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Recession-Proof Your Career

Get Ahead at Work During a Recession

By Bob Rosner and Sherrie Campbell

Can you afford to be invisible at work during a U.S. recession? Imagine what it's like to lose a look-alike contest to a bunch of impersonators - when you're the real deal. Ouch! That actually happened to rocker Adam Ant in the 80s. Believe it or not, he lost an Adam Ant look-alike contest. If you blend in too much with the other employees at work, you'll never get the recognition you deserve. Instead, prepare yourself to get ahead by attracting significant exposure in the workplace. Here's how:

Follow these tips and you'll prove to yourself that It is possible to get ahead during a U.S. recession - instead of getting laid off.

DO - Take on tough projects during a U.S. recession
If you want to receive employee recognition, volunteer for the tough tasks that lazier workers avoid. It's easy to play it safe and do the job that's handed to you. It's much harder to branch out and risk failure. Your willingness to do challenging work will be recognized, even if the project isn't successful. Plus, tough projects often come with benefits such as access to executives, customer interactions, additional training programs and resources that can give your career a boost.

Get Ahead at Work Checkup Questions:

  • How much risk are you willing to take?
  • How can you add tough new projects to your already full plate?
  • How will you share your contributions with company leaders?

Here are some useful tips on how - and why - to find projects that will energize your career.

Get Ahead at Work Action Plan:

  1. Take calculated risks during a U.S. recession. Find the tough projects that other employees avoid - but be selective. Look for projects that are likely to help both the company and your career, while also considering your likelihood of success. This is not only a great way to increase your employee recognition but should also make your work more exciting.
  2. Make your work more rewarding during a U.S. recession. Climbing the organizational chart can be a long slog when you have to compete with other talented people. During a recession, tough projects can act as short cuts to a job with more responsibility, employee recognition, and higher pay. A challenging project is also a great reason to delegate some of your ho-hum tasks to others so that you can stay focused.
  3. Build awareness during a U.S. recession. Find ways to talk about your accomplishments with your manager. A great way to go about this is to start keeping a "compliments folder" that includes praise from coworkers, customers and other managers for use in your performance review. It's also helpful to let your manager know that you're interested in pursuing challenging projects that can help you increase your contribution to the company. Also, there is no better source for information than the stars currently shining for your company. Take note of how well-respected people in your company promote themselves and follow suit.
DO - Get a mentor during a U.S. recession
Mentors can be helpful no matter where you are in your career. They not only help you to expand your skill set and build your network but can also help you take a more objective look at your career opportunities.

Get Ahead at Work Checkup Questions:

  • What do you hope to learn from your mentor?
  • Who is the best mentor for your needs?
  • Which coworkers could provide you with valuable advice?

If you're looking for a different perspective, don't hesitate to start identifying the people you think would be most helpful given your current career stage.

Get Ahead at Work Action Plan:

  1. Be picky during a U.S. Recession. Resist the temptation to ask someone to be your mentor because you think they'll say yes. Instead ask the person who is most beneficial to your situation, even if there is a chance they could reject your request for help.
  2. Identify your goals with a mentor during a U.S. recession. Mentoring is a two-way process. Don't expect your mentor to take the lead. Instead, take an active role in establishing specific goals for the relationship.
  3. Consider "reverse mentoring" during a U.S. recession. Surprise! Mentors are not just for interns. The Wall Street Journal recently identified a trend in older employees being mentored by junior workers - or reverse mentoring. If you're senior, try trading career tips with a tech savvy front line worker.
DO - Be a bootlicker
Yes, you read that correctly. Be a bootlicker during a U.S. recession. While flattery doesn't stand on its own, offering to help out coworkers and managers can win you priceless employee recognition . And you might learn something in the process. We'll explain.

Get Ahead at Work Checkup Questions:

  • Am I a good listener?
  • How can I help out my coworkers?
  • How can I celebrate the accomplishments of my coworkers?

No one wants to be alienated by coworkers - or to become the coffee boy. Here's how to get the best out of bootlicking and leave the rest behind.

Get Ahead at Work Action Plan:

  1. Listen attentively. The best way to flatter someone is to listen to them. Have you ever been in your manager's office when the phone rang and he didn't answer? It probably made you feel you were a priority and that what you had to say was important. Don't overlook the value of giving someone your full attention.
  2. Offer help. Can't remember the last time someone offered to help you out? Join the club. You'll be amazed at the reaction when you offer your hand to help out a coworker. Roll up your shirt sleeves occasionally and you'll learn that most people will return the favor.
  3. Acknowledge a job well done. Most of us don't feel that we get the employee recognition we deserve at work. Genuine compliments and congratulations are almost always well received and usually reciprocated.
DON'T - Be like everyone else during a U.S. recession
If you're living in fear of layoffs and need paycheck assurance, start finding ways to stand out at work, and gain employee recognition.

Get Ahead at Work Checkup Questions:

  • What are you doing to make your company more money during the U.S. recession?
  • What are you doing to save your company money during a U.S. recession?
  • When is a good time to speak up at work during a U.S. recession?

Don't be afraid to get creative in order to get the attention of top management. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Get Ahead at Work Action Plan:

  1. Rake in the dough. During a U.S. recession there is nothing that gets more attention than an employee who generates substantial revenue. Nothing! Ask your customers what additional services they'd be willing to pay for or talk to vendors about what they've seen companies like yours do to bring in the bucks.
  2. Pinch pennies. Saving the company money is another great way to gain visibility during a U.S. recession. An American Airlines employee once helped the company save thousands of dollars by eliminating one olive from salads. Get creative and find areas where your company can trim costs.
  3. Tell the right people. It's not enough to make or save money for your company during a U.S. recession. The right people need to know you made it happen. You don't need to rent a billboard, but you do need to make sure that your efforts and accomplishments are well known. Consider documenting the cost impact of your efforts and offering to give a presentation - or simply including this in your performance review.
Bob Rosner and Sherrie Campbell author the weekly internationally-syndicated workplace911 column. Bob's a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. Sherrie's a work relations expert and award-winning comedian. Together they offer 12 years of quick, intuitive and humorous column responses on their website. You can e-mail them at