Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Economic Downturn Ushers in Continual Career Maintenance

By now, unless you've been living under a rock, most readers here know that we're in the midst of the worst economic downturn in some 30 years – at least from an employment standpoint. While much attention is being paid to new signs that point to recovery, it's important that we all take away lessons from this period that will serve us well for years, and perhaps decades to come. Because I frequently get e-mails from college students and other early-career professionals due to writing I do on other venues, I thought I'd give my take on the current environment, as it relates to the PR profession.

Certainly this downturn was very pronounced in the fact that more jobs have been lost in the last two years than any period in the last 30 years. At the same time, many people saw their cost of living increase, which reduced the power of the wages they were earning. However, what many don't think about is the fact that this loss of wage power is actually a trend that's been in motion some time and may necessitate everyone to think differently about work and their careers.

We all know that the days when you work for one employer for most of your career are nonexistent now and have been for quite some time. Even with that commonplace knowledge, however, most people don't think of a career as something that has to be maintained. In other words, you need to set long-term goals and a number of short-term goals designed to get you from “point A” to “point B.” Realize that establishing yourself in your career is a marathon and not a sprint. You'll also likely suffer setbacks, due to the changing nature of the economy and/or your industry, among other reasons. The most important thing to remember in all this is that if you properly maintain your career, you'll be better prepared for these shifts when they happen.

What does that mean exactly? For starters, keep abreast of changes in your industry. For PR pros, that means continually staying on top of not only media trends, but developments in the social media world. The latter is rapidly changing; for example, MySpace was once considered to be the top dog, but has now become mostly an also-ran unless you're an entertainment specialist. Likewise, knowing how to properly integrate various social-media tools into a cohesive campaign is vitally important as well. I continually tell clients to never assume you know how someone will find you. Some days it might be Google, other days it might be LinkedIn. But if you've got all your social-media elements working in tandem, it really doesn't matter. I regularly use Twitter to drive users to published content online, I post news of all new client developments via both Twitter and LinkedIn and make sure that my LinkedIn profile is up-to-date.

Also, even relatively new professionals need to start thinking about making a name for yourselves. We all know that, in this day and age, a prospective employer will conduct an extensive Web search to see what you've done online – including anything that you've written. Given that, you need to actively manage your information to ensure that a selection of it is available online for employers or prospective clients to easily peruse. Do simple things like including URLs to your online profiles in your e-mail signature. This approach takes all the guess work out of knowing how people will find you online, as that strategy will work as well for people coming in from a search engine as it will going to your Web site or a social-networking site profile directly.

Finally, once you've established a high level of comfort with the basic tactics of the PR business, look to begin specializing in a few industries. The most important thing to remember about career maintenance is you don't want to be like everyone else. Instead, you want to become known for a few things that remain marketable throughout your career. These may change over time, and we'll all have to freshen up on things, but it's a big help if you've become known as a “go to” person within a few industries.

To increase your reputation within an industry, carefully select one or two industry associations to join and become active in them. Personally, I make sure at least one of these are outside the PR/marketing world. I've got nothing against my fellow PR and marketing pros, but in my opinion, networking extensively outside those industries pays bigger dividends, since everyone in the room's not a competitor and you're raising your reputation within an industry from which you hope to draw clients.

Finally, even for those of you who aren't solo practitioners, practice and refine your “elevator pitch.” These days, it's vitally important for people to be able to give a cohesive 30-second answer when someone asks “What do you do?” It's especially important for people in public relations, because very few people know what the heck we do. You never know who you're going to meet or where, so being able to give a clear, concise answer to this question could pay big dividends down the road.