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In Uncertain Times, Prepare Yourself for New Opportunities

In Uncertain Times, Prepare Yourself for New Opportunities

Prepare Yourself for New Opportunities

    We live in uncertain times. Global financial collapse, rapid relocation of industries, emerging markets, political unrest, and just the fast pace of change in the Information Era in general all mea that things you take for granted today might be completely different tomorrow.

    Now is certainly not a time for rigidity. The career you’re working in this year might not even exist in 2010. And vice versa – the field you call home two years from now might not have even been thought up today. With financial markets so volatile and companies “hunkering down” for a long slog through a recession, there are few indicators of what’s coming up. Even strong companies are looking at cutbacks and layoffs to prepare themselves for whatever comes.

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    It’s a stressful time, and one in which long-term planning is becoming more and more difficult. It’s simply impossible to say whether you’ll have a job next month, whether your company will be able to get credit for expansion or even day-to-day expenses, whether your clientele will be able to afford you come January.

    Since you can’t possibly know what’s coming, it’s important that you keep your eyes open and be ready to grab hold of new opportunities. Or to create your own. And that means focusing on yourself, doubling up your own efforts to improve and promote yourself. Here are some ideas about how to do that.

    1. Take a professional inventory.

    “Know thyself” is always the first step towards improvement. Without adequate understanding of your own strengths (and weaknesses), you’re never going to be able to further your own development, let alone sell others on your positive qualities.

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    So it’s time to take a close look at where – and who – you are as a professional. Take some time to list your skills and talents. Add to that a list of your accomplishments and how each achievement made use of those skills and talents.

    Take your lead from copywriters and other marketing experts and list your “features” – the good things about you – and their “benefits”. For example, if one of your features is “writes well”, a benefit might be “helps minimize conflicts due to miscommunication”. The idea is twofold: one, you’re generating a list of positives you can draw on to describe yourself to potential employers, partners, or investors; two, you’re hopefully learning to see some of the unexplored potential you might be able to make use of as the world changes around you.

    2. Focus on relationship-building.

    Networking is always important, no matter what your field or goals, but now is the time to not only broaden your list of contacts but to deepen it – to strengthen the relationships you’ve established through networking. Start striking up conversations with people you get along with but have, so far, not really connected with. Share some of your specialized knowledge – or ask others to share some of theirs. Give people a chance to know you as a person, and get to know them the same way.

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    3. Level up.

    Make yourself more valuable – to yourself as well as to others – by investing in learning new skills or improving old ones. Look for areas where you have a strong-but-not-expert knowledge already and see how you can build yourself up in that area. Even if it’s not central to your current work, expanding your skill set will give you some flexibility to move beyond the boundaries of your existing field – and may offer a new perspective on the work you’re already doing.

    4. Ask lots of questions.

    Information is your most valuable asset right now, and asking questions, even painfully obvious ones, is the best way to get information. Also, asking questions is perhaps the most powerful tool in your relationship-building toolset – people like to talk about themselves and their work, and asking questions gives them the opportunity to do so. Make a point of asking at least one meaningful question in any interaction – you’d be surprised at what you can learn.

    5. Write your elevator pitch.

    An elevator pitch is a 2-3-minute speech summarizing a product, proposal, or project for a potential buyer or backer. The idea is that if you were in an elevator with someone, you could get the most important information about whatever you’re selling across to them in the couple of minutes before the elevator reaches their floor.

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    Right now, we’re thinking about marketing ourselves, and you should be able to explain to people who you are, what you do, and why you’re so darn good at it in a couple of minutes. So, write an elevator pitch pitching yourself and learn it, at least the tone and general thrust of it. Be ready to explain who you are at a moment’s notice – instead of fumbling for words when the opportunity of a lifetime comes within your grasp.

    6. Be creative.

    Once you have a good picture of who you are, be on the lookout for unusual ways that you can add value where you’d least have expected it. Economic downturns favor innovation – they present new problems, or at least problems that are new to most people, and those problems need solving. At the same time, old problems disappear or cease to seem so pressing – people and organizations left hawking solutions to old problems will rapidly find themselves extinct. Seek out those new problems, and set your mind free in search of new solutions.

    Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen over the next year or so, but the least that’s going to happen is that things are going to get shaken up but good. At the least, being prepared for anything might put you at the forefront of the coming shakedown; but if the worst comes, it might become a matter of sheer survival. Make sure you’re ready, no matter what happens!

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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