The nature of job security has changed forever, yet again.
In my parent's generation, job security was simple. Once you won a job with a company, you stayed there for 40 years, and retired with a generous pension. If you were lucky, you got a company car and other perks that went well with a tranquil suburban lifestyle.
A decade ago, that changed, with the advent of rengineering and downsizing. As any reader of this column knows, I'm definitely not against downsizing. If fact, I think it's a good thing. However, it did fundamentally change the nature of job security.
For the past five years, job security has consisted of a) working for a successful company, and b) having a reasonable grasp of technology and change. If you picked wisely, and worked for a Cisco Systems, you might even become a millionaire simply for sticking around. Even if you didn't become a stock option millionaire, those magic instruments still help out the promise of paying for that BMW Z3, or that house downpayment. Employees of admired companies felt safe, even as the dot-coms crashed and burned. After all, people would always need more computers, more software, more routers, or more good advice.
In the past three months, that's all changed again. Now no company is safe. Even the mightiest companies of the information revolution, the Ciscos, Dells, and Suns have been forced into layoffs. Siebel beats earnings estimates and announces a 10% cut.
The new job security calls for new rules.
Rule #1: Control Your Own Destiny
You can only feel secure if your fate is in your hands. Find a job where you contribute directly to your firm's success, and its ability to employ you. Make sure that you contribute directly to profits. This doesn't just apply to sales people; everyone, from admin assistants to software engineers to graphic designers need to get as much control over a revenue stream as possible.
Rule #2: Make Yourself More Useful Than Your Co-workers
As the old saying goes, you don't need to outrun the bear, you just need to outrun the other guy that the bear is chasing. Make yourself more useful than your co-workers, and the ax will fall on their necks, not yours. This means getting your job done quickly and efficiently, then asking for even more work. Beware, though, don't fall into the trap of accepting work from your co-workers. Only take assignments from people who are in a direct chain-of-command above you.
Rule #3: Plan On Getting Fired
Act as though you expect to get fired. Hustle. Build up your human capital. Network. All of these activities will make you more useful than your co-workers and help you control your own destiny.
Besides, if you do get canned, you'll have a good head start.