Canadian Consulting Engineer

The Career Ladder

August 1, 2005
By Lori Elliott

As a career management coach who works in corporate outplacement, most of my clients are people who have been terminated from their employment. In this role, I am privy to very sensitive information g...

As a career management coach who works in corporate outplacement, most of my clients are people who have been terminated from their employment. In this role, I am privy to very sensitive information garnered from both the departing employee and the corporation asking them to leave. I am a woman with secrets. I would like to share one of them with you.

Nobody ever loses his or her job for being incompetent.

O.K., being inept will not get you promoted, but it is never the sole reason for termination. Generally speaking, you can get away with being fairly ineffectual without raising the ire of your boss as long as your performance is consistent.

People lose their jobs because they do not manage their careers. Career management strategies benefit individuals by helping them if they do lose their employment, but they also benefit employees by making them more valuable to their current employer and thus more likely to survive corporate restructuring. Let’s do a reality check on the health of your career.

How are your relationships?

Building strong relationships, both within your company and with clients, is essential. This does not mean “sucking up,” but rather taking a genuine interest in the work of others, offering to help outside the scope of your role, doing random acts of professional kindness, taking time to listen to your co-workers without judgment, and being nice to the little guy. Even little guys can topple a giant if there are enough of them.

What is your reputation? Reputations can follow us around and I have seen many professional careers suffer the long-term and costly ill-effects of a bad ‘rep.’ My clients have included people who have been essentially barred from re-entering their industries because of allegations of unethical behaviour, including taking kickbacks, breaching confidentiality, backstabbing, sexual harassment, being verbally abusive, and surfing or forwarding internet pornography.

You can generally avoid getting a bad name, both internally and externally, by:

* honouring confidentiality

* acting with integrity (i.e. doing the right thing even when it does not serve your own interests)

* following your professional code of conduct

* leaving your ego at the door and learning to accept critical feedback; as they say, “Would you rather be right or happy?”

* being generous with information that will help others (unless it is confidential)

* abstaining from alcohol at business functions.

Do you know what is going on in your industry? Are you active in your professional association and do you have relationships within your field but outside your company? This kind of industry networking will help you predict and adapt to changes within your company. It also benefits your employer because you can give managers a heads-up on how to adapt to emerging trends or technology and stay ahead of the competition.

Recruiting largely occurs through the networking process, so if you do lose your job it will be your best source for new opportunities in other companies. And you may be able to bring new talent into your current organization, thereby raising your own profile.

Are you qualified to do your job? Practical, on-the-job learning is important but less credible than academic credentials. Many of us perform functions and use technology in which we have no formal training. But if you were to go head-to-head in a job competition against a peer with credentials, would you be successful? Maybe not. Lifelong learning is essential in today’s competitive job market. If you are not adding new courses and qualifications to your rsum every year, then you are losing ground. Employers benefit as your knowledge and skills grow. And you benefit because you can take on new roles, hopefully with higher pay.

Can you adapt? It is a myth that old dogs cannot learn new tricks. They can. The challenge for old dogs lies in unlearning their old tricks. Learn to let go of your ego and fear in embracing new roles, especially during restructuring. I have known a number of professionals who ended up in higher paid and more challenging roles after a major re-organization simply because of their willingness to put aside their ego, status and need for structure. They were able to take on work outside their comfort zones.

If you can embrace and accept changes in technology and corporate structure then you will be valuable and able to survive within the corporation. Accept ambiguity, especially if it is transient.

Do you self-promote? There is no point in being brilliant if only you know that you are. This does not mean that you should alienate your co-workers by bragging, but you should let your manager know what you have been doing and what challenges you overcame by diligence and ingenuity. Keep your rsum current and the next time your performance review rolls around, go in prepared with a spreadsheet of challenges, solutions, outcomes and bottom-line contributions. If your bosses give you a raise, great. If they don’t, then your rsum is ready to hit the market. Employers benefit from this approach because employees monitor their own performance and strive to load up their rsum with solid achievements. Your manager may be able to identify new opportunities for you.

We know that the best way for employees to earn higher salaries is to change companies every three to seven years. The reality of our job market is that many people are forced to change companies every three to five years. Either way, managing your career makes good sense.

Lori Elliott, B.Sc. is a career management coach and training consultant with NEXCareer in Toronto. She works primarily with technical professionals. E-mail


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