Career advice: Surviving the economic downturn

Answering questions about surviving the economic downturn, returning to school and pitching in on electronic health records is Mark Burnette, CPA, CISA, CISSP, CISM, ITIL V3 Foundations, CGEIT, who has led two award-winning IT organizations and consulted with companies across the world. He is a recognized expert in leadership, IT process, compliance, security and cost management, and was named one of the Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2009. He can be reached at If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to and watch for this column each month.

Mark Burnette

My company hasn't laid off anyone from IT yet in this stagnant economy, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time. Any advice on how to avoid the ax when it comes down? First, don't run around afraid you're going to lose your job. It will affect your mind-set, which in turn will subconsciously affect how you perform and how you interact with your co-workers. Plus, it's no fun to go to work in a negative state of mind all the time. Second, focus on results. No matter how much you're paid, if you consistently meet or exceed your boss's expectations, it will be very difficult to put your name on the pink slip when decision time comes. If you're not sure of your status in your boss's eyes, seek constructive feedback and act immediately on any improvement suggestions. Be reliable, and communicate consistently and effectively with your co-workers. And last, being a trusted subject matter expert (SME) on a particularly important technology solution for your company will make it difficult to cut you loose as well. But don't fall into the trap of trying to "hoard" information so that you'll be the only SME in that area. Your boss will notice and may assume you're not a team player. While doing all of this, you should also get your ducks in a row in case you do lose your job. Update your résumé (after hours) to reflect all of your current experience, gather any performance reviews, job descriptions, etc., that may be helpful if you have to look for another job. Many employers are using LinkedIn as a reference tool when considering prospective employees, so update your LinkedIn profile, and consider asking some co-workers to "endorse" you there. Build your professional network by attending trade association or professional organization events and meeting people. In the business world, landing that next job is often more about who you know rather than simply what you know.

I've been toying for a while with the idea of going back to school. (I work in desktop support and want to learn more about networking and business matters.) I'm thinking that this economy is a good time to do it. What would be good areas of study to give me a leg up when the economy turns around? Information security is a great field of study because all organizations are having to deal with security issues on some level. Even companies that aren't focusing on building a security function (and most of them are, given the visibility and liability of security breaches) have to deal with compliance issues of some type, and achieving compliance typically involves layering in control processes or technology that requires some degree of security knowledge. Further, technical security work (such as vulnerability assessment, intrusion detection and forensics) requires a specialized skills set that commands a compensation premium with most companies.

I've been working in health care IT for the past decade, working on a few privacy issues among other things. It seems like there's going to be a real push toward implementing electronic health records. I suspect consultants will do most of the implementation, but I'd like to be involved. Would you say I have a good chance staying with the provider I work for now, or should I try to hook up with a consultancy? The best consultants are individuals who have "been there and done that" themselves in the past. From your question, I'm assuming you don't already have that experience. Rather than jumping ship right away, I would suggest you approach your boss, indicate your interest and request to get involved with your company's electronic health records initiative. If your boss consents, you'll get the benefit of working on a project you can get excited about while building your résumé for the future. When the project is over, if you've shown your worth to your organization, you'll likely have the opportunity to take on additional responsibilities or other innovative projects. If that doesn't appeal, you'll have a lot of "street cred" when you do seek a consulting gig.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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