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Economic Downturn -- Now What?

The complexities of today’s economy are exceedingly difficult to understand.  The interdependence of our global market means that what happens in one part of the world can ripple across vast oceans and impact your life with little or no warning.  Wars, natural disasters, and recessions make news headlines daily, and the economic impact can quickly become a wave that engulfs your quiet world and turns things upside down.  Here in Alberta, we’re witnessing one of those events, as the price of oil continues its downward trend the effects are being felt here and across Canada.   Projects are being shelved, contractors have been let go and the news doesn’t promise to get better anytime soon.  As an independent contractor, this can be a time of stress and uncertainty.  How should you respond?

  1. Stay Professional:  If your contract is terminated early, understand that this is a market condition that you have very little control over.  Do whatever it takes to leave the project in as good as shape as is possible.  If you can, ensure any items that need to be handed over are completed and let your client know that if they have any questions, you will make yourself available to them.  Ask your manager if they would be willing to act as a reference.   Maintain your professionalism. The client who is forced to let you go early may one day be hiring again and you want them to remember you in a positive light.

  2. Talk to the Pros:  Your staffing agency has important, real time information about the market.  For example, while one sector of the economy is in upheaval, it doesn’t mean that opportunities don’t exist in other sectors (or other geographic locations).  They will know the lay of the land and can give you valuable knowledge and a big picture view of the market and where you might fit in it.  You also need to update them on any new skills you’ve acquired and make sure you’ve updated your resume so they have a fresh copy.  Keep in mind that it might be a good time to highlight specific projects or industry experience to mesh with where current opportunities lie.

  3. Update your status on Social Media and let contacts know: Updating your status on social media is critical.  You need to get the word out as quickly as possible and social media is an excellent way of doing it.  Be prepared for the questions that come with your updated status.  People will want to know what happened.

  4. Increase networking activity:  It’s time to step up your networking activity.  Industry events, professional organizations and other gatherings are great places to meet others in your field and gather intelligence on what is happening in the market and pick up strategies for dealing with an uncertain economy.  Many of us stop networking when things are going well. Instead, make networking an ongoing habit.

  5. Determine your acceptable levels of flexibility:  During an economic downturn, you may decide that you need to widen your parameters.   Are you now willing to travel for a contract?  Should you lower your rate to be more competitive and are you ok taking on different roles which may not be as challenging or fun?  Make sure that you have these discussions with your family, partner, accountant or anyone else who is invested in your career.  Traveling for contracts can be a great way to escape a regional slowdown but it also has its challenges.  How will your family cope with you away much of the time? What are the financial implications? Will your rate cover the extra expenses of living in another city?   And what about your rate?  Most contractors would agree that lowering your expectations makes sense but how much do you move?  Again, talk to the professionals.  Recruiters are constantly monitoring the market and receive real time information about what rates are competitive in different markets.   And what about looking at different roles?  While this can sometimes work, for example, a PM taking on BA work, it is generally not an easy thing to do.  Clients pay a premium for contractors exactly because of the expertise they bring to the table.  It could be argued that many PMs are capable of doing BA work, but there is a general sense in the marketplace that you hire BAs to do BA work.  Trying to force your resume to make it fit another skillset rarely works and recruiters and clients alike are trained to uncover the truth.

  6. Stay confident:  Don’t allow frustration to creep in.  If your search is progressing slowly, keep meeting and talking to others in your field.  Not only is it important to continue to gather information, just the act of getting out and having a purpose to your day is integral.  You’ll feel better and the information you gather could lead to your next contract.

  7. Upgrade your skills:  If you decide to ride the downturn out, now might be a great time to upgrade your skills.  Get that certification you need to complete your resume.  Most recruiters will ask you about work gaps in your resume and will understand when the timing corresponds with an economic event — especially when you’ve filled in the gap by taking courses or programs which help you become a more marketable candidate.

  8. Respond appropriately to the market:  In times of change, the job market can shift considerably.  A market that supported a great deal of contract work may change 180 degrees.  Now, not only are you out of a contract, but the only roles being offered are as permanent employee.  While anyone can understand the pressures of having to pay the bills and keep a roof over your head, it is important to protect both your integrity and your reputation.  Taking a perm role with the intention of leaving as soon as the next contract comes along can damage both. If you decide to consider permanent opportunities, look for a role where the benefits are mutual and commit to making it work.  You have a great deal to offer as an employee and companies can offer training and benefits that you might not otherwise have access to. While workplace tenure is a thing of the past, you can maintain your reputation as a professional if you go into this scenario with the objective of making it a win-win.

Do you have any other tips to add?  Have you tried any of the above and would like to share your experiences?