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An eye on opportunity

Brace yourselves. I'm about to come out in favor of infidelity. Not marital infidelity, of course, or even brand infidelity. (I believe that once you choose a type of coffee, you and that beverage must remain forever bound, as the gods of capitalism intended.) But fidelity to your employer is another matter.

Ambrose Bierce, a 19th century author and journalist, wrote that fidelity is a "virtue peculiar to those who are about to be betrayed."

Never has that been more true than in today's workplace, where many of us are one bad earnings report or one lost client away from joining the swollen ranks of the unemployed. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that U.S. workers are expressing near record-high concerns about the stability of their jobs and income — three in 10 say they worry they could be laid off soon.

I've received several questions from readers — some worried about their jobs going away, others unsatisfied with their career paths — asking when they should start looking elsewhere. Should I stay put, given the state of the economy? Should I just be happy to have a job?

Answers came to me in a surprising setting: in the basement of a Catholic church in Chicago, at a meeting of a support group for unemployed people. One of the organizers had asked me to come, and I had said I would if I could bring someone. That person was Karen Goins, a career coach and head of the consulting firm KS Goins & Associates. As Goins spoke, it dawned on me that the advice she was giving to people looking for work could — and perhaps should — be followed by the employed as well.

Goins said you should never stop looking for a job, even if you have one. You should always have your eyes open, always be networking and asking around about other opportunities, and never accept that you're stuck in a job for life.

"When you stop believing that you're a valuable person and that someone can benefit from having you, that's when hopelessness and fear and stress move in," she said. "And once they move in, they're hard to get out."

So if you're looking for work, you can't let yourself give up, or you're dead in the water. And if you have a job you're not crazy about, you can't stop believing you're worthy of something better.

Goins said all those in the room needed to take some time — away from the computer, away from the day-to-day slog of a job search — and focus on what they truly want to do for a living. Identify the jobs that would bring them joy and fulfillment and make them feel excited.

"Don't look for what you've always done and have hated," she said. "You can spend as much time looking for something you hate as you can spend looking for something you love."

Even in a rotten job market, nobody needs to feel stuck. If you're lucky enough to be working, take advantage of the fact that you have a steady income and use your time to carefully consider a next step — and then chart a path to get there.

Goins' primary tactical message to job-seekers is to network. She gave the people in that church an assignment: Stay away from the computer for three days. As expected, this brought gasps. But her point is, again, applicable to both the employed and the unemployed.

"I call the computer the black box," Goins said. "It's like a slot machine that you have in your house. … You can apply for 400 jobs on the black box, and you won't hear anything back about any of them. You have to get off that black box and get out there and network face to face."

Think about the way you stay connected with most people. It's very likely through Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media networks, maybe through e-mail.

In a world in which job security is dodgy at best, our dependency on electronic connections is risky. Whether you're unemployed, employed and not happy, or employed and happy, it's foolish not to aggressively meet with people. Go out to lunch with friends who work in other industries. Grab a beer with former colleagues. Go to community meetings. Hit conferences.

"The world is full of great people who want to help you," Goins said. "You just can't be afraid to get out there and meet them."

And you can't be afraid to flirt with opportunities. You think your company wouldn't do the same thing behind your back, possibly consider a younger employee who might do your job for less pay? Get out there and play the field. This ain't love; it's business.

An eye on opportunity 10/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 4:30am]
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