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Being Successful in Spite of the Economy
November 18, 2013
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“Sorry, but it’s a rough economy right now, so don’t expect a significant pay raise.” Since I began work five years ago, I have heard a chorus of such remarks almost every year – as have many other graduates of the last decade I suppose. Only the root cause of this economic uncertainty has changed: first the dot-com bubble in early 2000, next the attacks of September 11 2001, after that the financial crisis in 2007, followed by the Greek debt crisis in 2009… the list goes on. These days it seems impossible to isolate one’s career completely from economic crisis, so another question is: how do I manage my career when the economy flattens out?

It is said in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” that anyone who excels in defeating his enemies triumphs before his enemy’s threats become real. In other words, you saddle today and ride out tomorrow. This advice holds true for anyone, and means you should never settle for the skills you currently have, whatever the economic context. Instead, you should try to acquire new skills either by training or by practical experience. The more skills you have, the easier it will be to move in case of crisis, whether to a different job or even a different line of business. At the same time, you should take care not to spend too much time or money in any training. This kind of investment should be planned as carefully as a house purchase, as the rest of your career depends on your choice. For example, depending on the cost, some e-learning or conferences may constitute a better investment for a career than many degrees if they offer new or valuable competences.

The second tip is directly linked to the first point. To enhance your career flexibility, it is important to stay informed of major changes in your chosen fields. “Major change” could mean a new technology, regulations or even economic news. Of course the goal is not to be an expert in all topics. Indeed, you can assume that new technologies are taught in universities, so new graduates have the advantage here. The point is rather to be in a state of forecasting the direction of technology and the industry. This way, you can position yourself to help evolve a company in the direction of new technological trends. In short, be a part of the link between today and tomorrow.

Sometimes geographical mobility may help you avoid a crisis. The automotive market is declining in Europe? It is growing in China and North America. Crises that affect all sectors worldwide are not frequent, contrary to what many may say. Of course, this international mobility requires open-mindedness and a willingness to move. But if you have both, you have an excellent advantage over others. Therefore, English language skills are necessary but not sufficient: you have a better chance of success if you have a good command of one or two other languages, or at least a willingness to try them.

Last but not least, it is important to keep in mind that frequently changing your employer may work against you in the long term. Even if you are able to increase your salary when changing companies, your responsibilities may be similar to those you had at your former employer. Doing this repeatedly can make you look like a mercenary who cares more about money than career evolution, unless you are given greater responsibility in your new company. Most directors in my company who have switched companies spent between five and ten years with each institution. So loyalty is still rewarded today, but it means you must stand firm through the crises.

Based on my humble experience, following the advice I have given here is an excellent way to progress in your career. In other words, some taste for adventure, open-mindedness, curiosity, patience and perseverance will be valued allies on the road to success.

Article contributed by Adama Ba, IEEE France Section member

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