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How to Keep Your Job
by Carol Kleiman, Chicago Tribune, www.chicagotribune.com

Times are good, and jobs are plentiful for most people. But even though you may feel completely comfortable in your present job, it's not wise to sit back and revel in your current status.

Instead, now is the time to safeguard your career for the future because, unfortunately, the labor market still is volatile, and bad things can happen to good people. And, it's naive to think your job is protected from rapid changes in both the economy and technology.

That's why you have to take steps to future-proof your career. Here are 10 areas, from your current job performance to balancing work and family responsibilities, that you should pay attention to in order to keep your job safe - with on-target advice from the experts.

1. Assess Yourself

"You won't have a career or a future at all if you don't pay attention to the way you do your present work," said Ruth H Gilman, president of Human Resource Services in Buffalo Grove. Gilman, who does consulting for small and medium-size businesses, suggests looking "for the things that will make you valuable. Offer to help other people. Think of yourself as an integral part of the team. Believe there is no work for the good of the enterprise that is beneath you. Be enthusiastic and do the job you're paid to do - and then a lot more."

2. Log On

Unless you're a professional working in the field of information technology, you don't need to know how to be a programmer or system analyst. But to safeguard your job, know how to "access and use databases and the Internet," said Tom Muscarello, director for external programs and research for DePaul University's School of Computer Science. "Learn how your PC works and different application programs. If you know how to create graphic displays and find and save files - you'll be that much more valuable to your employer."

3. Negotiate

"Being able to negotiate helps you retain your current job," said Ron Shapiro, head of Shapiro Negotiations Institute in Baltimore. He's co-author of "The Power of Nice: How to Negotiate So Everyone Wins, Especially You!" (Wiley, $24.95) "Know your goal," said Shapiro. "Don't make demands. Probe, ask questions and listen. Get your boss to make the first offer - it's valuable information. And when a proposal for a raise or promotion is finally made, ask for time to think about it. Don't accept immediately."

4. Stop Whining

Expressing yourself clearly and letting people know what you're doing and thinking are essential to job security, according to Diane C. Decker, management consultant and owner of Quality Transitions in Mount Prospect. "Be positive when talking to your boss or colleagues about problems or when making suggestions," said Decker. "Try to minimize venting or blaming others." She adds that part of communicating "is listening, not only to what other people are saying but what they actually mean."

5. Do Your Homework

Know your own values and keep in tune with where your company is headed "to make meaningful decisions," said Kevin Cashman, CEO and founder of Leader-Source, an executive coaching firm in Minneapolis. "Think of yourself as a product and understand the marketplace," said Cashman, author of "Leadership From The Inside Out," (Executive Excellence, $24.95) "Research your employer's needs. Join professional associations to learn all you can about your field."

6. Expand Your Role

To be a successful team member - and your job depends on it - "be willing to get involved in areas outside your own realm of expertise," said Richard G. Hammes, president of Hammes and Associates in Buffalo Grove. Jump in and help others, urges Hammes, a human resource consultant. "Be willing to share your expertise. Your contributions will help expand your visibility - and will help the team as a whole."

7. Look Out For Number 1

"Let your bosses know what you're doing, the big things such as innovative projects and the smaller ones, too, such as a minor role you played on a bigger team project," said Kim K. Moldofsky, president of Positive Impact, Inc., a training and consulting firm in Skokie. Moldofsky says "ask your manager and higher-ups for advice, apply for posted jobs that interest you - and keep in touch with people who might some day be references so that when they get that phone call they sound as if they know you."

8. Keep Learning

"Things keep changing and you need to keep abreast of them" said Jerry C. Noack, vice president and group publisher of Training Magazine. Noack, based in Minneapolis, urges continuing education, which he says is more important than advanced degrees. "Become computer literate," he said. "Study communications, marketing, foreign languages and management skills. take courses that improve your current functions, not just your future ones. Ask for more training and education, and if your company says no, invest in your own growth by paying for it yourself."

9. Be In The Know

Informal information is a must to protect your current job. "You'd better have access to the gossip going around the office, because the first hint that the company's in trouble will come through the grapevine - and the earlier you know the better off you are" said Marilyn Moats Kennedy, managing partner of Career Strategies in Wilmette. Kennedy is a consultant to businesses and individuals. "Don't use the grapevine to diss people. It's really about having a pulse on what's going on - the best insurance you can buy."

10. Balance Work and Family

"Work is a part of your life but not all of it," said Jennifer White, president of The JWC Group, a Cincinnati-based consulting and executive coaching firm. "You're more valuable if you have other experiences than just work, so limit your time at the office in order to spend more time with your family, create outside interests and have a social life." White, author of "Work Less, Make More," (Kendall/Hunt $25), says you can leverage flexible hours by "becoming the best at what you do. It's not a big deal to leave at 3 p.m. when the boss knows you'll produce results anyway."

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