Six Steps to Avoid Becoming Obsolete (or Worse) on the Job


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The Client: It only seemed natural that James was angry. Wouldn’t you be angry if you were being passed over for a promotion? And this wasn’t the first time. Last month, there was a really big project being drafted by the Leadership Team that was loaded with more authority, more responsibility and, of course, more money. James was sure he was a sure-fit for the position. But to his dismay, it was offered to a younger, less tenured employee. Now a much juicer promotion was on the table and that promised even more than the other position. A company car, high visibility among the company’s Board of Trustees, overseeing a huge division and more prestige than he ever imagined (but so sorely desired). But it was not offered to him. As a matter of fact, not only was it not offered but he was never even considered for the promotion. To make matters even more distasteful, it was offered to an employee whom James used to supervise less than two years ago.

Anger, frustration, resentment and fear combined with a huge dose of denial quickly became intimate and frequent visitors to James’ psyche. How could he be treated so unfair especially in view of all his years of experience and skills? Didn’t that mean anything? Wasn’t he entitled to being recognized for all that he’d given to the company. All those early morning arrivals before anyone got to the office and he was always the last one to leave. Several years ago he launched and completed a very successful project and was congratulated by the President of the company himself. Didn’t that mean anything? How could they treat him so callously. A man of his stature.

The Problem: James’ situation is more common to the workplace than not. In this day of career-minded, not-ready-to-retire Baby Boomers and as-yet-to-be-career-fulfilled Generation Xers (remember them?), the workforce is literally an “Employers Market”. Yet, many of these workers find themselves struggling either to find employment after having been downsized or to feel valued. It is the latter situation that this article is intended to address.

James’ problem was not related to his technical performance, ie. , his ability to perform the duties required of his position for which he was hired. He has a long history of receiving stellar performance evaluations by his supervisors. Rather, James’s problem was related to his inability to understand the “new” rules of the workplace and to incorporate them into a regular practice. You see, James started his career believing that if you go to work early, stay late, come in on weekends and always be ready to “take one for the team” then your efforts would be recognized and you would be justly rewarded. Hey, that’s how it worked for his dad, right? Well, yes, but that’s not how the workplace of the 21st century operates any longer. At one time it was, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. ” That’s now been rewritten to, “It’s not what you know or who you know. It’s who knows you!”. Loyalty to the employer as well as loyalty to the company used to be the heard on the old job airwaves. Now, the station has a new frequency on station, “WII- FM” or more commonly known as “What’s In It For Me?” The rules have changed and poor James needed help to figure it out. That’s where I came in!

The Solution: James was wounded and needed, even more than a promotion or higher salary, a boost in his self-confidence. Like many others, James’ identity and self-esteem were tightly wound into his job to the point where it was hard to separate the two. Helping James to renew his self-image was job #1. For the purpose of this article, I will condense the timeframe, but since James was motivated to work, he was able to do some remarkable things in a very brief timeframe.

The Outcome: We examined some of his beliefs about himself and looked at the things he values. It wasn’t long before James was able to redefine and separate “who” he is and the core of his essence from his career and vocational Self. James could now see that his worth was more than a paycheck or a promotion or anything external to himself. We then focused on developing strategies to help him improve his chances to getting on-the-job recognition (yes, that is still important to him, but now the degree to which he weighs its importance has been shifted to a more tolerable level).

Here are some highlights of the strategies James and I co-created:

People are hired because they are liked and fired because they’re not! It’s not often that people are hired or promoted solely because of their technical skills. Sometimes the best technical skills a candidate has that makes them a good hire is their ability to drop twenty foot putts with a fair degree of frequency or they can play “like Mike!” More often than not, people are hired because the company feels they “fit” into the existing culture. Find out what your supervisor likes in his/her employees and what he/she values in themselves. Find out why you were hired and make sure you keep those skills and qualities in constant view.

It really is about “who knows you”. Equally important is who knows you. Make it a point to find out who the movers-and-shakers are in the organization and find out why. Informational interviews are effective. Also, asking others why they consider someone to be a leader within the organization is another way to gather helpful information. Once you have the information you need, develop a strategy that ensures they get to know who you are and your value to the company.

Keep your supervisor informed. There’s a huge difference between “sucking up” and making sure your supervisor is aware of what you’re doing with your time. Make sure you get on your supervisor’s schedule on a regular and constant basis and take that time to get clear on what’s expected of you and to keep your supervisor informed of where you are on your projects. Ask for feedback.

Avoid complaining…especially to those who can’t do anything to improve your situation! Sure you friends and coworkers will commiserate with you and join you in your Pity Party. They may even offer you advice they themselves would be unwilling to take if they were in your shoes. Yes, misery loves company, so be very careful about the company you keep because the temptation to engage and spread company gossip is very strong. If you’ve got an issue, take it to your supervisor. Of course you may be a bit nervous at first so instead of reacting immediately, give yourself twenty-four hours before bringing it to your supervisor. During that cooling down period you now have time to remove separate fact from fiction and feelings from logic in the situation. Write it down. Read it. If you’re not ready to present your concerns in a fact-based, logical manner, then keep working on it until you get ready. When you do get ready, then present your case but only with the understanding that you may not get what you want, but the true value will be that you stood up for yourself and presented your issues in a professional manner. Good for you!

Keep your skills current! Technology is rapidly changing the way businesses are being run. Make sure you attend conferences, workshops and seminars. In addition to learning new skills, these venues will provide great opportunities to network with others in your field. Always bring your resume and some business cards to these events. Hey, you never know!

Work on YOUR Attitude! This is where career coaching really helps. Despite changing times one axiom remains true: “Your attitude determines your altitude”. If you think you can or if you think you can’t then either way you’re right. Being able to be positive is something that one works at on a daily basis until it becomes a habit. Once achieved, you will find yourself doing some remarkable things and Life has a way of bringing to you those things that resemble your attitude.

Career coaching can be an effective way to ensure that your career is maintained by design and not by default. It’s very easy to succumb and to feel victimized by your situation, but coaching allows you to see options you never thought possible. Career coaching generally lasts about eight sessions and is very affordable especially in comparison to the emotional and actual cost of being in a job that is unfulfilling.

John P. Carvana has been a career serivce practitioner for almost thirty years. He has worked as a Corporate Recruiter with a Fortune 500 and has held management level positions with some of the most prestigious universities in America. He has helped hundreds of job seekers prepare for and succcessfully enter their desired career path.

John is a certified Career and Life Purpose Coach and specializes in assisting individuals thirty (30) years and older with finding their carer passion, identifying obstacles and beliefs that sabotage success, and with entering (or re-entering)the job market. He specializes in effective resume development and helping others master the skills to conduct interviews that get results.

John resides in Stockton, California and enjoys a great life with his wife and high school sweetheart, Joanne, and their two children, John II and Jena Kathleen.

For more information, visit John's website at , send him an email at or give him a call at 209.479.2165


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