More thoughts on staying employed during a recession
My first post here on Gather Little by Little started out as an advice article for readers. It turned out that several comments in the thread that followed contained some good questions and even more good advice. In my previous article on staying employed during a recession I listed the following suggestions for people who might be worried about holding on to their job:
- Go the extra mile
- Make sure they know your name
- Distinguish yourself from fellow employees
- Take initiative, but be a team player
- Understand the mission
One commenter, Keri, added some more good thoughts. She suggested:
- Make yourself available after hours
- Have a niche
- Position yourself as the innovator
Keri also asked a couple of questions about letters of recommendation and how to best leave a job in a position to acquire a new job. Today’s article will focus on presenting yourself in as good a light as possible to your next employer.
Get a letter of recommendation
Sometimes a letter of recommendation is difficult to obtain, especially if your relationship with your employer is strained. The solution to this problem is to ask for a letter of recommendation before the relationship is strained. Ask several of your supervisors for such a letter every year. Three or four positive memos in your file will go a long way with a future employer. You are simply asking for documentation of the fact that you are doing a good job. Do it every year, do it in a non-threatening manner. Tell your boss or supervisor, that you are not looking for another job, you are happy at your company, but you would like the letter for your file.
I know some employees who use the same letter that their boss gave them in a previous year – they simply show the memo to their boss, ask if anything has changed, adjust the date and request a signature. If your supervisor is squeamish about creating a written record of your good job performance, you might want to take that as a warning.
If you lose your job without a letter of recommendation in hand, do your best to get one from somebody in the organization on your way out the door. If your immediate superior will not give you one, you need to ask around and find someone who is willing to sign the document or write an email on your behalf.
In this economy, good people are being let go simply because of budget tightening. Many bosses are in the position of saying, “We like you, you are good worker, but we have to let someone go”. The only thing you can do in that situation is ask them to make a written record of those statements that you can add to your resume. Most employers will be happy to do this for you because it helps to comfort their conscience.
Most companies conduct annual reviews with all employees, if your company does not conduct such meetings, it is critical that you obtain some type of written record of your job performance. You may even want to request an annual review and make sure that a record of that review is a part of your file.
There is an old principle that states that a lawyer should never ask a question to which he does not know the answer. It is the same way with references. Do not put a person’s name and contact information into a job application without knowing what that person might say about you. I have seen resumes where an individual does not list any references from the job that they held immediately preceding the job for which they are applying – this can be a red flag to potential employers. Find at least one person, somewhere at the company you are leaving, who is willing to allow their name to be used as a good reference.
Timing can be tricky in these matters. If you are thinking of leaving your current job, it is unwise to communicate that to your employer until you are certain that you wish to leave. This is another reason why updating your letters or reference and conducting annual reviews are important. Your files should be up to date as a matter of policy – a regular occurrence that does not invite suspicion – not necessarily because you are looking for greener pasture. If you must use your current employer as a reference, warn them that a call might be coming.
During annual reviews at my last job, I told my supervisor every year that I was applying for other jobs. I even told him which jobs I was interested in! Part of the reason that I was able to do this is that every job that I was considering was a definite step up, even my boss could not blame me for considering some of the other positions. As a matter of policy, I requested a written letter of recommendation from him every year. When circumstances at that company made it clear that I would no longer be happy working there, I was all set to move on. I had an updated resume and I actually had several job applications pending. When I originally filled out the applications, I had not intended to leave, but when it became apparent that my current job was not right for me, I was in good shape.
The bottom line
You need to be proactive in making certain that a written record exists when people say good things about you. When you are recognized for doing a good job, you need to make that a part of your file.
However, there is no substitute for working hard, showing up on time and ultimately generating money for your company or helping your organization accomplish the mission. If you are not a good employee in the first place, all of the resume/recommendation/review strategies in the world will be of no use.