Whether seeking a new job or advancing in the one you have, recruiting expert Brad Karsh offers advice on how to recession-proof your career.
Kimberly Maul: What are some common work-related concerns that people have now?
Brad Karsh: With so much downsizing going on and with unemployment going up, there is obviously a big concern, especially in the marketing and PR world, that jobs are going away. The fact of the matter is they are. Also somewhat troubling is that while there are a lot of signs pointing to a recovery, the job hiring lags behind the recovery. So the estimations are that the job market is actually going to get worse before it gets better.
Maul: “Especially in the marketing and PR world.” Why do you say that? What is it about those sectors that makes things so challenging?
Karsh: Unfortunately, among the first things to go are expenses like advertising, marketing, and PR. Not always and not in every instance, but certainly in some cases. As a result, it is a little trickier in those particular fields. That's why it's a bit of a concern.
Maul: When PR pros see people losing their jobs around them, what can they do to avoid that fate?
Karsh: In essence, what can you do to recession-proof your job? There are a few things that you can do; though none of them are guaranteed.
One of the first things I always talk about is trying to make yourself indispensable. Find something important for your company and tie yourself to that, whatever it is. It could be a client relationship. Maybe it's being the new business guru. Perhaps you're the only one who knows a particular brand's history. Whatever it is, try to make yourself indispensable for something important to your company.
Maul: Any other tips?
Karsh: Have a great attitude and volunteer to do more. Fewer people still have to do the same work. If you shirk some responsibility or don't have a great work ethic, you're going to get killed.
Similarly, you want to have a good attitude. It becomes this bunker mentality when you go through a layoff. Among those that are left, employers want people who are positive, who will look forward to the future, and who are not going to complain about everything.
Maul: Do you think that the measurement of success is defined differently now than it is in a better economy?
Karsh: Yes. Right now, a lot of it is just on keeping revenue. So while there might have been some other things that are really nice out there, what's probably most important to any company is revenue. If you can tie yourself to dollars, it makes you all the more valuable.
Maul: How do PR pros truly tie themselves to dollars?
Karsh: It's about ideas, relationships, and execution. It's coming up with a new idea that equates to incremental funding that the client is going to pay for. The client didn't think they had the money, but loved that idea so much that they found money for it. And with this idea, you just made your company an extra $100,000.
It's about relationships. This may be a bit more senior, but I run [a certain] business for one major agency and I know that another multinational firm also has some of that business. However, I have such a strong relationship with the CMO and PR head of the first agency, I was able to get additional assignments for them. It's about that relationship.
Maul: With so many organizations not giving raises and some even cutting salaries, how can PR pros approach their companies and bosses when it comes to personal salary issues?
Karsh: My advice is to approach it very carefully. Five years ago, or even three years ago, you could say something like, “I want a raise. If I don't get it, I'm walking out the door.” You can't really say that these days. You have to think about the business situation before you get indignant or start to demand something.
That being said, I think you can try, if you go about it with the right attitude. You have to, in my mind, ask humbly and limit it to one request.
Maul: Is changing jobs during this economy advisable?
Karsh: Some HR directors have said it's actually harder to get people away from their current company with the prevailing thought being, “I have worked at so-and-so for 15 years, so if I leave now and go to [another firm], yeah, it's a great job and they're going to give me more money, but I'm the last guy in, could I be the first one out? What if I get there and I don't click with people?”
Honestly, I think it can be a riskier proposition if you're established at your current company to switch jobs right now. Not to say it's impossible and not to say that you shouldn't take chances and risks, but it could be a riskier proposition right now.
Maul: Speaking of another kind of career change, what about going back to school?
Karsh: I am a big fan of doing this right now. This can be a good bridge to weather this storm. If you have the means and an interest, this could be a great time to do it. So if you go back to get that master's, MBA, or whatever it is, think about it. You can either do it at night or full-time if you can swing it. Pick up that additional degree. Learn more about something. Then in a year or two or three, when you are done, hopefully the market will be much better.
Maul: Looking at PR, do you think this economy will notably change the way that the industry hires its professionals? If so, how?
Karsh: It's more important than ever to hire the right person for the right job. I think there is more of an effort in getting people who will hit the ground running. Moreover, I think recruiting directors in PR are less apt to take chances. And those chances could come in a variety of forms. I think it's going to cause recruiting directors in PR just to be a bit more cautious in terms of their hires. They want to hire someone who is a little bit “safer.”
Nine tips for protecting your career amid a downturn
1. Save or earn the company money.
2. Become indispensable. Be the “go to” person.
3. Do the work of two... or three people.
4. Network within the company.
5. Put on a happy face and have a great attitude.
6. Stay in the game, develop new skills.
7. Toot your own horn. Make sure that your boss recognizes your accomplishments.
8. Ask for feedback to move forward and improve your performance.
9. Dust off and polish your résumé – just in case.
Brad Karsh is president of JobBound and JB-Training Solutions, companies dedicated to providing best-in-class outplacement and corporate training. He is author of Stop Job Searching, Start Networking: The Secrets to Getting Hired The Easier Way. Karsh spent 15 years at Leo Burnett Advertising in Chicago, where he was VP/director of talent acquisition. He's considered one of the nation's leading workplace experts and has been featured on CNN, Dr. Phil, CNBC, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today.