Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Staying Afloat in Today's Crowded Talent Pool


In February, President Obama signed into law the much debated and anticipated $787 billion economic stimulus bill, a plan designed with a primary focus on countering recent, unprecedented job losses. This legislation cannot come quickly enough for the 4.4 million Americans who've lost their jobs since Dec. 2007. The past two months were particularly brutal, with layoffs announced seemingly daily by such industry stalwarts as Microsoft, Starbucks, Pfizer, Caterpillar, Home Depot, Macy's and Nissan. Even CEOs have felt the blow, with more than 60 terminated in 2008 and up to 150 expected to lose the top spot by the end of 2009. While the stimulus package is said to save or create three to four million jobs, this will depend on how efficiently the money is distributed over the next 12 to24 months.

Let's face reality. Executives who need jobs today cannot wait for a government stimulus to right the economy. In a "buyer's market" for employers such as this one, it is truly up to you to engineer your own career advancement. Jobs, while scarce, are out there, but differentiating yourself from others on the market will be more challenging than ever.

Even if you have reached the top rungs of the corporate ladder, you might discover in this turbulent job market that potential employers will be looking beyond your core qualifications to your creativity, flexibility and fit into the company culture. Establishing yourself as a best-in-class executive, capable of easily adapting to and thriving during fluctuating economic cycles, will set you apart and enable you to more quickly land a career-enhancing opportunity. Some nontraditional strategies we recommend include:

1. Be open to interim positions or consulting projects. These will allow you to draw an income, keep your skills fresh and position yourself for prime roles once regular hiring levels return. So-called independent workers now comprise more than 30% of the American work force, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, demonstrating an increased willingness on the part of employers and professionals to consider unconventional working arrangements. With many companies unable to hire full-time employees, highly seasoned project or temporary professional workers are an appealing alternative.

2. Consider posts that are a pay grade or title below your most recent position. You'll be positioned to exceed expectations and possibly turn the "downgrade" into a dream job later on. This is a particularly relevant strategy at organizations with reputations for promoting from within. By consistently over-performing and demonstrating your value to the company, you will ensure that you are at the top of its shortlist when more prestigious opportunities become

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