It doesn't matter whether you are in your first job or are at the high point of your career—you no longer have the luxury of thinking like an employee. You heard me. Gone are the days when a worker would make her slow but steady progress up the corporate ladder to land contentedly in a pensioned retirement (I can hear you murmuring, "wait, what is this 'pension' of which you speak?"). If you are going to weather the storms of the modern job market, you need to think less like someone's employee and more like an entrepreneur in the business of shaping her own career. Here are 5 strategies to borrow from the entrepreneurs: 1. Use The Good Times To Prepare For Changes. A successful entrepreneur always has a long-term plan, and she uses those period when finances are stable to make progress toward longer term goals. Those periods when you are reasonably comfortable in your job are the best times for thinking ahead. Make your steady paychecks work for you—use the drop in stress to put some effort into broadening your skills and contacts in preparation for the changes that could impact not just your current job, but your industry as a whole.
2. Negotiate A Great Job Title. One of the best benefits of working for yourself is the ability to choose just about any title you want. Being the CEO may not get you out of making copies or bookkeeping duties, but it does set the tone for how you want colleagues and clients to perceive you. If you are just starting work for a new company or are being promoted, ask for a great job title. There is nothing wrong with "Administrative Assistant," but "Program Director" or even "Associate Program Director" indicates to colleagues and future employers that you are aspiring to do more.
3. And While I'm At It...Negotiate More Often. I wrote on this in the last post on negotiating, but it bears repeating. An entrepreneur constantly negotiates with clients, customers and the market as a whole about price. But she is also always negotiating terms —often, it's not the price but those details in the contract that make an opportunity more profitable.
Even if you can't change your salary, that same attention to detail can mean the difference between being trained and certified in a new skill or being stuck permanently in your current job title. Remember, employers are scrambling as much as anyone else to figure out the best policies to strengthen their teams. Your requests, whether in the initial job offer or over the course of your employment, shape your own career and give your employers a better sense of where and how their businesses can improve. Still think you can't negotiate? Check out this recent article from Akane Otani in Bloomberg Business.
4. Tell People What You Do. Run into any seasoned entrepreneur at a party or a taxi stand and she'll probably find a moment to slip into the conversation what she does. What's more, she won't say "I'm an accountant" or "I work at a software company." She will give you a quick but specific description of what she does, something more like "I work on taxes for small businesses" or "I come up with new software codes to make your utilities cheaper." Why does it matter? A successful entrepreneur knows that people you run into randomly often become your best contacts. But they can't help you progress if they don't really know what you can do. Next time someone asks you what you do for a living, make sure you give her a real answer.
5. Be Financially Prepared For The Bad Times. Entrepreneurs are painfully aware that a little bad luck can lead to some serious financial pain. But being the best employee in the world is also no safeguard against losing a job. Whether it's a business failure, a global recession or some emergency that takes you out of work, bad things just happen. To cope with these risks, come up with an emergency plan.
Your plan should be personal to you—some people have partners or family members who can serve as a safety net. Others have the ability to draw passive income from a rental property or an investment account. If you don't have any of these options (and plenty of us don't), know how much you would need to get you through a temporary disability or job loss. Then check to see if your employer provides disability insurance as part of your HR package. If so, check your policy terms, and see if you need to add more.
Most importantly (and I can't stress this enough) start working on a financial emergency fund that covers 3 to 6 months of expenses. You probably won't be able to create this over night, but don't give in to the temptation to blend your emergency fund with the savings account you set up to buy that new house/vacation/car. Savings is about the future we can control—emergency funds are our recognition that there are always parts of life we can't.