The Warning Signs of Career Disaster
By: Deborah Walker, CCMC


Many of us experience recurring dreams. Mine is that Iím driving down the freeway and I canít read the road signs until Iím right up close. By then itís too late: Iíve missed an important exit. Fortunately, itís just a dream. I wake up and all is fine. Unfortunately, many people have trouble reading signsónot road signs, but career warning signs.

A career warning sign is any change that indicates possible career disaster that could result in finding ones place in the unemployment line. While warning signs may vary according to employment situations, there are four basic warning signs that apply in most employment scenarios.

Warning Sign #1
Your industry is experiencing a down turn. Telecommunications is a perfect example. A few years back telecom was one of the fastest growing industries. Recruiters worked day and night to fill telecom positions at all levels. The first negative indicator was unmet earnings expectations. Those who paid attention left the industry. Persons who practice career management watch the growth trends within their industry and know to leave ahead of the crowd.

Warning Sign #2
Sales are down in your company. While not everyone within an organization is involved with sales, all jobs are affected by sales levels. When revenues decrease, profits are held steady by cutting costs which often means cutting jobs. Persons can protect themselves by paying attention to sales levels within their organization.

While not all employees are privy to sales numbers, there are ways of finding pertinent financial information. Public companies must publish financial statements. It pays to take the time to study these documents to uncover your companyís basic financial status.

Employees of non-public companies, even without the benefit of public financial information, can also read the signs of declining sales:

* Work load decline.
* The boss suddenly seems concerned over small costs, like
   office pens, copier paper etc.
* The Sales Manager was just fired.
* The Sales department is going through reorganization.

Alert employees are sensitive to such indicators. They keep their resume updated at all times and cultivate a growing professional network for potential future job leads.

Warning Sign #3
Management changes. Any management change has the potential of damaging your corporate position. Be watchful during:

* Mergers and acquisitions.
* String of short-term management tenure (i.e. three bosses
   in two years.)
* Retirement or replacement of Sr. Management.

Wise employees listen closely to new-management rhetoric. How dramatic are his/her promises to shareholders? Whatís the new bossí track record? Does he/she have a reputation as a reactionary, axe-swinging job cutter, or as a strategic long-term planner who views employee reduction as a last resort? The first announcement of new management is the time to cautiously explore outside options.

Warning Sign #4
Youíve lost favor with your boss. While ďgut feelingsĒ often are the first warning, some objective indications are:

* A less-than-exemplary performance review.
* No performance-based salary increase.
* Your year-end bonus was much smaller than expected.
* Your input is not requested at planning meetings.
* Your suggestions are ignored.

If you sense your position on the corporate totem pole is falling, trust your gut. When jobs are at stake, yours will be one of the first sacrificed.

These warning signs may seem obvious, but are often sadly ignored by those who fear change. Rather than take action, they lean on false hope that loyalty to the employer will pay off in the end. Those who practice career management never confuse company loyalty with aversion to change. When career warning signs appear on the horizon, pick up your binoculars and read the signs clearly so that youíre ready for the next appropriate exit.

Deborah Walker, CCMC
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