Somewhere out there is a whole sea of better jobs and I am not catching the boat. Ever lift your head out of your cubicle and wonder where that boat docks? Increasingly, more American employees are asking, and searching. Surveys consistently indicate that U.S. workers are spending an average of only 3.4 to 4.1 years with one company before moving on.
Even if an individual is thrilled with his position and exquisitely competent in it, his employer may have other plans. Downsizing, mergers, buyouts, new leadership bringing its favorite staff, and even company collapse have become standard occurrences in today’s business scene. In each case, it behooves the employee to at least prepare to fold his tent and head for greener pastures.
“Never assume that your job is secure,” says Don Sutaria, president of CareerQuest, the counseling service headquartered in Union. The era of our fathers is long gone. Companies no longer take young people into the firm, promising, Lord willing, employment for life. Despite all the chanting about people as their primary asset, most companies today make it abundantly clear that they will dismiss any employee if they can fill his slot for a few thousand a year cheaper. Employees have returned this loyalty gap by always having their resumes dusted off in case a more lucrative offer arises. This shift is not entirely bad. In many ways, it has exchanged a confining paternalism for a wider field of opportunity. But with this new freedom to change, the employee must take on the responsibility of picking the right time for his move. * Sure Signs. “A laid off person is typically like someone run over by a train from the back” says Sutaria. “Everyone else sees it coming, but the victim remains oblivious,” Sutaria offers a whole list of coal-mine-canaries that may indicate one’s job is in danger and evacuation is required. Regardless of one’s level, it pays to keep an eye on the company and senior management’s moves. A favorite of the airlines officers has been to shift their own pensions offshore, while keeping the rest of the employees benefits within the firm. Whether they are planning severe downsizing or Chapter 11, it’s time to grab your pension and go.
Some industries seem to be inherently unstable. Advertising and other large-client-based firms suffer this fate, as do companies with a boom or bust product, like pharmaceuticals. Here, judging one’s own security depends more on monitoring longer trends. Additionally, rumors of takeovers or mergers float through almost every company of size or repute. Don’t jump at every muttering, yet let your preparedness increase as evidence of change piles up.
On an individual level, Sutaria suggests an assessment of coworkers helps determine one’s job security rating. Ask yourself,
Have my personal relations with my boss changed recently?
Are conversations fewer or more abrupt?
Are meetings held in which I should have been included?
Has a new supervisor been brought in who talks fondly of his previous staff?
Has my contact with clients and my social connecting with coworkers decreased strongly?
A favorite method of urging an employee out is increasing his workload to frustrating and near impossible levels. Whether the company is targeting you individually, or it is sinking under the weight of its own work, here is not a place you want to be. The sales force often provides an excellent telltale of company, and personal job health. If the sales people are cutting throats and killing each other, money is tight and management is looking to cut - anywhere.
Then of course there’s that final, irrefutable indicator of job insecurity: the paycheck comes mysteriously late or not at all. Says Sutaria “hopefully by then you will already be packed and jumping off the train track.” None of the above indicators, except perhaps this last one, absolutely guarantees your job is about to vanish. Each provides merely a wake up call to what might be a matter of concern. It remains up to you to weigh your love of this particular position against its assessed security. * Career Defense. Presuming you want to stay, there are several ways you can make yourself more visibly valuable to the company. Sutaria suggests volunteering for extra assignments, and even small social tasks, like running an office party. Arriving early and staying a little late, may be a white-haired maxim, but letting the boss see you embroiled in labor doesn’t hurt. Probably the best way of displaying your value is by asking for frequent evaluations. This not only shows your interest in the job as they want it done, but it helps you set yourself on the company’s track. “And for heaven’s sake, never whine about things, to anybody,” says Sutaria. “It always backfires.”
If the rumblings of potential dismissal occur and you are not sure about your next move, Sutaria advises that the first thing you do is rewrite the resume. “This is something every employee should be doing every six months in any case,” he says. “And have a copy in the briefcase and car at all times.” Then, begin to put out feelers. They can be in the form of formal interviews with a new potential employer, or just inquiring chats with someone in human resources.
Either way, this becomes a bargaining chip with your current employer. If you can enter his office and imply diplomatically that you have been approached and are being courted, negotiations may open. You can express your belief that your market value is higher and perhaps ask for an evaluation. If done politely, this will encourage your employer to take new stock of you and hopefully groom you for better things.
Humankind thrives on variety and change. Too long a time spent focused down on a single type of task, no matter how enjoyable, begins to petrify both mind and soul. And while we may resent change that is foisted upon us externally, it may sometimes open up fascinating new doors. If we concentrate on being prepared, rather than being resigned, the odds are better of delighting in what’s across the threshold. B4 Don Sutaria was cited in the career counseling classic “What Color is Your Parachute” for his creative job hunting techniques. By all rights, this native of Bombay should have been an engineer. His father was an electrical engineer. Sutaria himself in l962 earned a bachelors’ in mechanical engineering from the University of Bombay, then another engineering degree from PUMA Integral Testing Facility. Coming to the United States, he gained an MSIE degree in Industrial and Management Engineering from Kansas State University. Then, somewhere in the late 1970’s Sutaria himself jumped ship.
“I was at New York University at the time and I remember everyone constantly asking me for career advice,” says Sutaria. Then he took an NYU abilities assessment test which recommended he no longer give this advice away for free. Shortly afterwards Sutaria opened CareerQuest Central which still flourishes with headquarters in Union, New Jersey and offices in New York City. Look for Sutaria’s upcoming book this fall, “Career and Life Counseling from the Heart.”