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Want to Stay Employable? Adopt This Attitude

It’s not just what you know, but how you think that keeps you desirable

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by Elizabeth MacBride and Elaine Pofeldt

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Stephen Furnari couldn’t hold back. “What you’re doing is dishonest,” he found himself yelling at a partner at the corporate law firm where he worked. “I thought we had a better relationship than that.”

The partner had been pushing him to work longer and longer hours on a transaction, arguing that Furnari’s survival at the firm during an upcoming merger depended on it. But a reliable inside source had privately told Furnari that his fate was already sealed—he wasn't going to have a job.

“He was dangling the carrot in front of me, saying, `We want to do this merger and you want to make the cut’—knowing I wasn’t going to,” says Furnari.

Now, with Furnari shouting at him, the manipulative partner stood in silence.

That moment marked a shift in Furnari’s attitude. With his industry in turmoil, he’d been feeling profoundly uneasy about his future. It was time to stop depending on his firm and authority figures like the partner to guide him to a secure path. He needed to rely on himself.

Today, Furnari, a 42-year-old father of three, is a partner in Furnari Scher, a two-person law firm in New York City that he founded. He also runs Law Firm Suites, a fast-growing coworking space that rents to 130 attorneys at two locations.

With job-destroying trends like automation and outsourcing rolling through the economy, many professionals in once-stable careers are grappling with conditions like those Furnari faced. “It’s a huge, gigantic problem. I think it’s only going to get worse,” says Stever Robbins, a career and management coach based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The good news: Shifting your attitude can get you in front of trends and fully employed.

Step 1. Do a Reality Check

Optimistically hoping you’ll make it to retirement in a declining field or job title can leave you among the long-term unemployed. Take an hour this week to study the data on what’s really going on, to make sure you haven’t talked yourself into sticking with a risky situation. Here are three key questions to ponder as you do.

Will a robot do my job? A recent Oxford University study rates more than 700 jobs on the likelihood they will be automated. About 47% of jobs in the U.S. are at risk, the researchers estimate.

Where are wages in my field headed? Flat or declining wages indicate that employers are gravitating to cheaper ways to get jobs done—putting workers with higher pay in jeopardy. To take the pulse of your field, check out data from the Society for Human Resource Management and industry-specific reports like those that Robert Half and Associates publishes in its Salary Center.

How healthy is my industry long-term? Some fields are changing so fast they won’t exist in their current form in five to 10 years, let alone 20. Department of Labor statistics show which industries the government projects will have the largest growth in salaried employment and the biggest declines by 2022.

Step 2. Rethink Your Identity

If you've built your identity around success in your current field, you have some work to do. You may not be able to find a position at the same level or higher—those jobs may not exist anymore. George Schofield, a Sarasota-based career coach, recommends considering these questions: Where are you now? What is it you have to let go of? What is your imagination for the future? Also take inventory of your skills, so you don’t overlook dormant ones. “You may need to let go of role at work as your primary identity anchor,” Schofield says.

Warning: This isn’t easy, so talk it through with a trusted friend, life partner or career coach.

Step 3. Stop Viewing Yourself as an Employee

To stay employable, see yourself as either an intrapreneur—constantly creating new opportunities for yourself within a company—or an entrepreneur, advises Clayton Clark, CEO of Thrive15, an online learning platform based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

No matter which route you choose, make a commitment to pick up new skills every day that make you helpful to employers and clients. “Employees have been demoted to the status of a commodity,” says Clark. “At any point, a company can make an employee a free agent.”

Step 4. Think Like a Digital Marketer

No matter type of work you do, you’ll find yourself with more opportunities if your name appears high in a Google search, so people see it when hunting for someone with your skill set. Clark recommends that all professionals learn the basics of search engine optimization and social media marketing. “We have to get ourselves in front of ideal and likely buyers,” he says. To get up to speed quickly, he recommends sites Treehouse and Lynda.com, as well as his own.

Step 5. Throw Out Your Rule Book

You've gotten this far by sticking to a set of a rules and assumptions, but some of them will have to fall by the wayside. If you've made a point to keep in touch with clients by phone, but discover that people in your new career prefer emails and webinars, it's time to change. “The skill sets that will be needed, especially if everyone is being replaced by computers will have something to do with computers,” says Robbins. “If you have been scared by computers your whole life, get over it.”

Step 6. Expect Self-doubt

Even if the changes you are making in your career are long overdue—or forced by a layoff—you may still feel a sense of loss or find yourself questioning a new path. “I have a client, once every 90 days he has a two-day meltdown,” says Schofield. “He calls me so I can reassure him he made the right decision.” To prevent paralysis, Furnari suggests committing to move forward quickly, remembering you aren’t stuck with any career decision you made. “You can always adjust along the way.” 

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