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  Bad Economy. Great Career

I know it sounds crazy. Bad Economy, Good career opportunity. The two seem diametrically opposed. They're not.

The status of open jobs as an economy becomes uncertain fall into one of three categories:

Stage 1) Open jobs can be filled. No new positions are created.
Stage 2) There is a hiring freeze. No jobs can be filled.
Stage 3) Reduction-in-force. Jobs are eliminated.

Working in an environment governed by costs rather than growth is challenging. Fewer people, more work. This is not a new phenomenon. It's a reality with which we are all familiar.

It is the employees left behind after a reduction-in-force who stand to gain, if they play their cards right. And it is here that the law of diminishing returns comes in to play.

The upside of fewer employees and more work is more opportunities for remaining employees. The key is to be strategic when taking on more work.

When a position is not filled, anticipate the work that will be distributed. Have a ready-to-articulate reason why your department is not the appropriate spot for boring, tedious work. And offer to take other more interesting accountabilities.

Every job has its grunt work, even at the most senior levels. The key is to position yourself as adding the greatest value to the work you want most. That said, your positioning cannot appear to be about the work you want and don't want. The accountabilities you pursue must be about where you and your department will add the most value to the organization.

Career mantra: It's not about you. It's about the company. Remember the banner stretched across the office in the movie Office Space asking, "Is it good for the company?" The same rules apply to you. You are volunteering to take this additional piece of work not because it's good for your career and allows you to do something you've always wanted to do, but because it's good for the company.

Your career is a PR campaign. The company exists to serve its customers and to be profitable, not to help you build skills and make you happy. If you develop and are happy in the process, fabulous. Employee growth and satisfaction is a key element to company profitability, and effective leaders work hard to achieve both. But they are not the reason for the company's existence.

Use an abundance of work and lean staff to your advancement. What role is now vacant that you have always wanted? What department needs a home? Identify what you want to do and then ask for it.

The upside is that you'll be seen as an ambitious team player. The downside is that you and your department will have more work to do, possibly more than you can manage. And this is potentially a recipe for overwhelm and dissatisfaction. And it is here that you negotiate.

Something has to give. You can't take on more work without more resources without making changes. Either your service levels change, you automate with technology or you stop doing things which are less essential. And you negotiate and agree upon these changes with your direct supervisor.

Deciding to stop producing a report that is time consuming and you're sure no one reads is a breakdown in the making. Tell your boss, "I'm willing to take on .....;" or better yet, "I'm excited to do ..... That said, I want to realistically manage workloads. Let's talk about how I can shift what I'm doing to make it all work."

This is being assertive and responsible, both for your well being and the well being of the organization. Remember, too much to do, for too long results in doing nothing.

Take control of your day by managing your work load with your boss, not around her. Make her your partner in decision making and you'll be seen as a reliable, long term resource.

Shari Harley leads The Harley Group International, a Denver-based training and consulting firm focused on helping organizations hire, train and retain the right employees. Shari can be reached at or

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