Article, 4 Career Traps During Scary Times by Ian Christie :

4 Common Career Traps During Scary Times
Ian Christie


In my years working as first an executive search consultant and since 2002, as the founder and head career strategist of Bold Career, I have witnessed the career trajectories of thousands of executives, senior professionals, managers and business owners. There is of course, infinite diversity. But also amazing similarities. And in fact natural laws in how the market works. What follows are the four key traps I have observed specific to difficult economic times.


1. Turtling, like jealousy, has the opposite effect than desired


The natural response in difficult economic times is to put your head down. If you stay quiet, hope for the best, cross your fingers, so the thinking goes, you just might ride it out. Okay. It might work. Sometimes.


But this is the path of zero control. And it is your fault when the axe falls. Because you didn't prepare. Turtling is a hope for thebest strategy. In fact, it isn’t a strategy at all. Another word for turtling is hiding and hoping the monsters don’t find you.


You need options. You need choice. And you need a way of deciphering when it is time to stay and when to go. And here is the kicker: When you hide in your organization, you are just as likely to put yourself in jeopardy as you are to avoid it. In the act of keeping your head down, you might find yourself not adding as much value as you could or should.


2. Frying pan into the fire


Oddly, the second most natural response to uncertain or scary times is for people to jump ship and grab the first life buoy that comes along. At the first sign of danger they sign-on to something else, anything that gives them the income they need. And it is fraught with danger. Granted, you may get lucky. The new job may be a great one. But the basic laws of career decision making still apply.


The act of saying yes to a new work opportunity is an incredibly important one when you consider that like a tattoo, that new job will stick with your resume for the rest of your career. Not to mention fit with colleagues and culture, the guarding of your good name, actual job fit, income security and overall career progression.


And of course, when you make a rushed decision you increase your overall career risk because the probabilities of the new job working out have fallen rapidly because you didn’t do your due diligence. And then worst case, you find yourself laid-off or desperately looking for a job 3 months after you quit your old one. And forever on, you have some explaining to do about your short stint at that organization.


There are lot of factors that usually are not considered in the act of jumping ship. Yes, sometimes speed is essential. But do it carefully.


3. Commodities lose


In an earlier part of my career, I was an executive search consultant in a high-end firm. During economic downturns, business did go down, but it also changed. Our search assignments turned into highly specialized wish lists for experienced, knowledgeable, skilled and networked candidates. Candidates with distinctive track records who had the package the hiring organization required to move them through the storm into calm waters.


In other words, companies were still hiring. They just wanted more specific pedigrees. They wanted people who could pull them out of a slowdown, or turn them around, or enter the company into an expanding market. They wanted to hire people who had a proven track record of getting the result they wanted.


If you present yourself as a commodity. One of many. Same as your peers. You have a huge problem. In any given competition for a promotion, for assignment to a special project, or for a new job, you need to present yourself in a way that fits their bill. Their wish list. Their needs. You can’t do that as a commodity.


You need to be a differentiated product / service / person in the marketplace. (Which by the way, means that you don’t fit everywhere.)


Trap 3b - Going wide: I promised 4 traps, but I am going to over deliver and add some extra value here. What doesn’t work particularly well at any time, but even more so during scary times is going wide with your job search activities. Going wide is the shotgun approach. You apply everywhere and to anything thinking that being selective and strategic won’t give you enough opportunities.


It doesn’t work.


Consider your competition. If the company can hire to their spec, and you are only vaguely qualified, why would they hire you?


It takes courage to go narrow. But it is the path of higher probabilities.


I am not a gambler, but I imagine that someone who has some skill and who is intent on making some money would go to Vegas and focus on one or two types of games. The ones they understand and are good at. The games they feel have the best probabilities of paying out, for them.


Which tables are you going to play?


4. The tighter you hang on, the greater the probability of letting let go


I know this is counterintuitive, but if you are approaching your job or your clients from a place of fear and desperation, it probably means that what is being received by your coworkers / boss, or clients isn't conducive to the management of a strong, secure and vibrant career. Looking for pennies here and there, tightening the terms of contracts, scraping for cash, holding on to projects and guarding your little empire all contribute negatively towards your security.


Hanging on means behaving in ways that demonstrate to other people that your sole concern is your own security and not the good of the team, organization or customers.


It doesn’t matter to anyone but you and your family that you can’t pay the mortgage. Or that your stock portfolio is down 45% and you need more cash to catch-up. No one cares.


In fact, the normal human reaction to desperation and fear and neediness is to be repulsed.


The absolute last thing you want to do is to communicate or project these emotions onto anyone remotely connected with your career development. Not in interviews. Not in performance reviews. Not to your boss. Not in networking conversations.


Please understand what I am saying. It is okay to feel those emotions. I have experienced them myself. And it is absolutely fine to be motivated and focused. Just don’t forget that you work around and with other people who are very likely feeling the same pinch.


Operate from confidence and strength and selectiveness. Continue to be a team player.


Need real help moving your search forward, contact member services today and talk to us about resources we have available to help you.


Ian Christie works 1-1 with individual clients, delivering job search and career transition strategy, process & support, resume development and interviewing strategy. And these services are additionally available in an outplacement relationship.

Ian also works 1-1 with individual clients on proactive career management strategies like building profile, developing a brand, preparing for a move, building a network and navigating key career decisions.

Ian delivers workshops and presentations on career management and career transition issues to groups and consults business school career centers