Become ‘Me Inc.’ to Cope with Job Uncertainty

By Toni Vranjes

June 26, 2009

If you still have a job in this layoff-battered world, it can be a little hard to concentrate these days. On the one hand, you’re trying to keep your job, but on the other hand, you know a layoff could strike at any moment. So how do you balance these two competing concerns?

The key is to manage your career proactively, by developing an entrepreneurial mindset. Treat your skills and talents as your own brand, which will endure even if you suddenly become unemployed. You convey your brand in many ways, including your resume, your online presence, and even your attitudes and behaviors at the workplace.

Think of yourself as “Me Inc.,” suggests San Diego career coach Camille Primm. To do that, you don’t need to get your image plastered all over soda cups or kids’ toys. It’s simply a matter of taking charge of your career, rather than expecting an employer to take care of your needs.

“Work is very transactional,” says Primm, head of the consulting firm Primm & Partners. “You go from company to company, providing skills and building your reputation. And that’s how you keep your career vital.”

Career coach Beverly Ryle recommends that people view themselves as vendors selling their own unique services.

“Whether you’re in job employment or self-employment, adopt the thinking of a self-employed person,” says Ryle, director of the Center for Career and Business Development in Eastham, Mass.

Cynthia Shapiro, a career coach in Woodland Hills, Calif., also recommends an entrepreneurial approach.

“Treat yourself like the CEO of your own company,” says Shapiro, president of Shapiro Consulting International.

Your brand needs to be consistent, she emphasizes. For instance, if you display a professional image on your own website, then you shouldn’t have a Facebook photo that shows you drunk and wearing a lampshade.

Shapiro provides insights into career management in her two books, “What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here?” and “Corporate Confidential.”

To take charge of your career, take the following steps. By doing so, you’ll not only give the best impression to your employer, but you’ll also be prepared in case you suddenly find yourself unemployed.

Project Confidence and Optimism at the Office

Try to project a confident attitude at work, even if the tough job market is making you feel scared and vulnerable, Ryle says.

If you’re worried you might lose your job, find confidants outside the workplace to discuss your feelings. The office isn’t the right place to express those fears, she notes.

“At work, don’t talk about what’s going on in the economy or your concerns about the job market,” says Ryle, author of “Ground of Your Own Choosing.”

An optimistic, positive outlook also can help. If you’re frustrated with your employer, share your concerns with others when you’re not at work. But at the office, try to focus on the bright side.

Be a Team Player at Work

Be cooperative, and ask to help out — not only in good times, but also during times of corporate downsizing.

If your company has been laying off workers, you may face an increased workload and intense anxiety. Even if you’re feeling angry and resentful, try to be a team player.

“If your company is short-handed because of layoffs, proactively offer to help out,” Ryle says.

Tell Your Boss How Valuable You Are

It’s not enough to simply do a good job – you also need to make sure your boss is aware of your accomplishments.

Let your manager know all the ways you contribute to the firm. For instance, if you complete a report ahead of schedule, bring it up at your next conversation with your boss, Ryle says.

Primm suggests sending a weekly e-mail to your boss, discussing your accomplishments during the previous week and your focus for the upcoming week.

Shapiro recommends a subtle approach. For instance, if you’re putting in long hours, you could send an e-mail to your boss — on any work-related topic — early in the morning, late at night, or on the weekend. The timestamp and datestamp would show how dedicated you are.

If you’ve recently taken on new duties at work, Shapiro says, you could e-mail your boss and ask what your priorities should be now that your workload has grown. The e-mail would highlight the additional tasks you’re handling.

Update Your Resume

Establish a system for tracking your workplace achievements, and then regularly add those accomplishments to your resume, says Primm, author of the book, “Learning the Ropes.” She suggests recording everything in either a paper file or electronic file.

“You need to constantly have your resume updated, and always in a mode that if something were to change today, it would be ready to send,” she says.

While Shapiro and Primm consider the resume to be a critical part of the job-search process, Ryle places less emphasis on it. But they all agree that your resume needs to be ready and updated, just in case you need it.

Form Professional Connections

Connecting with other professionals is also key. People can form these relationships in many ways, including professional groups, websites and even casual chats.

It’s important to give as well as receive. Your contacts might tell you about a job opportunity, but just as important, you need to help others with their careers.

“You need to put good, positive energy out there, and be known as a helpful, positive person,” Primm says.

Be Ethical

Even if you’re not expecting your company to take care of you, you still need to behave with integrity.

“You can’t burn bridges, and you can’t give out any proprietary information,” Primm says. “You have to maintain your professionalism. Your reputation will follow you.”

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