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Your Career Emergency Rescue Plan

Wherever you live and work, you probably have an emergency rescue plan in case of an earthquake, hurricane, or another disaster. It may include a plan of where to meet, food supplies, water, batteries, and other items.

It’s wise to be ready for career emergencies too. Your job may change drastically, disappear, or be pulled out from under you. Below are seven steps to take to be ready to communicate positively about yourself if a disaster strikes your job.

1. Gather information about your accomplishments. If your job may be eliminated (anyone’s job can be!), be sure you have the information you need to demonstrate your skills and accomplishments after it is gone. You will need the information to share with your professional network, recruiters, and potential new bosses and clients.

Within your company’s rules, copy and take home your performance evaluations, letters of commendation, thank-you notes, and any other pieces that praise your contributions to the company. Also gather supporting documents such as pieces you have written that show the depth and importance of your work. Be sure you have this kind of compelling information:

  • Number of clients you serve or served
  • Number of customers you serve daily, weekly, or monthly
  • Number of reports you produce
  • Amount of revenue you bring in
  • Size of your budget
  • Size of the projects you manage or have managed
  • Number of employees who report to you
  • Type and number of problems you solve or have solved
  • Your rankings if you are compared to others, as in sales departments
  • Other details that illustrate your value to the company

If you think that numbers don’t apply to what you do, decide how you would prove to someone that you are excellent rather than mediocre in your position. Imagine someone doing your job badly; then write down how your performance is different. Consider “negative numbers” too; for example, the absence of lawsuits, safety violations, or other negative incidents.

Read my post “Writing About Ourselves: Bragging Without Blushing” for practical ways to toot your own horn.

If you have already left a job and do not have access to important on-the-job numbers, estimate them. But be sure to describe them as “estimated” when you communicate them.

2. Gather contact information. In a career emergency, you will want and need help from others. Within your company’s rules, pull together the names and contact information of colleagues, vendors, clients, customers, and others you want to keep in your professional network. Join business-oriented social networking sites such as LinkedIn so you will have contacts independent of your current employment.

3. Update your resume. This means more than simply adding your current job to the top of your work history. You must also:

  • Update the summary at the top of your resume. (See Step 4 below.)
  • Include recent accomplishments, preferably with numerical evidence to make them convincing. (See Step 1 above.)
  • Add any training, degree, or certificates you have earned or completed recently.
  • Review the language and content to make sure it is still current. If it isn’t, change it. For example, have any company names or locations changed? Has any software training or system become obsolete?

4. Summarize your qualifications at the top of your resume. It’s acceptable to include a job objective if you know exactly what you want, but a summary illustrates your strengths. Which of these openings would be more impressive at the top of a resume?

Objective: A full-time entry-level position in database or information management. [OR]

Summary: A motivated young professional with a strong interest in database and information management. Detail focused and quick to learn and use new programs. Skilled in HTML5, CSS, and SQL. Experienced with Salesforce, Adobe Creative Suite programs, and Microsoft Office. Fluent in French and Spanish.

5. Present yourself positively at all times. Although you may speak negatively about your current job and its stresses within your own home and family, present yourself positively and professionally outside your home. Speak prudently even in your professional network, where critical remarks could reflect negatively on you. Do not post any negative comments online, where they will reverberate forever.

If your workplace is filled with stress and negativity, recognize that you can’t control that situation. But you can control your own behavior. Behave professionally at all times, and you will continue to feel good about yourself.

6. Work on your introduction, your reply to “tell me about yourself.” You never know where and when you will meet people who want to help in your rescue. Be prepared for them by writing and practicing aloud 30-second and 1-minute introductions that communicate who you are, what type of opportunities interest you, and why you are qualified for them. Have friends and family members listen to your intro to be sure it is truthful, positive, and concise.

7. If the rug has been pulled out from under you, work on standing tall again. If you have lost your job or clients in unpleasant circumstances, take time to build yourself back up. List things you have accomplished both personally and professionally, and think about each accomplishment and what it shows about your personal strengths and skills. Your accomplishments may be as monumental as saving a company from bankruptcy or as personal as paying off student loans. Both kinds show who you are.

If you have trouble recognizing your value and accomplishments, get a supportive friend or a coach to help you with the process.

The best thing to do in worrying times is to act. Act now! Create and implement your own career emergency rescue plan for effective, powerful communication.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

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