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The Data You Need to Prepare for Change

Owning your path in the face of uncertainty is a key professional skill.

Key points

  • Whether it’s a recession, new management, or personal choice, change is unavoidable in life and work.
  • Unplanned-for changes can be a big source of stress, making it important for each individual to own their career path.
  • Getting ready for what’s next in one's career starts with data collection and results in an actionable plan.
Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash
Source: Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

There’s been a lot of talk recently about a recession: if we’re in one, if one is coming, if organizations are about to lay off people and implement hiring freezes, or if they’ve already started. Some of these moves have absolutely nothing to do with the broader state of the economy (ahem, Twitter), while others feel like companies are hedging against what might be coming down the road. Whether it’s now or six months from now, the reality is this: The only figures that are worth paying attention to are the ones that impact you. It’s all well and good to say there are plenty of jobs available when you’ve applied to hundreds and not gotten a single bite. Similarly, layoffs and job freezes, while unfortunate, are of most concern when they affect you.

No matter what happens (and this certainly won’t be the last time you will face the possibility of a recession), your job is constantly to collect the data you need to own your career path. And that means not being surprised when unplanned-for changes appear, which can be the source of enormous stress, and being ready when it’s time to make a change. In fact, some of the top skills you can develop as a professional to be prepared for the future of work are resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility, all of which will serve you well in these uncertain times.

It’s All Data

Everything around you is data to collect, pay attention to, and make work for you. Every experience, every relationship, and every feedback conversation is all data. You are surrounded by it all the time. But are you making the most of it to benefit your next steps?

Here are four key pieces of data for you to collect, not when it’s time to make a change, but before you get there.

  • Present Opportunity. It’s easy to assume there are no available opportunities for you at your present employer, simply because no one has talked to you about them or presented them to you on a silver platter. First, make note of what you do and don’t like about where you are. Do you want to stay? If changes were made to your role or if there was an opportunity to move up there, would you be interested? Are there other roles within the organization you find interesting? Ask for time with your manager to determine what paths are available to you before you make assumptions. It could be they don’t know you are interested. Or there may be an opportunity being developed you don’t know about, yet. It’s always okay to ask. And, if your manager tells you they don’t see a future for you there beyond what you’re currently doing or if they can’t answer the question, that’s great data to have, as well.
  • External Possibilities. In addition to figuring out what could happen where you are, you should constantly be scanning the environment for other opportunities. What’s happening in other organizations, other industries, or other locations that you find interesting? Which job boards can you routinely scan (even better, have them dropped into your email inbox for you so you don’t have to think about it) to start to identify what people are hiring for, and what aligns with your interests and strengths? Are there people you can reach out to for informational interviews to begin to learn about other roles? You don’t have to wait until you need something new to do this work. Start now.
  • Gaps and Growth. Once you’ve assessed the internal and external options, it’s time for a hard look in the mirror to determine where your gaps are and to create a plan to fill them. Again, this is where scanning those job boards is a great ongoing exercise. Just by paying attention to what people are hiring for, you can start to make note of what you do and don’t have in terms of skills, experiences, and knowledge areas, and start to make a plan to fill the gaps. If you can make your manager part of this process, terrific. If not, find a trusted mentor, wise counselor, or friend who can be objective and honest with you to give you feedback and hold you accountable. Again, this is not a process you want to start when you need to make a change. You want to have done the work of building your resume so that you’ll be ready when that moment arrives.
  • Personal Reality. Lastly, it’s important to take note of your own personal realities and how they may factor into any future decisions. What are your budget realities? Do you have kids you need to consider in terms of school and friends? Do you have a partner whose own professional choices need to be factored into any possible next steps? It’s all well and good to say that you’ll up and move across the country for a big adventure or quit your stable corporate job to start your own business, but if your lifestyle needs don’t support that, you need to factor that in. Perhaps it means preparing for a big life change in a year’s time and using that year to save as much money as possible and create a plan to address any lifestyle changes that can be predicted.

Moving From Data Collection to Intentional Action

We are all surrounded by data all the time, and we each have the choice to collect it and pay attention to it to make more informed decisions. But it’s not enough just to collect it. You have to make the intentional decision to do something with it once you have it. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What have I learned about myself: my strengths and gap areas, my tolerance for risk, and my desire to make a change?
  • What have I learned about my organization and my future there?
  • What have I learned about external possibilities?
  • Based on all that information, what do my next steps look like? What is one thing I can do in the next week, the next month, and the next three months to take productive, intentional steps forward?
  • Who can help me?

Change can be hard, scary, and disorienting, especially when it’s not by our own choice. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get ready and be prepared for when it inevitably shows up. Because whether it’s due to a recession, new management, or your own personal circumstances, change will happen. So get ready, and stay ready. There’s no better time to start than now.

More from Allison E McWilliams Ph.D.
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