list of people whom you can rely on for support, advice, and mentoring. Start to reach out to them with a clear, compelling message that describes your professional image (e.g., “Head of retail operations reporting to the COO at a large, global manufacturer and distributor in the beauty industry with extensive experience breaking into new international markets, launching new products and integrating acquisitions”) and specify how they can assist you (name specific companies, or ask for a referral to an individual you don’t know).
  • Develop your go-to-market strategy specifying who you are, what differentiates you from your competition, define your go-to expertise, and outline the types of companies that need your skills and knowledge.
  • Update your résumé to showcase your accomplishments relevant to the new role and show a prospective hiring decision-maker that you are his or her new dream employee and will smoothly and swiftly resolve current and future challenges.

Notice that revising your résumé is not at the top of this preparation list. Research your target employer market and determine what these companies need that you can deliver before selling your qualifications for a new position. In other words, carefully and thoughtfully plan your search strategy before declaring your job search objectives, promoting your fit, and publishing marketing materials.

Candidates who increase their understanding of the job market before officially applying are usually better prepared to overcome barriers and present themselves more attractively than their competition. The time to create productive networking contacts is before you need their help to find your next challenge.

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Debra Feldman is the JobWhiz, an executive talent agent and job search expert. She worked as a management consultant for more than 15 years before founding JobWhiz in 2000.