Career Hedging is a Safe Bet
BackBy Kellye Whitney — March 2008
If someone told you to build an action plan, you might say, for what? And if someone told you to build an axe-tion plan, you’d likely be even more confused. Yet an axe-tion plan, where you actively plan to both get promoted and get fired simultaneously, might be the kind of strategic thinking that will keep you afloat and moving ahead in today’s increasingly volatile job market.
“Career hedging is balancing employment risks and rewards as professionals move through their careers,” said Robert Graber, president and CEO of WallStJobs.com. “The risks are the downsides that you find in any workplace: downsizing, mergers and acquisitions, which can result in redundancy of staff, management changes and industry upheavals. While these risks are ominous, they also present the possibility for great rewards.”
These rewards or new opportunities to pursue different career directions and skill sets may not necessarily be outside an IT professionals’ current company, Graber said. In the event of a workplace event such as a merger or acquisition, the savvy IT pro might position him or herself for advancement by proving to be indispensable to leaders during the company’s culture or management change. This could result in advancement even though the organizational climate might be bleak otherwise.
“You can also think of different types of efficiencies or productivity improvements that might be undertaken during whatever the risks are, and turn that into a positive or a reward in your career,” he said.
The axe-tion plan, part emergency and part future planning, requires looking at both sides of one’s professional environment and essentially thinking as if you just got laid off, Graber said.
“It’s a dichotomy,” he explained. “Good career hedging entails making plans for the worse case while also positioning yourself for a promotion. It’s an insurance policy, a what-if exercise in case you suddenly change jobs for whatever reason.”
Axe-tion planning is the antithesis of complacency. Thus, one shouldn’t wait until things (such as the economy) get shaky before considering how and when movement and planning might be employed to the advantage of your job or career.
The axe-tion plan might include procuring savings for at least six months of unemployment, avoiding long-term debt, maintaining a current resume and references, and ensuring copies of favorable performance reviews are kept handy.
“Don’t count on severances,” Graber said. “Also — I think this is very important for the IT professional — be educated on what’s happening in your specific industry. Read the trade publications. Look to see if firms have gotten new contracts or lost business. Research the field. See what companies are promoting, hiring and laying off. This gives a potential road map if you have to quickly move on.”
Graber said IT professionals have to be on guard and think of ways they can be more valuable to their firms, especially when things seem good. Position yourself as a complete package, someone who has value in more than one area, and look for opportunities to market your skills in ways that have bottom-line impact on your company’s major revenue streams.
“Another important part of career hedging and getting an axe-tion plan is networking, in real time, not when something terrible happens because then it’s too late,” Graber said. “Maintain a good list of contacts, nurture them with calls and e-mails, go to related events, join associations. Get noticed while you’re preparing for the worst. It’s making calculated, professional risks that can create career-making opportunities.”