When Times are Tough

by Drew Bird

In the networking industry, which has for years struggled to attract sufficiently skilled personnel, the chances of being laid off were slim to none. In today's business climate, that's simply not true. Our stalwart expert explains what you can do in an environment where job cuts loom at every turn.

Late the other evening, I got a call from a friend of mine who had just escaped the latest round of layoffs at the company where he works. Like many others, his company has fallen foul of a shrinking economy and an uncertain financial future. What surprised me about the call was not that his company, a wealthy law firm with offices all over the world, was laying off employees, but rather that he was completely surprised about the layoffs.

In IT, many people seem to have adopted the tack of invincibility, believing that, in an industry that has for years struggled to attract sufficiently skilled personnel, the chances of being laid off are slim to none. In today's business climate, that's simply not true.

In good times, companies expand, in tough times they contract. While IT may not seem like the first place to make job cuts, high salaried IT workers make for ideal layoff candidates if the company is looking to reduce costs. Not only that, but in some cases IT employees can literally become victims of their own success when newly installed systems improve efficiency and reduce administrative overhead. I am not suggesting you do your job badly, that'll get you laid off in short order, job cuts or not.

So what can you do in an environment where job cuts threaten at every turn? The biggest consideration, obviously, is to be aware of what is happening. Denial is not a good thing, and if office rumors are spreading about possible layoffs, ignoring them altogether is an unwise move. Likewise is over-reacting. Now is not the greatest time to move jobs, and unless you are fairly sure of an impending layoff, staying put is often a far wiser strategy than going out into the job market and looking for a more 'secure' position. Even if companies in you area are still recruiting, and they probably are, the old system of 'last in, first out' still operates in many environments. If moving into a new position will make you 'last in' you might want to reconsider.

As well as awareness, preparedness is also important. If the unthinkable happens, how ready are you to start a job search? How many of us have an updated resume, ready to go? Probably not as many of us as should. Having a presentation ready, updated resume, makes you more marketable, more quickly. If you think there is a good chance of a layoff, talk to employment agencies that specialize in IT recruitment and find out where the jobs are and what skills employers are looking for. You should also register with online job sites such as monster.com. Many of these sites allow a resume to be stored online without actually activating it. If you don't need to take the step of activating it, great. If you do, its there ready and waiting should you need it.

If you are unfortunate enough to get laid off, and you find yourself in between jobs, use the time wisely. Learn new skills and perhaps take new certifications or even just use the time to bring your existing ones up to date. Not only is this a good use of time, it keeps you in the loop and shows potential employers that you are still interested in developing skills and knowledge. Remember the things that got you into your first IT job? They still apply when you are looking for a subsequent position.

For all of us, the most important thing to remember is this. We work in one of, if not the, fastest moving and dynamic industries there is. But in the same way as any other industry we are subject to the whims and waves of the economy. Reminding ourselves of our disposability, and being prepared for the event should it happen are key career survival skills. It's no different in IT than in any other career field.

Drew Bird (MCT, MCNI) is a freelance instructor and technical writer. He is the author of a number of books including the IT Careers Guide published by Coriolis. Drew has been working in the IT industry for over 12 years and currently lives in Kelowna, BC., Canada..

This article was originally published on Thursday Nov 8th 2001
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