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Piloting your career through turbulent economic seas.

Piloting your career through turbulent economic seas

In today's world, the business communicator's career is like a ship being tossed by turbulent seas. Mergers, hostile takeovers, downsizings, the savings and loan crisis, and layoffs are factors contributing to these stormy waters. In addition, baby boomers, those people born between 1946 and 1964, are an occupationally restless group. Security and a good paycheck are not enough to satisfy them. They have and will continue to have the tendency to change jobs and even career fields often. In light of these trends, careers can capsize and sink unless sound planning measures are undertaken.

Career planning is a skill that can be learned. Historically many people have engaged in career planning using what can best be described as the "dart" approach. Imagine a dartboard with several careers in communication adhered to it. Then imagine someone throwing a dart at the board. Whatever career area is hit by the dart is the one that is pursued. Obviously this is not exactly how it happens. Nevertheless, variations of this method are used, including the one where you look through the newspaper at random seeking jobs that sound appealing. This method is risky and not very productive in the long run. People usually put more thought into planning their vacations than in planning their careers.

So how can the professional communicator engage in productive career planning? First and foremost, it is important to get in touch with your dreams. While it is important to be practical in planning careers, most people actually err on the side of being practical. Career planning is a whole-brained activity. Start by getting in touch with the right side, which is the intuitive, creative part of your brain.

Step one

Imagine what your ideal career day would be like, and write it down on a piece of paper. This technique is extremely powerful, so try it now. Pretend that you have no constraints such as time or money, which can cause you to worry and can alter your thinking from the creative side. Describe your job duties, hours, people you work with, and anything you feel is important. Don't analyze or be critical. Once you are finished writing out your dream career, you can go back and analyze and look for clues. One woman who did this exercise wrote that she wanted to be president of the United States. In analyzing what she wrote, she realized that her fantasy of being president reflected her need to lead and direct others. One man saw himself as a busy consultant who was writing books, publishing a national newsletter, and giving advice to CEOs of medium-sized companies in a variety of industries. In analyzing what he wrote, he determined three important priorities for his entrepreneurship. Give yourself time to think about what you wrote. As you continue to do your career planning, the significance of what you wrote will become clear.

Step two

The next step in career planning is to get to know yourself. As you mature, you change, and it is important to be in touch with new aspects of yourself. Think of the self as a jigsaw puzzle. When the pieces are put together, a pattern will emerge. There are several aspects of the self to consider regarding one's career. One important aspect of the self is personality. For instance, if you are an analytical person who also is an introvert, you will be happier in a different type of communication job than the bubbly extrovert. There are several excellent personality tests that can give you some valuable insight. Examples of the good inventories include The Performax Personal Profile, John Holland Self-Directed Search, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Many colleges and universities have career centers that administer these and other tests.

Your values are another aspect of the self that you will want to consider. The term "values" does not refer to ethics, but instead refers to what is important to you. Values can be difficult to pinpoint for two reasons. First, there is so much pressure from the media and society on what we should value. An example would be the decade of the 1980s when Yuppies were in vogue and "having it all" was the trend. Secondly, we sometimes do not want to admit we have a certain value because we think people will not approve of us. A good example is the need for power. People will often apologize for having a need for power, as though it were something evil. Power is the ability to influence others. Yes, power can be used for evil purposes. There are numerous examples of that in history. Nevertheless, power also can be used for good. The reality is that people in management, those who advise them, or even some people in media positions usually have some need for power. How they choose to wield that power is a matter of ethics. Other examples of values include freedom, helping others, adventures, challenges, self-actualization, security, and being creative.

Values need to match the job and environment in which one works. For instance, if you value security, working for a large, stable corporation would be suitable. A person with a high need for freedom and wider latitude for creativity might be more comfortable working as a consultant or freelancer.

Step three

After assessing your personality and values, you need to focus on your skills and interests. Think back to all your past positions and list the job duties and skills you needed. Next, determine which of these skills you enjoyed the most. Here are some examples of skill clusters and skills included in each of them:

* Creativity - includes such skills as conceptualizing, photographing, designing, drawing and entertaining.

* Communication - includes public speaking, editing, performing and writing.

* Human relations - includes marketing calls, negotiating, interviewing, teaching, persuading and fund raising.

* Managing - includes problem solving, goal setting, supervising and coaching.

* Mental skills - includes statistics, analyzing, researching and synthesizing.

* Physical/manual skills - includes graphic arts, layouts, working with printers, desktop publishing and other tasks in the publication process.

* Information management - includes computer skills, managing money and budgeting.

While you are increasing your knowledge of yourself, you also can begin to investigate your working environment to research other jobs. If you are employed, you can start by looking internally. Are there opportunities for a lateral transfer or a promotion? If you feel you have outgrown your position and organization, you may need to look elsewhere. You may even want to try a different type of communication job. Doing your research is important. Reading about other areas of employment in communication is a good way to get started.

Another excellent way to gather information on careers is to conduct informational interviews. This can be done within your organization as well as with people in other companies or other industries. Networking, of course, is important. Talk with friends and acquaintances to link up with prospects. Talk with fellow IABC members. As you conduct the interview, think about what you know about yourself and whether it fits with the job you are researching. Informational interviews have the added value of letting you in on the hidden job market.

You will find that planning occurs at all stages of a career. This valuable knowledge of yourself and the labor market will be used again and again as you decide in different stages of your career what you want to do and where the opportunities are for you. It is a base of knowledge upon which you will build.

As you can imagine, planning and managing your career is a time-consuming and lengthy process. It is best done in stages. Set target dates, but be flexible. The important thing is to make an effort to continue to collect information about yourself and the labor market and analyze it. This knowledge will assist you in making your job changes and adapting to unexpected shifts in the economy. Adept career planning will assist you in keeping your career afloat and sailing skillfully along, despite stormy economic seas.

Robert E. Almy is a freelance writer and internal communication consultant located in Albuquerque, N.M.

Vivian Harris, M.B.A., is a public speaking and training consultant who specializes in professional growth and development topics and is located in Albuquerque, N.M.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Harris, Vivian
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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