Eager to Stay and Ready to Go

When it comes to career management, two things continue to amaze me:

1. People that don’t proactively manage their careers until they are looking for a job;

2. Managers who hold it against employees that are proactively managing their careers.

How could this be? It’s 2010, not 1970. However, I can’t tell you how many people I run into that don’t have an updated resume. Heck, a lot of them don’t even have a resume. Those are the same ones who I’ll get LinkedIn invites from after they’ve lost their jobs. I’m sure they learned how to set up their account at the outplacement workshop they just attended. My reaction is usually “nice to finally hear from you… so where have you been all these years?”

I’m not trying to be mean here – I’m just trying to help by opening up some eyes.

There are a lot of people that are very happy with their jobs. They might be long-time employees. They either don’t see the need, or see it the same way some managers do – that it would be disloyal or slimy to even be thinking about another job or employer. They think it’s like cheating on your spouse.

Look, being loyal and faithful is important in a committed relationship, i.e., a marriage. An employer is not your spouse. There’s no “in sickness or in health, for better or for worse” vow taken. It’s a job, and they will continue to employ you for as long as you can perform and they need you.

If I sound harsh, maybe it’s because I spent eight years at a large company where layoffs were a regular occurrence. Every year, usually around the year end holidays, I’d see good, solid, longtime loyal co-workers being walked out the door. Off they went to company sponsored outplacement workshops to learn how to write resumes.

Even if you work for the nicest boss in the world, in a company that’s never had a layoff – a truly great company – that same company could be acquired, and before you know it, you’re redundant. A competitor could invent some disruptive technology that turns your product into a buggy whip overnight.

As for the Neanderthal managers that brand their employees with a scarlet letter if they want to apply for even an internal job posting – stop being such selfish jerks! As a leader, you should be encouraging your employees to manage their careers and stay marketable. For every employee you may lose to a better opportunity, you’re going to have six more knocking at your door because you’re known as a great leader and company to work for. In fact, leaders (and companies) should feel morally obligated to help their employees prepare for new opportunities while they are working, not just after the axe falls. That was supposed to be the replacement for a promise of lifelong employment. For many, it’s been a broken promise.

With all of that being said (wow, what a buzz kill), here are 10 career management strategies for those that are currently employed and satisfied with their jobs. Managers should embrace every one of these strategies as well.

1. Update your resume once a year.
Use your annual performance review as a reminder. As you are documenting your accomplishments for the year (um…, you do document your accomplishments, right?), see if there are any that are “resume-worthy” (you should strive for at least one per year).

2. Create a LinkedIn profile and keep it current.
While I think some people go a little overboard on LinkedIn (I really don’t need to hear from you every time you get on a plane or read a book), you should at least have an up-to-date profile and professional picture.

3. Build your network.
Networks need to be constantly added to and maintained. Everybody you meet is a potential valuable contact. Make it a habit to offer to “Link up”. Go out of your way to help others in your network. Networking isn’t just about looking for people that can help you – it’s about helping others. You never know – that same person you assist could be the person who makes that all important connection for you when you need it.

4. Keep up to date on career management strategies and tools.
There’s a ton of good stuff out there. SmartBrief on Your Career, Brazen Careerist, Anita Bruzzese’s 45 Things, Lindsey Pollak’s blog, the WSJ’s Careers site, and HRPeople are some of my favorites.

5. Build marketable skills.
Every job and every project is an opportunity to learn. A good rule of thumb would be for 20% of your job to be new and different each year. Work with your manager to develop an individual development plan (IDP) that provides you opportunities to stretch and grow.

6. Know what’s marketable.
See #5. Not all new skills are marketable. Subscribe to job alerts in your field and read the position requirements. Be building the skills on your current job that employers are looking for.

7. Be nice to recruiters.
Return their calls, help them if you can (see #3), and offer to send them your resume (see #1). Talk to them as if you are interviewing for a position – make a good impression. See #3 – offer to connect via LinkedIn.

8. Be a speaker at conferences in your profession.
Treat every external presentation as an audition. The same goes for your behavior as a conference attendee. True story: I actually met two future employers at the same networking event. Weird.

9. Build your personal brand.
It used to be the only way you could get known outside your company was to speak at a conference or get published. Now, with blogs, Twitter, Facebook and online communities, everyone has the opportunity to have thousands of people get to know them. Just be careful – exposure can hurt you as much as it can help you.

10. Manage your finances wisely.
They say it takes 3-6 months to find a job, maybe longer. Make sure you have a nest egg built up to weather the storm, no matter how secure your job is. And don’t put all those eggs in the same basket – your own company stock. Diversify.

Let’s face it, when something happens, only the big dogs get the “golden parachutes”. The rest of us need to proactively manage our careers.

What else would you add to the list?