Looking Out for No. 1

Lay the groundwork for your next big career move

by Teresa A. Whitacre

Finding work during a recession is a challenge, not an impossibility. But, whether you are unemployed and seeking work, or currently employed and seeking an improved career, it is your responsibility to get results.

Many organizations have career ladders or career growth opportunities, such as training, tuition reimbursement or promotions. Keep in mind, however, these organizations exist to be profitable, not to take their employees’ careers to the next level.

I am not advising disloyalty to your company or to any company with which you have been associated. You signed on with that organization for a reason, and you need to give your full attention to the job you were hired to do. But, if you are in the job market or just trying to advance your career, keep the following in mind:

  • Always be audition ready.
  • Stay connected.
  • Get your name out there.
  • Use speed networking.

Always be audition ready

No matter where you are, you are always auditioning. My family teases me because I do not like to go anywhere, even the post office or grocery store, without minimal makeup and a basic hairstyle. I firmly believe that you never know when you will meet a potential hiring manager.

I went to a large discount store one day and ran into a former coworker and his friend. Little did I know that the friend was a hiring manager at a company where I would interview months later. That same hiring manager remembered meeting me and the impression I made—even though I didn’t know at the time that I was auditioning.

You may be auditioning at a public venue, a company function, a professional society meeting or during a project. Be prepared to always put your best foot forward.

Stay connected

I advise people to stay connected at all times, even when happily engaged in work they enjoy. Staying in touch has always been my philosophy, especially because it has worked for me.

A friend recently told me how he left work on a Friday, happily employed. When he returned the following Monday, a sign on the door said the company had been closed due to the current financial crisis. Two of the four investment firms that supplied the company’s funding had gone out of business. Just like that, my friend was unemployed. Fortunately, he had kept in touch with his network and was able to find another position in a relatively short time.

The message here is to be current and connected. It is much easier to rely on an already-built network than it is to try to create one in a time of need.

Get your name out there

This is a slogan in the sales world. Potential clients are typically those you already know. The same is true for career opportunities. Your reputation is everything, and what people know or say about you matters. It is much easier to get a better job, or any position at all, with someone who knows you and what you can do.

Attaining career growth at your current organization or obtaining a new job is a numbers game based on probability. The more times you try, the more likely you are to succeed. Don’t let past mistakes or errors in judgment during job searches stand in your way. Even if you must reinvent yourself and change careers, it is your responsibility to do so if that’s what is needed.

Speed networking

The concept of speed dating has turned into speed networking. Speed networking events involve you, your business card and 30 seconds to talk about yourself. Speed networking is an opportunity to spread the word about yourself to as many people as possible while wearing your sales and marketing hat.

All you need is a brief, well-rehearsed speech describing yourself and what you can do. In turn, you get to learn about others, what they do and maybe even their companies. Real-estate agents have been successful obtaining clients through speed networking. So can quality professionals.

Taking responsibility for your career growth and finding employment may be difficult, particularly in down times. It’s easy to say, "No one wants me, the boss hates me, the economy is terrible, and this company won’t promote me." Remember that you have the power to control your destiny.

Creativity, positive thinking and due diligence will help you achieve your goals. Resolve to take responsibility to become whatever you wish. And remember that the only person responsible for your destiny and your own career path is you.

Teresa A. Whitacre is a quality assurance professional and owner of Marketech Systems in the Pittsburgh area. She is a senior member of ASQ and holds ASQ certifications of quality auditor, quality engineer, quality manager/organizational excellence and Six Sigma Green Belt. Currently Pittsburgh section secretary, Whitacre is a long-term instructor for quality inspection certification for the section.

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