Boost your career in difficult times


Experts recommend: focusing on helping the company, not attacking rivals, and being aware of the pressures on your manager.

The recession we are heading towards promises to be brutal and long-lasting. Once layoff notices start piling up – which they certainly will – the workplace will become more and more Darwinian. At times like these, the default motto for many people goes something like this: I’ll keep my head down, avoid attracting attention, and hope I’ll still be here after the carnage.

It’s a strategy, of course. But tough times can also be an opportunity to advance your career or at least show the boss that you’re worth sticking around for. Because if there’s one thing you can be sure of in this treacherous season, it’s that team managers will be watching everyone much more closely than in the past. Marcus Buckingham, a career guru, whose latest book is The Truth About You, puts it bluntly: “Now bosses have a chance to see who’s really good and who’s not. »First, what not to do. Now is not a time to suddenly change career direction in panic. “When people feel a lot of anxiety, they either stop everything or they do things impulsively to convince themselves that they are doing something. “, explains Ben Dattner, an executive coach consultant for companies such as Credit Suisse, Pfizer, or Goodyear. “But it can have the opposite effect. In this category are those who rush to the manager to tell him that one of his favorites is an incompetent boor.

Another thing to avoid: unseemly ambition. It’s clear that self-promotion can be annoying at the best of times. So when the boss is laying people off – and feeling really bad about it – making demands can almost make you look like a sociopath. A few weeks ago, hot off the heels of laying off two public relations employees from her high-end Manhattan store, Jennifer Hawkins gave one of her associates a raise. This person proceeded to ask for even more money. Bad idea. “I was about to ask, ‘Do you watch TMZ instead of CNN? Do not you understand?’ says Hawkins. “Next time, she might be sidelined. »

Taking the initiative

So what is considered ambitious but appropriate behavior in times of sharp downturn? Become indispensable. Ashley Howard is a 22-year-old manager at, a Denver-based company that provides cooking supplies to restaurants online. The collapse of the economy has scared him for months. Howard wanted to make himself untouchable. The world was going green, so she would. Howard got her company to pay her tuition so she could be certified in sustainable business practices. Guess what was the big initiative of his employer and who became the flagship employee? Since reinventing herself, Howard has received a subsequent raise and benefited from two bonuses.

At a time when it’s easy to assume everyone is putting their own needs first, sincerity and self-effacement can be tactical weapons. An executive in a company in the industrial sector of the American Midwest argued a few weeks ago that his job was meaningless. This honesty so impressed his leader that the leader was rewarded with another position at a higher salary.

While many people don’t find themselves in the catastrophe unfolding around them, the survivors are those who retreat and calmly survey the landscape for ideas that can help their employer. Sam Brace works for Caliber Group, a marketing company in Tucson. “Since the economy began to falter,” says its manager Linda Cohen, “Brace has been tireless in its efforts to help its clients secure new business in a difficult environment.” The customers are happy, so the manager is too. “When employees can help our customers in this economic environment, their job security increases. says Cohen.

In the months to come, difficult times will affect a growing number of businesses and industries. A revealing picture of what is to come can already be glimpsed within the hammered bastions of finance. Look no further than Bank of America’s new merger with Merrill Lynch.

Since the acquisition of Merrill by BofA, one would expect Merrill employees to be the most neglected and passive. It’s not, says an executive coach working for the company. The coach says some Merrill staff are coming up with solutions and finalizing projects despite resource restrictions. On the other hand, continues the coach, some BofA employees are “those who indulge in despair, sadness and bitterness, and who complain all the time”. And, adds the coach, the saddest might be the most likely to have been fired. “People never forget what impression you give in extremis. If you can shine in these moments, you will shine forever. »

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