Can you recession-proof your career? The ubiquitous advice always boils down to doing whatever it takes to keep your job. You are admonished to work harder, curry the boss’s favor, or take a class to build skills. With a focus on survival rather than success, recession-proofing doesn’t apply at the executive level.

In a recession, consolidations and downsizing place any executive’s career at risk. However, executives are, as a breed, inculcated to hold the vision, protect and manage assets, think strategically, and act courageously to advance their company. Applying these same behaviors to their own careers can carry them through rough times. Of course, maintaining career momentum is unique to each executive’s situation, depending upon their level, tenure, company size and industry. The senior executive with twenty years at a large company faces a whole different set of career challenges than the young executive at a start-up, or the mid-level executive with a multiple company track record.

Career Momentum at the Top

Senior executives with long tenures at few companies have the advantage of sizeable reputations and networks. They can leverage a track record of contribution, name recognition with industry media and established relationships with top executive search firms to keep their career in play. Adaptability and a willingness to see beyond what they have done to what they can do is a senior executive’s key to career momentum.

  • Momentum Tip One: In downturns, instead of pursuing and replicating the same career path, senior executives can explore new options by taking roads less traveled as in consulting, board membership, turn-around projects and entrepreneurship.
  • Momentum Tip Two: Develop and leverage a track record of contribution, name recognition with industry media, and established relationships with top executive search firms to keep your career in play.

Growing Career Success

Mid-level executives typically have moved through senior positions at multiple organizations across several business sectors. Some might have jumped from large companies to start-ups earlier in their career. Their generation has achieved and advanced in an era without guarantees of lifetime employment or job security. They are naturally proactive in assessing and acting on opportunities.

  • Momentum Tip One: Mid-level executives may be better served during a recession by growing in place rather than moving on. Internally, they can seek out special assignments, international exposure, and develop niche expertise that they can leverage when the economy has improved.
  • Momentum Tip Two: These executives can extend their repertoire of online tools, if they haven’t already, to blogs, podcasts, and multiple social networking sites for their personal brand. Creating a well-branded elevator pitch and resume will enhance their professional image to key business contacts and the top executive search firms.

Establishing Success Early On

Young executives may achieve early success on the fast-track in a big company through a leadership rotation program, or high-profiled assignments. Or, as part of a start-up’s executive team, they got the title, the opportunity and even the IPO or M&A as early career benchmarks.

In an economic downturn, a congruent career strategy is crucial to their progress forward. Often, the CV of a young executive wants for sufficient qualifications and accomplishments to overcome a perceived lack of experience when matched to their career ambitions. Their best strategy to move forward is by cultivating mentor and professional relationships with search executives, thought-leaders, mentors and influencers in their current or targeted industry. Quality connections can open doors for them.

  • Momentum Tip One: As the most wired generation of executives, they can leverage their technical literacy to enable career success by continuing to polish and grow their professional image and reputation online.
  • Momentum Tip Two: To build your network, expand your industry knowledge and elevate your platform, consider business school and relocation as door-openers to new career paths.

Moving with Career Momentum

Online resources allow executives at all levels to expand their professional reach. For example, BlueSteps can help keep you focused on your career journey with its tools for proactive career builders. In addition, social networking sites like LinkedIn allow you to keep in touch with your personal network and showcase your perspective on business news. Though the tools are there for the taking, the results are driven by each individual’s career goals.

There is a far greater complexity to making career shifts and industry transitions in a recession with many mistaken assumptions about how long it will take, and how easy it will be to achieve. Economic downturns offer fewer, if any, second chances and can quickly curtail career momentum if moves are made precipitously and without a clear strategy. It behooves all executives to act on behalf of their careers as they would on behalf of their companies.


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