May 30, 2009


Work is a popularity contest, and the harsh truth is that when jobs are being cut, the guy who keeps his job is the one the boss likes best. --- Stephen Viscusi

You'll find lots of job advice these days. Earlier, we looked at three recommendations from the Harvard Business Review. Today we're looking at Bulletproof Your Job, a new book by Stephen Viscusi. Catchy title. Nice cover. No government funding. And the dust jacket states the four simple rules in eight big, bold words:
  1. be visible
  2. be easy
  3. be useful
  4. be ready
You'll find many good ideas. The table of contents does not show the full list of 50, which is annoying. The book is blunt. Some actions help you get ahead at the expense of others. 

Bulletproof Your Job is current enough to mention LinkedIn and Facebook but not Twitter. The content helps you in any economy but has the most appeal during a downturn. You'll benefit most if you work in a corporate environment. You'll get value in other situations too, including sales.

Rather than repeating points from the book, I'll share thoughts on the four suggestions from my real world experience. 

Be Visible
Q: Why do men prefer beautiful women over brainy women?
A: Because men see better than they think.
--- Unknown
Familiarity is your powerful ally in building relationships. If you can't see your boss regularly due to travel or location, stay visible by phone and email. This is not the same as meeting in person but much better than fading from memory. When you do more than your clients and colleagues expect, they are more likely to mention you to your superiors.

You also want to be on the radar of people outside your company. Create, complete and update your profile on LinkedIn. Associate with people who have the potential to hire you or recommend you to people who can hire you. You want to do this now not when you're looking for a job.

Be Easy

Maybe in some other lifetime you won't fit.
And if you don't fit, you're fit for nothing at all.
--- Joe Jackson
Back in 1984, when I graduated from the University of Western Ontario, the job market stunk even for actuarial students. Of the 17 graduates, only four found jobs. Three of us had the top grades. The fourth had average grades but looked good, was very likable and the only one with a BMW. Over the years, he had difficulty passing the 10 actuarial exams and disappeared. Neither likability nor technical skills are sufficient on their own.

Some workers are a hassle to have around but not enough of a pain to dismiss. During a downsizing, they go first. The displaced are miffed to see others who seem less capable (to them) survive. Attitude and likability matter that much.

After a downsizing, fewer remain. So there's less tolerance for keeping annoying or negative employees. You don't want to travel with someone who keeps asking "are we there yet?" It's easier to get rid of the squeaky wheel than to keep applying oil.

Be Useful

How can I be useful, of what service can I be?
There is something inside me, what can it be?
--- Vincent van Gogh

See how far you get by being useless. Some employees have a strong sense of what their job entails. They rebel when you ask them to do something necessary but outside their job description. Say photocopying, testing software or answering the phone. Ask them to learn something new and they are reluctant.  Ask them to change how they do something and they're reluctant. These people find themselves on the short list when staff reductions are imminent. They don't understand when notified that their services are no longer required. How can they get booted out? After all, they were doing their job.

Be Ready

Most people have the will to win,
few have the will to prepare to win.
--- Bobby Knight
Remember Y2K when the whole world seemed ready to collapse? Did you stock up on cash, bottled water, food and batteries? That's being prepared.

In a work environment, you prepare yourself for emergencies by setting aside savings or having a secured line of credit. You can prepare for opportunities by improving your skills: strengthening your weaknesses and learning totally new things. You demonstrate what you know when you help others

An Easy Start
Here's an easy way to get started: social media. As an experiment, build a following on Twitter. Blogging is even better but takes more work. You can even be anonymous if you're insecure.

If you're willing to use your real name, add value on LinkedIn. Answer questions in your areas of expertise. Join relevant groups. As you practice, you'll have a higher profile, be easier to deal with, more useful to others and better prepared for whatever comes.


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