Savvy Career Management For a Global Job Market

Waiting for the national jobs picture to brighten, or for government or corporate initiatives to stimulate employment, is folly for the individual job seeker. The responsibility for staying employable in the long term rests on each of us.

Granted, large shifts are taking place that affect the U.S. job market. It’s now a truly global marketplace. The movement of many products and services knows no geographical boundaries or time-zone limitations. For example, engineers in Bangalore, India, read CT scans for American hospitals, and accountants in Manila crunch numbers for U.S. corporate audits.

The combination of advancing technology and globalization has wreaked havoc on the job market for more than a decade. The “workplace” has become “workspace,” reflecting the virtual nature of work. The economy and companies’ response to it continues to be unpredictable.

Whether 1,000 or 150,000 new U.S. jobs are created monthly, the availability of jobs will always ebb and flow based on factors well beyond any single person’s control. To create your own long-term job security in a global job market, manage your career actively by using the following 10 tips:

1. Understand the labor market. Acknowledge that your competition may sit not in the next cubicle but in another country. The reality is that your employer may be able to hire a replacement with a master’s degree and five years’ experience at $1,000 a month in India versus paying you $7,000 a month. It’s critical to demonstrate the value you deliver for this additional cost through new ideas, recommended improvements and specialized expertise.

2. Embrace technology. Stay current in the applications relevant to your field. Master your company’s business software and that of your customers. Don’t wait for company-sponsored training. Seek out classes, and commit to maintaining an appropriate level of computer literacy. Knowing software programs common to many companies can only increase your marketability.

3. Know your industry. Become a student of the business. Learn the big picture — trends, your company’s strategy, the supply chain, product life cycles, market share, competing products and labor challenges. Confidently conversing about your industry and mapping out plans to achieve goals can set you apart.

4. Become a global citizen. Your competitor across the ocean may speak two or more languages. Develop proficiency in a foreign tongue. It will differentiate you and level the career playing field.

Recognize that your international colleague may have lived in different countries and may be familiar with several cultures, legal systems and markets. An expatriate assignment can strengthen your credentials, especially given the increased likelihood of working for a non-American manager.

5. Redefine job compensation. Compensation usually is defined in monetary terms and most of us view it as paramount in accepting a position. But overemphasizing pay can be shortsighted. Instead, job offers should be judged in part on the opportunity to add expertise that’s lacking in your portfolio. Companies can no longer promise long-term employment, career paths or steady pay increases. The average job tenure at U.S. companies is three years and four months. Make sure you’ll be able to take something away other than a paycheck. Money doesn’t guarantee employability, but in-demand expertise and skills can.

6. Rethink your loyalties. “What have you done for me today?” is the current corporate mantra. Not because companies are bad, but because most are struggling to respond to the demands of global competition. Regardless of who your employer is, accept that the “employment contract” operates daily. As you shift from a paradigm of corporate loyalty to loyalty to your profession, you’ll become closer to achieving job security. Dedicate yourself to building depth and currency in your chosen field.

7. Attend to your reputation: No matter what your position, everyone has an unofficial “book.” Your manner of relating to management, colleagues, subordinates, customers and others sets your reputation. Your official performance rating often has little to do with how others view you — for example, as a team player, maverick, cynic, ambassador, employee advocate or other role. Often, this standing determines opportunities. Polish your reputation if it’s prohibiting your advancement or switch jobs or companies.

8. Don’t ignore office politics. Careers reach a point where merit becomes a given. When it’s assumed that results will be delivered, corporate politics can come into play. Understanding the motivations of others is critical. Disdaining instead of accepting office politics is naive.

9. Master job-search skills: Special skills are needed to transition to a new position, but they can be learned. These include knowing what you have to offer, determining what employers need, developing a plan and executing it. Job search has become an industry in itself. If you need help learning the basics or want guidance on the finer points, hire a career coach.

10. Take control of your career: Banish any thoughts that the government, the union or your company is responsible for your being employed. Career management is about understanding the employment environment, building marketable skills and having a portfolio of experiences that you can take with you.

Good career management enables you to walk from one company to the next with little likelihood of ever visiting an unemployment line.

— Ms. Sohn is a senior vice president and general manager in Pittsburgh at Lee Hecht Harrison, a global career-management firm. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and don’t represent the official position of Lee Hecht Harrison.

 

By Rebecca Sohn

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