Recession is a dreaded term, looming over the heads of businesses and employees alike. It threatens not only the bottom line but also precious career plans. But for Asian American professionals who have a proactive mindset, it can become an opportunity to further long-term career goals.
Being proactive will help Asian American professionals be prepared and confident about changes that occur in a recession. It will also allow them to be flexible and willing to accept change. The key is to watch out and be ready for possible career opportunities even in the face of an economic downturn.
Sodexo employees Nitu Gupta, chairperson of the Pan Asian Network Group, and Liz Kinniburgh, director of business development, believe that it is important to remain flexible in the changing environment. Keeping a positive attitude will help employees do whatever it takes to survive an economic downturn. They recommend keeping an open mind by looking outside of one’s own industry and exploring other opportunities.
“Most employees assume that they should be digging into their jobs deeper to insure that they weather the storm,” said David Lum, director for Asia/Pacific product and support operations of Motorola Inc. and one of the professional development speakers at the recent convention of the National Association of Asian American Professionals in Los Angeles. “These employees become more worried about staying in their current jobs that they forget to open their eyes to opportunities.”
Jane Hyun, an executive coach, leadership strategist and author of Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling, looked at it from a cultural point of view. Most Asian American professionals, according to Hyun, were given a career path to follow by their parents—either to become a doctor, a lawyer or some other traditional profession—and so they grew up thinking the careers they are in will always be safe.
This notion can prevent Asian American professionals from seeing opportunities when change happens, be it through jumping into a new career or industry or even starting a new business.
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Think in Terms of Career Development
“In any economy/hiring climate, you should be constantly assessing your skills and considering whether your current level of knowledge needs to be retooled,” Hyun said. “It’s not always good to be in a reactive mode.”
Some professionals tend to get out of their career stupor only when the need arises, such as when they are in the midst of a recession, and things are already beyond their control. They scramble to revive old networks, haphazardly update resumés and desperately search the classified ads and online job sites.
However, Hyun pointed out that these are reactionary measures that would not be fruitful in the long run. She said that in order to be in the driver’s seat of one’s career, especially during a recession, one has to work hard to understand one’s skills, personality and natural style, as well as short term and long term career objectives. This important process is often overlooked, she added.
While the impact of the weakening job growth and slow economy is real, it should not be viewed as a doom-and-gloom situation that would hinder career growth and the ability to do one’s job.
“Now is a good time to take stock of what you have, do a bit of contingency planning and save up a bit more in case of bad news,” Lum said.
Asian American professionals should refocus their energies on the job at hand and strive to make meaningful business impact in their companies, according to Lum.
“Make sure that the work you do makes a real positive impact on your company’s bottom line such as increasing revenue, decreasing costs, improving profits, cycle time and customer satisfaction,” he explained. “These must be perceived by your management team as meaningful results.”
Professional Networking is a Gold Mine
Both Hyun and Lum say that it is impossible to recession-proof a job—they believe that no one can escape from a downturn unscathed. A strategically built career, however, can survive in desperate times.
Aside from constantly and mindfully undergoing career self-assessment, both experts advised that an Asian American professional should have a network he or she can rely on in times of need.
Lum underscored the importance of having a network of professional acquaintances and friends. “One, it gives you the ability to find other jobs across industries,” he said. “Two, it provides you new ideas that you can bring back to your company. Three, it relieves some of the stress and worry of work. And four, it provides better connections for more business.”
Of course, for a network to become a useful tool during recessionary times, it is up to the Asian American professional to keep business relationships and connections alive and involved.
“The point here is to build a wide network and build one when you are not in a desperate state,” Hyun said. “Keep in touch with those folks and let people know what you’re up to regularly, so it won’t be so strange when you call them up to inquire about opportunities.”
Education as Part of your Career Grand Plan
There is a prevailing belief among Asian American professionals that earning an advanced degrees is a surefire way to keep jobs. Unfortunately, this is also a myth. A Master’s or Ph.D. does not offer protection against the pink slip.
But Hyun and Lum expressed that education is always a good option if it is part of one’s career grand plan. Lum said that it should be done for the right reasons and a predetermined plan, while Hyun emphasized the need to pursue practical, real-world training.
“More and more companies are looking for professionals who have the leadership skills, the life-long experience and have worked in diverse environments,” explained Hyun. “So if you’re thinking of going back to school, then learn leadership skills, get courses that will help you develop strong presentation skills and hone your decision-making abilities.”
Ways to Turn a Recession Into a Career Opportunity
David Lum, director for Asia/ Pacific product and support operations of Motorola Inc., suggested ways to get your career out of the downturn gloom and focus on doing your job to the best of your abilities while keeping an eye out for new opportunities.
1) Create your value. Help your company’s bottom line by communicating more with your supervisors to make sure you are focused on the right things to do to help the business. The key to surviving a recession is to make sure that you are delivering personal and unique value to your company.
2) Don’t just rely on advanced degrees. While education and earning the right credentials are important, don’t forget that practical application of theoretical knowledge generates the most benefits for one’s career development.
3) View networks as possibilities. You can build new skills and experiences through the help of your professional networks. Try volunteering for the National Association of Asian American Professionals to learn specific leadership skills that are transferable back at work.
4) Embrace change. Be flexible and willing to look at other opportunities such as changing industries. You can also experiment and explore other professions. For those entering the workforce for the first time, be open to more options and start building your experience level.
5) Cultivate tenacity and determination. One of the hardest things to do is to remain upbeat and optimistic, especially if you are between jobs. So remain in contact with your network of professionals, friends and family to get you through the typical stages of grieving. But then, quickly get back up and start looking for new career opportunities.
Jane Hyun, executive coach, leadership strategist and author of Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling, says it is best to have a well-conceived career map that will guide you through the treacherous waters of a downturn and help you discover new opportunities.
1) Annual career self- assessment. This will help you become more proactive with your career development at all times, even during a recession. What are your short- and long-term career goals? Are your skill sets current? Do you need to retrain or retool?
2) Make going back to school count. Education should be part of a strategic plan to get ahead in your career. Skills such as communicating effectively, making decisions and/or working with uncertainty will help you succeed beyond technical skills.
3) Build influential networks. You are not limited to within your company—expand your network far and wide. Touch base with your network, so communication lines are open when you need them.
4) Refer to the basics. For Asian American professionals who are just entering the workforce during a recession, ask yourself what your core skills are, how you would like to use those skills and in what industry. For career changers, think about how your skills can be transferred to a new position or industry.
5) Keep it optimistic. It’s important that you maintain a positive attitude when you’re going out for interviews or to networking meetings. Do an attitude check and make sure that you are putting your best foot forward.
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