Career Fitness: Threatspotting

One of the greatest obstacles to job search and career success is to be caught off guard. To be struck by a bolt out of the blue. When such situations occur, our options are almost always limited and our prospects for achieving our goal – whether it’s to land a great job or to achieve security in the one we have – are diminished. How can you protect yourself in today’s seemingly unpredictable job market and workplace? Become a practitioner of threatspotting.

No one likes to look for threats to their employment. We’d all rather be doing almost anything but analyzing the world around us to spot an industry being disrupted by technology or an employer with a fading market position or some institution’s growing infatuation with using part time or temporary employees. It’s depressing, to be sure, and frustrating. It forces us to acknowledge the instability in our environment and heightens our feeling that we are losing control of our future. But for those very reasons, threat spotting is also critical to career self-protection.

Now to be clear, threatspotting is not gazing into the futurist’s crystal ball. It’s not about looking at the long wave of social and cultural change and predicting what might happen in 20, 10, or even five years. No, threatspotting is an exercise examining what’s going on right now. Think of it as research into present conditions, but with a very specific purpose: threatspotting is performed to determine what the implications of current events and trends could be for that job you want or that position you have. To put it another way, it is the act of being aware of what could happen to you.

Assessing the Clues & Acting on Them

Threatspotting is often begun in response to a situation or event – when the news gets out, for example, that your employer is closing a local facility or a discussion with your boss indicates that you’ve reached your peak with your employer or because your spouse has taken a new job which is forcing you into the job market in a new location. While that’s certainly appropriate, threat spotting is best done as an annual process, something you do regardless of external events. Optimally, it is a discipline of regularly assessing your employment environment to determine what – if anything – might disrupt your job search or career advancement.

Threatspotting is a 3-step process involving data and information collection about the state of your personal “sphere of employment,” the identification of any threat within that sphere and the development of the best possible response and its implementation, should that be required. Your personal sphere of employment encompasses your profession, craft or trade; your job and/or the local job market; your employer and/or potential employers in your area; and the local economy.

Step 1: Collect Relevant Data & Information. Unlike in the past, the challenge today is not gaining access to news reports and other information about the state of employment within your personal sphere, but rather deciding which of the thousands of available sources you should rely on. Whether you make your selections with trial and error, peer recommendations or personal research, however, ensure they collectively cover your field of work, industry, and your home town economy effectively. Then, review and update those resources on an annual basis to ensure you’re getting the best insights possible.

Step 2: Determine What It All Means to You. The key to performing this step is understanding and overcoming a natural bias that can creep into your analysis. It involves the assumption that whatever potentially dangerous situation or trend you uncover won’t affect you. Everyone else may be susceptible to its harm, but somehow you will be left unscathed. Resisting that view, of course, must also be balanced with an equal determination not to overreact to events and trends. The best perspective, therefore, is to assess each situation with a very narrow field of view: Ask yourself if it could affect you directly (or indirectly) within the next 12-18 months and if so how.

Step 3: Develop Possible Responses & (if appropriate) Act. Environmental awareness is necessary but not sufficient for career self-protection. What’s also required is preparation for an identified threat and, if necessary, action to respond to it. For example, does an untenable situation with your boss indicate that you would be wise to explore other positions within your current employer or alternatively with another organization? Or, does a job market that is shifting towards a predominance of temporary positions suggest that you should explore using your skills in a new industry or in a different field? Yes, such changes can be unsettling and have their own set of risks, so the goal isn’t simply to act for action’s sake, but rather to understand your options and then evaluate the relative merits of staying where you are versus pursuing the option with the best potential upside.

In today’s unsettled and ever changing times, threat spotting is a core competency of successful career self-management. It is the single best way to ensure you have genuine opportunities in the job market and genuine security in the workplace.

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