By Peggy Klaus
If the bad economic news is making you feel anxious about your career or afraid of losing your job, there are actions you can take right now to improve your soft skills in ways that will help you survive the slowdown. While certainly soft skills can make or break your career under any conditions, they become indispensable during hard times. These skills cover a wide range of abilities and traits—from self-awareness to attitude, initiative to problem solving, handling criticism to communicating your agenda, leadership to time management, political astuteness to integrity, and then some.
Increasing your soft skills savvy will help you demonstrate your value during a soft economy, whether you simply want to recession-proof your career or if you find yourself back on the job market.
- BE SEEN AS INDISPENSABLE
- Be seen as the go-to-person for getting things done—the one who will make it happen when others can't or don't.
- Demonstrate your versatility. Even if you are not best at any single position on the team, you are more likely to be kept on when you are seen as a multipurpose player. Versatility becomes even more important during times of cutbacks when fewer employees remain.
- Have strong relationships with the people your company serves. For example, when the higher-ups are deciding whom to ax, you want them to think, "If we let Bob go, we will be putting some business at risk—try explaining to everyone why we've laid him off!"
- MANAGE YOUR BOSS
- Be the one who really understands what the boss needs and delivers it when and how he wants it delivered.
- Make sure that the results you focus on and produce are the ones your boss and company value most.
- Don't think of supporting your supervisor as "sucking up." Rather, think of it as creating and maintaining good relationships with superiors—just as you do with colleagues—which, by the way, is simply part of doing your job.
- UNDERSTAND YOUR COMPANY'S SHADOW ORGANIZATION
- If you think office politics are beneath you, catch up fast on the "shadow organization" that really runs things and impacts key decisions—including those about reorganizations and layoffs.
- Don't be an ostrich. Catch the signs of shifting tides and be a detective about what's ahead so that you can proactively position yourself.
- Maintain strong relationships and create high visibility with the higher ups. Get to know their interests outside of the office, volunteer for key committees that are close to the division head's or CEO's heart, and learn where they play golf. In other words, make the effort to bond with them.
- BRAND AND BRAG
- Connect the dots for people and show them how your strengths can be utilized in other departments, capacities, or fields. Avoid pigeonholing yourself. Instead of, "I'm a mortgage assistant," present yourself like this: "I'm a strong problem solver, great at putting deals together, good with numbers, and strong with my people skills."
- Make sure your managers know what a great job you are doing all the time—not just during performance reviews.
- DEMONSTRATE LEADERSHIP ABILITY OR THE QUALITIES FOR BECOMING A LEADER
- Get along with and motivate others. How peers or direct reports view you becomes increasingly important during downturns. At layoff time, the tolerance level rapidly decreases toward people who are good at doing their job but perceived as being jerks or bullies.
- Take the initiative and problem solve. It's not enough to be good at getting things done—you need to be seen as someone who is looking for ways to get them done better. Generate solutions, especially to problems that no one else wants to handle or acknowledge.
- Think big. Being seen as a big-picture thinker becomes more desirable during times of transition when solving challenges becomes more critical than ever.
- Stay positive. Your ability to remain constructive and positive during layoffs, cutbacks, or talk of downsizing speaks volumes.
- CONTINUOUSLY LEARN AND REACH OUT
- Keep learning new skills. Don't assume that you are bullet proof.
- People think that keeping their job is what it's all about, but sometimes a layoff is unavoidable. So stay connected to colleagues and leaders in your industry, professional associations, and colleagues at other firms. Be positioned to ask for referrals and information regarding other opportunities or positions.
About the Author(s)
Peggy Klaus is an executive coach and the author of two books: BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It (Warner Books, 2003) and The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They’d Learned Sooner (Collins, 2008). For more information, visit peggyklaus.com