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.
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.
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.
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.
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!