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Job Security the Easter Bunny and Other Myths

July 6, 1998
by Pat McClellan

There is perhaps no greater joy than watching a child discover the dental eroding goodies left by the Easter Bunny. This myth exists simply because it is fun to believe in and fun to perpetuate. And yet, no responsible parent would allow their children to move beyond the age of 10 or 12 believing that such a rodent really exists. I'm sorry if this is dispelling any of your long-held beliefs. I hate to be the one, but it's time. Oh, and while I'm at it: there's no such thing as job security.

If you read my last Business Matters piece, you'll recall that I warned contractors against relying on a single client for all of your income. But this is precisely the situation for those of you who have "real jobs". If you're employed fulltime by a company, your income is dependent on the fortunes of the company and the whims of its management.

Yes, I am saying without stipulation that there is no such thing as job security. But before all of you rush into your bosses' office and quit your jobs, remember that this lack of job security affects us all, contractor and employees alike. The difference, of course, is that when you work fulltime for a company, it's fun to pretend that you have job security. Others around you also like to believe. And like any fun-loving parent, your employer loves to perpetuate the belief.

I'm not a corporate-hating, management-conspiracy theorist. I don't think most companies are trying to deceive their employees into a false sense of security. Take a look at your employment contract. It probably says something to the effect that the company can dismiss you and escort you out of the office immediately and without cause. However, the only time you read this part (if you ever did) was on your first day when you were excited to be joining the company. You were filled with dreams of new opportunities and, yes, job security. But you're not a child anymore. If you are still clinging to these outdated beliefs, you need to take a bitter bite of reality and figure out how to deal with the consequences. "Wait!", you exclaim, "Now you're telling me that I have no job security whatsoever? How can I go on living?"

I'm not a nihilist. I do believe in something: career security. The distinction? I expect my career to take many turns in my lifetime, spanning my job titles, companies, and responsibilites. And most importantly, my career security only depends on the whims and fortunes of someone I trust. Me.

Achieving career security

Since every career is different, we will each find career security in our own ways. I know you're looking for me to say something like "Learn JAVA and you'll never have to worry about finding work." But it's just not as easy as a few simple rules. I do have a few guidelines which I follow and may be helpful to you. I'd also enjoy hearing from you about how you invest in your own career security.

1) Use Inertia to your advantage. Inertia is the tendency for an object at rest to stay at rest. As a property of our physical world, intertia affects people as much as rocks. If you're "at rest" in your career while the world advances around you, you will quickly be left behind. Take comfort in the fact that inertia is ALSO the tendency for objects in motion to remain in motion. Kickstart yourself, if necessary, to put yourself into motion (in a desirable direction, preferably). Then, develop habits which will perpetuate this motion.

2) Beware insulation, seek networks. If your only professional contact and interaction is within your company, your security is suffering. You MUST join professional groups, associations or other informal forums for industry discussion and networking. If you think you're too busy, then your priorities are dangerously focused on the short-term. This doesn't mean you have to volunteer to coordinate every association activity, but you need to make yourself visible.

3) Never stop learning. If you think you're finished learning the job skills you'll need in your career, you're sadly mistaken. It doesn't matter what your job description or level is, if you expect to move on or up, you better be learning... today, tomorrow, everyday. This can include on-the-job training, formal continuing education, self-taught skills (from books, listservs, newgroups or other resources), and more informal or special topics seminars. I should note that there is no better way to learn than to teach, so share your knowledge with others.

4) Beware a false sense of security. Nobody develops a false sense of security when things are bad. So if things are good for you, now is the time to candidly assess your situation. Are you insulated? Are you too comfortable (at rest)? What have you learned in the last month? What would you do if you lost your job tomorrow?

5) Stay in touch with the job market. Know the opportunities that exist for you both inside and outside your company. Find out what your skills are worth elsewhere. Note the interesting opportunities that you DON'T qualify for and assess what you need in order to become qualified for it. It's not a bad idea to stay in touch with a good professional recruiter ("head hunter"). Occasionally, go to a job interview -- even if you don't think you want the job. This is great experience for keeping your interviewing skills sharp, and you never know what opportunity might appear.

If you're thinking that your current employer or job responsibilities would prohibit you from investing the time and effort into this investment in your career security, then the red flag is waving. Danger! Danger! Any good employer knows that you will be more valuable to them if you are constantly looking to learn new skills and take an active role in your industry. Maybe you don't need to mention that you're going to other job interviews, but there's no need to pretend that you don't know there are other opportunities in the market.

Pay particular attention to the Inertia guideline. Most people are averse to change because change is stressful. So is exercise. Darwin would say that nothing ever improved itself in a comfortable environment. Like exercise, adapting to change can be addictive if you have the right attitude. That attitude can be easily motivated by the fact that the ability to adapt to change -- the ability to learn -- will always be your most marketable skill. In a high-tech industry like ours, those who are best at adapting to change will be the most successful -- and the most secure.

Patrick McClellan is Director Online's co-founder. Pat is Vice President, Managing Director for Jack Morton Worldwide, a global experiential marketing company. He is responsible for the San Francisco office, which helps major technology clients to develop marketing communications programs to reach enterprise and consumer audiences.

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