What are your options if the career you are interested in has a poor outlook?
I think you have some excellent options. I’ll start with the first option MBA students are taught:
Honestly, you can just ride the wave until it’s done. Industries and products don’t always die overnight. Sometimes you’ll be able to work for years in a “dying” industry, or a career field that seems to go nowhere.
If you can do the career you are interested in, make decent money, and have the lifestyle you want for a few more years, and maybe longer, then why think about leaving now? Ride it out, have fun.
BUT… and this is a big but: prepare for the inevitable changes coming. This could mean you develop new marketable skills for your next job. Perhaps you go back to school, take courses to skill up, volunteer to get new skills, etc. This is a path to help you land another job when the time comes, or when the right opportunities come.
Or, perhaps you work on alternative revenue streams, what we now call side hustles. Why not join the “gig economy?” The idea is you have other things you work on that generate income that aren’t necessarily a job. There are hundreds of ways you could earn money with side hustles. They could be service related or products. You could get serious about a variety of investments… opportunities to earn money are endless.
Not only is that a viable next step in your career, it could be a lot more fun and rewarding!
Either of those options can be done while you don’t make any changes at your current employment.
Look at Alternative Careers
I had my career path mapped out and was pretty sure I knew what I was going to do. I had an idea of the titles, how long I should have them, types of companies, etc. Of course, getting laid off changed everything. The titles that were once important to me were no longer interesting or relevant. My focus changed from one career path to a completely different, and more fun, path.
Be open to changes. The world is changing everywhere, every day. Talk to people about what they do, or what they would like to do. Learn about adjacent career paths or titles that you might not have thought about, but you could easily do. Make sure you consider what your skills are from your current job that would help you have a great career on another path (these are called “transferrable skills”).
I know change can be hard, but it can also be exciting. Once you realize you have options you seem to have permission to look at other things. The world is at your feet… why not explore it a little?
Look at Current Customers and Vendors
If the career you are in seems to have a dead end, consider working for any of the customers and vendors your organization works with. I guarantee people you work with in other companies have been watching you. They might think, “I would love to bring that person over to our organization!” You might have the right skills, knowledge about the industry or specific processes, or other important information or know-how that would really help their organization.
In my Big Failed Job Search I felt a bit embarrassed to approach customes and vendors. I wasn’t sure if there was some kind of violation of an agreement. Make sure you know what kind of agreements you might be violating… but if you aren’t violating anything, have conversations with your old peers, colleagues, and friends at those other organizations!
They might be able to help you within their own organization. They might help you with their industry contacts. Don’t feel bad about working for a competitor (unless you legally can’t). I didn’t think I could, because when we were competitors we… competed! But once you are no longer employed with your old organization, you got mouths to feed.
Again, make sure you aren’t crossing any legal lines here (I’ve said this at least three times, so I think I’m covered!).
Even if you are not allowed to work for a competitor, talk to your peers there. They might have some introductions to other organizations that you are allowed to work in.
Invest In Yourself
People who are successful know it’s important to invest in yourself. Invest in your continual education. This could be going to school, but there are many ways to invest in your education.
How do you get better at something? Practice it! Get the right knowledge from a trusted source and then start practicing. You’ll likely make mistakes, at first, but just keep practicing!
Invest in your hard skills. If you are a project manager, what practices or methodologies should you learn about? What books should you read, what courses should you watch? Are there certifications you should study for? Learn your craft so you are on the path to expert status.
Invest in your soft skills. Learn how to be more empathetic. Become a better listener and communicator. People skills are needed everywhere today: at work, at home, etc. Improving your soft skills will help you have what employers are looking for.
Networking is one of the key elements of career management. Don’t think of networking as a tedious four letter word. It can be fun and very rewarding. If you are on a bad career path, a strong network could be the key to switching. A great network watches out for, and helps, you. I talk a lot about networking on this blog… it’s key to job search and career management.
Work On Your Brand
Like it or not, a personal brand is a real thing. Work on your brand so when the time comes to look for another job you don’t have to start from square one. Your brand, if created right, can precede you. I’ve worked on my brand over the years and when I go to conferences people feel like they know, like, and trust me. That takes work, but it’s better to start now than to fumble around with your personal brand when you get laid off. I already tried that and I’m here to tell you: it doesn’t work well.
Still wondering what are your options if the career you are interested in has a poor outlook?
You have plent of options, really.
Let me end with a quick anecdote. I was having lunch with the late Dick Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute? Dick had just sat through one of my presentations and said, over lunch:
Jason, your message and my message are the same.
I asked him what our messages were (afterall, my presentation was about two hours long and I wasn’t sure what single message I gave).
He said, “Ours is a message of hope. When you show people they have options, you give them hope.”
You have options. Don’t lose hope. The future is as bright as you can imagine.