I was recently contacted by a journalism student who was writing her Masters dissertation on careers. 'What,' she said, 'can graduates do to make themselves more attractive to employers at a time of recession?'
Although she was talking about young people leaving university, who are having a particularly tough time at the moment, many of us are vulnerable during a recession, whether we're employed, self-employed or unemployed. There's less money around to buy goods and services, businesses are losing clients and closing down, and the public sector is looking forward to a swathe of cuts.
So what is the favoured activity during such times? Is it knocking your CV into shape, going out to see prospective buyers or employers, developing new skills or products, working extra hard, networking, taking on new areas of work? Well no, there is something much more compelling than any of those activities. Worry. What if my organisation restructures or downsizes and I lose my job? What if my business liquidates? What if no more clients come, ever? What if I don't get a job, ever? How will I pay my rent, mortgage, student loan, how will I take care of my family?
Such thoughts can make you very anxious indeed. And when you're anxious you expend a lot of energy thinking more bad thoughts which make you more anxious; you lose sleep; your concentration is poor; you overreact to any possible slights or threats; and generally you make yourself less effective and less appealing to have around. So while at some level we believe that worrying will protect us, it actually has the potential to make things a lot worse!
Someone recently told me that their chief executive was 'ruthless and unpredictable' and 'keeps talking about 'downsizing' '. That's tough. It's very scary working for ruthless and unpredictable bosses, especially ones with money worries. And the most scary thing about it is that you have absolutely no control over what they do. Worrying, however, is not going to help. Action, on the other hand, will.
In terms of making yourself more employable, and more attractive to keep, there are lots of things you can do.
1. First of all, what is the worst case scenario? It lurks there in the shadows, making you anxious, so best get it out in the open. If you take time to look at your fears you often find that the central one, say 'I may lose my job', leads to a series of other fears of ever increasing awfulness (and ever decreasing likelihood).
2. What would you do if the worst case scenario happened? The world is surely not so flush with able and willing people that it can afford for them to be idle? And if all else fails, don't forget, we live in a civilised countries with welfare systems.
3. Write down a list of things that make you attractive to an employer. What are you especially good at? What are the things that your colleagues, peers, friends value about you? What would they miss if you were no longer there? Also, what makes you different from other people? Have you had special training or experience? Do you have knowledge of a specialist area? Do you have the wisdom that comes from years of experience? Or the freshness that comes from being young and enthusiastic? What can you offer that many people can't?
4. Put yourself in your employers/clients' shoes. What do they most need at the moment? What can you offer them that could meet those needs? Recessions don't stop people needing things, but they can change what those things are.
5. Write down what you are doing about your situation right now. Are you waiting for jobs or clients to come to you? Or are you being proactive?
6. What else would it be useful to do? Could you be doing more networking, checking out new avenues of work, keeping up to date with developments, developing new skills, arranging work experience, thinking of new services or products, going on courses, making yourself visible, getting advice?
7. Finally, remind yourself of the thoughts you've been having about the future and ask, what thoughts would it be more useful to have?