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Career Advice From Jenny Schade

Five Key Essentials for Bullet Proofing Your Career
By Jenny Schade

As I’ve interviewed more than 1,000 employees while guiding companies through turbulent change, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: certain employees are not only surviving the chaos, but thriving. I call this group, “The Invincibles,” because they are essentially bullet-proofing their careers against the extreme changes experienced today in organizations worldwide.

Where their colleagues perceive adversity, The Invincibles see opportunity. Where others hang back and try to, “stay off the radar,” these employees are engaged and prepared for a challenge.

Considered individually, each interview provides a fascinating perspective on how individuals respond to change. Taken as a whole, the more than 1,000 interviews offer keen insights into how employees can thrive in the face of turbulence. Analyzing my findings across various industries and change situations — including mergers, layoffs and the rollout of new corporate procedures — I’ve noted core qualities that fuel the buoyancy of hardy achievers. 

During a recent radio interview, the host asked me, “Are Invincibles born that way, or can you learn to be an Invincible?” It’s an interesting question. While I believe that many of my interview respondents have innate, Invincible qualities, it’s my mission to enable others to learn and adopt these characteristics.

Following are five key essentials for bullet-proofing your career, based on my interviews. The interviews occurred one-on-one and in focus groups at Fortune 500 organizations. In all cases, I had been retained by company leadership to assist with change management in situations that involved workforce reductions, restructuring, or revised corporate procedures.

  • Confirm you still want to be in your field.

What if you had to reapply for your job right now? Or if you’re not currently employed, what are you doing to ensure you’re marketable in this unpredictable, unstable economy? Changing skill sets are a reality for all workers.

The Invincibles I interviewed were committed to their industries and willing to adapt their talents to the changing marketplace. Are you? If you’re not up to adjusting to the changes of your field, it may be time to consider something new.

  • Next, identify your value to your organization.

Whether you’re meeting with your boss or a prospective employer, you should be able to articulate how you contribute to organizational success. I’m not talking about what you do, I’m talking about the value you provide.

Here’s how you determine that…Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the center. On the left side, put the heading, “What I do.” On the right side, note, “The value I add.” So if you’re in public relations, you might write down on the left side, “Manage online communications.” On the right side, you could put, “Enable everyone to feel like they can talk with the CEO.”

If you aren’t sure about your value — ask. Talk with your supervisor, colleagues, and clients. You might just find that your true value is different than what you had thought. 

  • Stop thinking of yourself as an employee and start marketing yourself as an expert who adds value.

This is a huge change of mindset from even five years ago. Marketing isn’t just for independent consultants anymore — all employees need to focus on building their brands. That way, you’ll be less likely to lose your job and if you do get laid off, you’ll be more likely to find another job faster.

You’ve heard of personal magnetism. Think of someone you know — a celebrity perhaps — that just seems to draw people to them. The concept of corporate magnetism extends this concept to a professional setting.

I’ve developed a tool to help companies and executives market themselves most effectively through the development of a concept I call “corporate magnetism.” To access this free resource, visit my website  and click on the top item, “Develop Your Corporate Magnetism.”

  • Make sure you understand your customer’s business situation so that you grasp their goals, as well as the challenges they face.

Have your customers tried to fix a problem 10 times before they asked you for assistance? Is their department at risk of being eliminated if they can’t make improvements? Invincibles know to analyze their customers’ business situation so they can identify the most effective way to add value. 

  • Step out of your comfort zone.

Invincibles are prudent risk takers. They offer to help others and seek new experiences outside of their specialty areas.

There’s an interesting thing I observed in my interviews. Many Invincibles don’t have a vertical career path. They zigzag, getting all different kinds of experience so their career path looks more like a pyramid than a corporate ladder.

It makes sense, if you have experience in two functional areas, you’re twice as marketable.

I’m sharing these key essentials in the hope of enabling others to emerge from the current challenging economic times with a new vitality and poised for success. Visit my website for more information. 

Jenny Schade is president of JRS Consulting, Inc., a firm that helps organizations build leading brands and efficiently attract and motivate employees and customers.

© JRS Consulting, Inc. 2011