Building your network and continuing education are career-long opportunities

On September 23, 2013, JP Morgan Chase laid off 367 people in Metro Detroit, a region where every job counts as being mission-critical. Earlier in the year, that same company announced they would cut 15,000 jobs nationwide.

It make me think of the impact downsizing has on workers, a subject I often blog about, have personally endured and recount in my book. It is unfortunate that layoffs and downsizings happen, yet it is a fact of working life. Layoffs always happen, and always will.

So, how can employees of a century-old banking giant, or a truck plant in Toledo, or anywhere subject to business disruption ever truly prepare for such a career calamity? The key is knowing that this could happen to you, and preparing for involuntary separation long before it happens.

Clicking your mouse is good; pounding the pavement is better

Last week I talked with a group of mid-career executives who had lost their jobs. Some had been out of work for several years. I was speaking with them at their graduation from the MEDC’s “Michigan Shifting Gears” program where folks learn how to go about looking for a job.  Almost all of the graduates said they had gone about looking for a job the wrong way, by solely sending out resumes and surfing various job sites.

I started by telling them that I, too, was one of them. Yes, I have been laid off or downsized four times–all in the first third of my career. I told them about how I was about to be “wacked” again at age 57 by a company that was focusing on “young” people mostly in their 30s.

In my previous positions, I had met lots of people in government, charitable and community organizations, the media (that was my business) and the corporate world. I also kept in touch with many of those people and they became my network. Plus, through volunteering and working with so many of them, they had come to know that I was a man of my word, and that I accomplished what I said I would. So not only did my network know me personally, but they knew what I could do.

I did not like being laid off (and really, who does?) so I continued to learn about my profession and made myself the best employee I could be. I listened to my supervisors, attended and participated in seminars, read hundreds of books and joined professional organizations where continuing education was a focus.

So when my employer did not include me in their future plans, I turned to my (then) 25-year-old network. I didn’t know it, but they were the key to my future success. I was also a much better employee through ongoing learning. I was more prepared to lead a company than the people who were brought in to run my old company, and proved it by starting my own firm. Within three years, the public-relations agency that I founded was larger than the one I previously worked for, and nearly got canned from.

It’s never too late not to be too late

My message to Shifting Gears grads and to you is this: Building your network and continuing to learn are career-long opportunities, and doing both will help you survive business downturns.

Bob Waltenspiel and Dave Phillips, two of the contributors to the Shifting Gears program, who operate the detroitnet.org networking group for tech professionals, both said:

“When you lose your job is not the time to begin networking–it is six months before losing your job.”

Let’s hope the people who have just been laid off from the bank and the truck plant did these things. It is not too late for any of us to start the process, to build a network and to continue learning.

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