Jailhouse Jobs

Jailhouse Jobs

An article in The New York Times this week notes that this Great Recession is spawning its share of throwback coping behavior. As it did during the Great Depression, today’s downturn is forcing some people who have lost their jobs and then their homes to seek shelter in the local jail. They commit a minor offense (but one worthy of incarceration) in front of the police with the intent of landing themselves “three hots and a cot” in the calaboose.

What’s that got to do with looking for a job?

There’s a growing chorus of career experts advising those in transition to take “stopgap jobs” or “survival jobs”—jobs that put food on the table and a roof over your head until the crisis passes. While well-meaning, however, this advice will derail your career as surely as if you had locked it up in the local jail.

It’s not the strategy that’s bad so much as its implementation. Work of any kind is noble, so taking a job that’s beneath your capabilities or previous workplace stature in order to survive may well be an appropriate course, especially for those in career fields or locations that are being particularly hard hit by the economy. The problem occurs when people focus so intently on their stop gap solution that they forget to prepare for the rest of their career. In effect, they fill the gap and then lock themselves into it.

What should they do?

Treat their employment not as an interlude in the lockup, but as a defibrillator for their career. In other words, they should employ the opportunity a standby job provides to shock their career back into a success sustaining momentum. Most standby jobs do not draw on the full range of our talent or time so we should put those two assets to work increasing the strength, reach and endurance of our career.

As I describe in my new book, Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System, there are seven different activities that will rekindle your career. The more of them you undertake and the sooner you get started, the better prepared you will be to move beyond survival to success, whether today’s economic green shoots begin to flower this year or next or even the year after that.

These career fitness-inducing activities include:
• Taking the education or training programs required to move your occupational skill set beyond knowing the ropes to the leading edge of the state-of-the-art in your field;
• Extending the range of situations in which you can contribute those skills by adding ancillary capabilities such as competency in a second language or the knowledge of specialized software; and
• Reinvigorating your professional network of contacts beyond the casual encounters on Facebook or the impersonal linkages on LinkedIn to genuine relationships that can open doors and give your career a competitive advantage.

A jailhouse job will get you by; a defibrillator job will get your career going again. The choice is yours and only you can make it.

Thanks for reading,
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