Sound the alarm!

Here's how to put out the fires that can ruin your career

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Mergers and acquisitions. Realignments. Paradigm shifts. Downsizing. “Business can be very volatile and changes can be very sudden,” says Correen Morrill Ph.D., a nationally certified career and clinical counselor who is principal of Transition and Career Intervention Team (TACIT), a Chicago-based career consulting firm.

Morrill adds, “Changes that once took years to evolve now happen overnight.” She contends that there are no longer any “safe” jobs, and that every employee is at risk of facing a crisis in their career at some time.

Hardy Freeman, principal of Hardy Freeman & Associates, an outplacement services firm, agrees. “Career crises are natural,” he says. He defines a career crisis as “any important decision or challenge that one faces in their work; it could be a companywide layoff or a new boss and new subordinates.”

He adds that “although one cannot be crisis-proof, one can be crisis-prepared.” He says that employees should prepare for a crisis much like they prepare for a fire. Here is a four-step strategy:

  • Strategy # 1: Invest in a fire alarm. Invest time and energy in cultivating an effective warning system that alerts you to smoke or danger on your job, in your career, or in your industry. Read newspapers, magazines, and industry journals. Attend industry trade shows and conferences. Network with colleagues inside and outside your company. Freeman agrees that the saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” is true, and when all the alarms go off, it’s important to take note and look for the fire escape.
  • Strategy # 2: Practice the fire drill. Create a crisis plan. Outline steps you plan to take in case changes adversely affect your career. Ask yourself, “Where would I go if I lost this job? What would I do if this job went away?”
  • Strategy # 3: Identify your exits. Designate route assistants who may be able to help you by employing you or pointing out others who could. Look for ways to reduce your reaction time by practicing your crisis action steps beforehand. Picture yourself in different roles and ask yourself what steps need to be taken in order to qualify for that position.
    Some other questions you might ask yourself include: What new positions might I be able to move into with little or no additional training? Who might be able to help with networking and/or transitioning into a new company, industry, or career? What other steps might be taken ahead of time to minimize the transition?
  • Strategy # 4: When in a fire, stop! Drop! Roll! “Don’t panic and don’t run!” warns Morrill. “Stop and take at least 24 hours to work through your emotions and begin to think through your plan.” But Morrill is clear in pointing out that victims should waste no time wishing that the crisis would have never happened or would simply go away. Freeman suggests that within reason, one should drop all other projects and consider the crisis as the No. 1 priority. “Give the situation your full attention,” he says. And lastly, get rolling. Roll into action by rolling out your plan
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