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The Myth of Job Security and How to Create CAREER Security March 18, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Career Management.
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When I work with someone who wants to explore new career opportunities, I ask them a lot of questions about what they want in a position and in an employer.  About 92% of the people I speak with mention “job security” or “stability”.  It’s a very reasonable thing to want.  While I’m a big proponent of embracing change and taking risks, unexpectedly losing a paycheck and being out of work isn’t the type of change and risk anyone likes.

There is no such thing as job security.  I learned this first hand when I was very young. I grew up in a “steel town” in the 1970s.  The steel mill, where 80% of the people in my town worked, looked like the most secure employer that you would ever find – strong profits, consistent growth, and tops in the industry.  People got into the mill when they were young, and they never left until they retired and enjoyed a lifelong pension.  Then the recession of the late 1970s came…

Within two years, 75% of the employees were out of work.  My Dad was one of the 25% who didn’t lose their jobs.  In fact, he got promotions and pay raises during this time of massive layoffs, and I’ll bet he could have gone to any other similar business in the country and gotten a strong offer.  How did he manage to do this?  He never bought into the concept that a company could provide “job security”.  He took charge of his own career and made sure he did three things: he got results for his customers, he found ways of improving the financial bottom line of his company, and he always kept his skills up to date.  He made his own CAREER security.

The same concepts apply to people working for technology firms in the Intelligence and Defense community.  It doesn’t matter if you work at a tiny start-up or one of the giant integrators.  If your project ends, you don’t have job security.  If an agency has a funding cut, you don’t have job security.  If your company gets acquired, you don’t have job security.  If you don’t do a good job, you don’t have job security.

So what do you do?  You can apply the same approach my Dad used to your work.  Here are three questions that I recommend you ask yourself at the end of each week:

“Did I make my customer successful this week?”

“Did I make my employer successful this week?”

“Did I upgrade my skills this week?”

You probably won’t answer “yes” to each of these questions every week, but you should be able to answer “yes” to each of them on a fairly regular basis.  If you can’t, then you don’t have security in your career.

An exceptional Engineer I tried to recruit years ago called this the “drive home test”.  Every Friday, after he left his work site, he took account of his career by asking himself those three questions as he sat in traffic.  He used this little bit of regular introspection to make sure he was taking care of his career.

If you are making your customer, your employer, and yourself successful, you’ll be one of the imminently employable people – the folks that survive the layoffs, get to sit on the bench between projects, and have the luxury of multiple job offers to choose from if they decide to make a change.  The great thing about this is that security is completely within your control.  When you leave work this Friday, take the “drive home test” and see how you’re doing.

Ron Stanley

Ron is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search consulting firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area and a former software engineer and technical project manager.

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