How to Avoid Being Obsolete in These Turbulent Times

An executive recruiter gives advice on staying relevant

0210_car_sharon-hall-photo1Sharon S. Hall, 51, is a partner with Spenser Stuart in Atlanta. Hall co-founded the diversity practice of one of the world’s leading executive search firms. In the first of a three-part career survival guide, Hall shares some career advice.

How do you remain indispensable to a corporation even during downsizing?

If you’ve been at the same job for four or five years and neither the functions nor the company has changed much, seek change. Ask for increased responsibility or a complete job change.

Tell your supervisor, “I love the job I’m doing but I seem stuck. I would love to join X or Y opportunity or work on a special project.” Most special projects end with a presentation to senior management. You’ll meet people outside your department, you’ll learn something new, and you’ll be more visible to senior management, all of which position you well for staying relevant.

Ask for a transfer to a different department. I’ve seen people in the legal department doing work related to employee relations who then join the HR team. This broadens your skills, your functional relevance, and the platform on which you can be promoted. I’ve seen people from legal join HR as a liaison and wind up becoming an HR generalist.

What are some indicators that you’re becoming obsolete, and how do you begin addressing them?

One litmus test for obsolescence is the traffic across one’s desk. If one is sought out less frequently for input by colleagues; if one’s boss asks for counsel less frequently; or the nature of projects crossing one’s desk is less challenging, it is a good bet that one’s job is on the way to being considered obsolete.

Years ago we were a manufacturing society, but we’re now leveraging technology more and moving to a service-based economy. These are trends that you can take advantage of whatever job you’re doing. If you are in a goods-producing job or sector, look at ways that technology is being leveraged. Perhaps those with skills in supply chain management could consider transferring those skills to Internet-based distribution companies. If you can relate to technology, you can drive the transitions and make sure that your job capitalizes on the needs of companies as they change over time.

Beyond your company, how do you maintain relevance within your industry?

Four things: First, take classes. When you’re back in school, you can refresh your skills.

Second, connect with associations and attend conferences. Once we’re in an industry for a while, we tend to forget about the importance of associations; but they’re a good place to get information on trends. Conferences tend to be magnets for representatives from different companies. You’ll meet execs and get good counsel.

Third, keep up with trade journals. If you haven’t been reading them, it’s not a bad idea to get the last 10 to 15 issues and get right back up to speed.

Finally, keep in touch with your executive recruiters. I hear of people who have been working

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