Gen Y: Make yourself recession proof

I have most recently learned that this is my 2nd or 3rd recession and I am Gen Y.  The first involved migration (cross-country, cross-continent) by my parents when I was really young and it came at a good time – just mere months after leaving the country, the company both of my parents worked for over a decade went bankrupt.  Second being by myself, most willingly but for another reason – professional development.

Australia is only a handful of developing countries to avoid the recession although there were a lot of ‘hype’ in the news in the last half of 2008-first half of 2009.  I was set to graduate in 2009 so I had my doubts about how things were going to work out and therefore made myself as ‘recession proof’ as possible.  I think the same principles still apply now.

I am writing this because I see a number of articles online with tips to graduates about dealing with the recession or making themselves ‘recession proof’. Thing is that many of these were written from a point of view of someone who hasn’t dealt with the issue first-hand. They just made a number of assumptions of what could / could not work. Also when I first moved to London, I was flatsharing with current or soon-to-graduate students or emerging career professionals who moved to London from elsewhere in the UK or in the EU and with this comes unique challenges.

I don’t have the answer to everything, but at least it’s something, right?

So, here goes. Some things that I have done or learned from 2008 to 2012…

LESSON ONE: Develop, maintain and grow your professional network

Networking goes beyond adding numbers on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. It is about finding meaningful professional contacts, finding the common ground between you and the other person and finding ways to develop and grow professionally. Focus on the quality rather than the quantity of contacts. Leverage and make the most of the existing and popular social media platforms and that means setting aside time to make the most of it.

Two recent examples…
Example 1: A contact that I made in 2008 has recently approached me this year as she is planning to move to London late 2012. I introduced her to a contact that I made in 2010 who is currently in a similar industry and is also based in London. All parties involved (including myself) are based in different cities but we share common ground – being in the creative industries and the relationship with the city, London.

Example 2: A contact made in 2007 mentioning my name to someone that I have never met before, but only knew by name. We recently met up for tea in London. Common ground was that both of use were in the creative industries, our relationship with London, worked on our own online media publications, were writers, attended a number of Brisbane events. Then we exchanged our tidbits in London. I’ve known her name for five years but we’ve never met!

How does this relate to making oneself recession proof? Many of the opportunities out there are made – they are either made by yourself or they are made by someone with you just happening to know of it because you were present at the right time and at the right place (in other words, luck). It doesn’t matter if you think that there is such a thing as luck, but grow your network and you grow the opportunities available.

Keep in mind though that it’s not all about taking, or giving. Try to keep a balance.

LESSON TWO: Do not undervalue, undersell, underwrite yourself

I have had my fair share of negative dealings from people who were not well-meaning or from those who know exactly what they are after. I fell through some of these (and came out, burnt and learning some lessons…) and there were others were I simply said no. However that is another blog entry in itself. The end lesson here is that when you set aside time and energy in projects or committments that undervalues you, that simply means less time and energy working on projects or seeking opportunities that is right for you. It’s as simple as that.

One such dealing, something very common to emerging professionals particularly in countries not faring well or in industries such as the creative industries… revolves around doing work for free or doing work with a very very low monetary value exchange (aka low paid internships). I have two recent examples this year, one in relation to an internship offer and another one by a potential client that was only willing to pay junk for good work…

Example 1: 1.5 weeks after arriving in London, I was offered an internship role with a startup company. I won’t get into the details. The last email about this was sent from the company, offering an internship position. It wasn’t full-time or even part-time (I notified that I could do neither while I had other committments), just ‘whenever’. It involved leveraging off the skills, experiences and networks built up over the years. Needless to say, I did not take up the offer.

The thing here is that I hear stories of other emerging career professionals who have been given bad deals, or are stuck in positions that is an impediment to their career and professional development. It is an impediment because one’s time, energy and talent is not being used in the best way possible.

Understand and learn that there are different types of ‘work’. Look for the best type – financial independence (so, paid work…if you are not getting paid, then someone else is supporting you hence lack of an opportunity to gain financial independence or to learn how to deal with one’s finances and money), professional development (doing non menial tasks), career development and of course, being in a situation where you are not being used.

Example 2: Being in a meeting where as a consultant you are gunning for a potential client work but it turns out to be a no-go. Excuses included “We may not be able to afford you…”, “We have a very limited budget…”. This is a fairly common irk for freelancers and consultants alike. Also, those coffee catchups which is a veiled attempt at getting an hour or two worth’s of free consultancy.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to time. All of us have 24 hours in a day. So use it wisely.

LESSON THREE: Come up with all options available to you. Focus on one or two. Be realistic with cashflow projections.

I have identified several options that I could undertake, all of it involving leveraging off and creating new contacts, opportunities, ideas. The problem was to decide which one to undertake and also when. I gave myself a deadline of 1-2 weeks to completely focus on one option, evaluate its success/lack of before I moved on towards working with other options. I might move back to an option that I took earlier and see where it leads to.

As it turned out, an option that I was completely relying on to make me recession proof (when I moved to London) completely folded. I was too optimistic with how things were working out, however when that option folded I still had other options that I can fall back to and focus on because they were running in the background.

I was able to take 3-4 weeks break (for various reasons…) but still have my options running in the background. The time came to completely focus on one option (work with a recruitment agency) which turned out to be the successful option to take.

So, figure out what options you can go with and create a plan (daily, weekly, monthly) of action. Include possible KPI’s or work out how you will know you need to switch a method of action or route to take.

LESSON FOUR: Cultivate your intellectual curiosity

Read widely, take on board new experiences (for me, it’s travel), learn new things beyond your industry.

The take away here is developing the ability to be flexible, to be open to learning across new environments and to also cultivate a general intellectual curiosity with new things in general. In CV speak, it’s the ability to move horizontally (ie across sectors or industries).

LESSON FIVE: Be entrepreneurial. Learn to make new opportunities for yourself and for others.

There are a number of well written articles out there on being entrepreneurial.

Taking on board this mindset is something that I have been advocating for a while now (see this 2009 entry) but it was something that I have kept in mind even while growing up. I’ve always had something on the side from age 11, all the way through high school, even through full-time employment. I have all sorts of reasons why but one of the main reasons goes back to opportunities – making them for yourself and for others. Take on an opportunity creating mindset and you are recession proof for life.

It is also a personal thing for me as I have the need to help others in this way. When it comes to opportunities, it is not all about taking, but it is also about giving back as well.

That’s the big picture items. Here are other things to keep in mind…
– Find and focus on point of differences on your CV that is appropriate to the medium. Print CV’s should be well designed with a layout that is pleasing to the eye and in a format that will transfer to the viewer’s computer. Social media CV’s should be integrated with existing profiles (ie integrating Slideshare with LinkedIn) and so on.
– Take on board any necessary feedback provided but not all feedback is of equal weight and importance.
– Don’t burn through all or even any of your contacts and connections (see Lesson Three). I had a list of people that I would approach but only if I had reached a certain stage.
– Same as above, but for companies. I had a list of companies to approach, but only if I reached a certain stage. Instead I focused on building new contacts and connections with new companies and individuals.
– Most helpful when moving to a new country/city and/or a new industry sector is to attend events and meet face to face with people and companies in that area. And don’t be afraid to approach directly with what you are looking for, but be succint and to the point. Work on your introduction ie “I am here to learn more about xxx”.

I hope that you have found this entry useful!