Why You Should Proactively Manage Your Career

Written by Kathy Cole, NAER Chairman

Our senior recruiting consultants have seen a few economic downturns in their careers.  During these times, we’ve learned from those who have proactively managed their careers.  During the Great Recession, we observed many talented people, with 10 or more years at one company, lose their jobs.  Many of these long-tenured employees were very loyal and committed to their employer.  In fact, some rarely gave serious consideration to a career move until it was forced upon them.  I’m sure you know someone who was employed for 10, 20 or even 30 years at a company who unexpectedly lost their job.  For such loyal employees, making a career move is difficult, especially when it’s not on their terms.

Keep Employer Loyalty in Perspective:

Loyalty is an admirable quality.  After all, if you stay with your employer for a significant time frame, you must be doing something well.  Also, most employers shy away from candidates who make job changes every year or two.  However, when you invest more than 8 to 10 years in one company, and unexpectedly lose your position,  it’s not uncommon to feel emotionally devastated.  That’s normal.  If this happens, it’s important to avoid becoming stuck in the pain of loss.  Instead, moving forward with the pride of your achievements will ensure a successful next chapter of your career.  Many do find a new, rewarding role, similar to the one they had.  Others find a new career that exceeded their wildest dreams, wondering, “why did I wait so long?”  And certainly, some find new roles that don’t pay what they have earned in the past.

Lessons Learned:

Making career moves is serious business.  It’s never advisable to chase the greener grass just for the sake of doing so.  Proactive career moves, however, can make a big difference in total earnings over your lifetime.  In addition, you may find strategic moves offer opportunity to learn and grow that might not be available in your current position. I’ve noticed those who manage their careers in a proactive way fare much better in the long term than those who did not.  And we can learn from those who survived and even thrived, during these times.  You, too, can manage your career proactively with a few strategies.

Strategic Career Planning:

It’s vital to understand your strengths and increase your “portfolio” of marketable, transferable, skills.  In today’s world, quickly learning new systems and adapting to technology is vital.  If your employer is slow to adopt new technology, and doesn’t provide training or professional development opportunities, you are very vulnerable.  You should continually improve yourself with training and education in your profession.  Learn what skills and positions are in high demand.  But you must be willing to take some risk to make this happen.  You can do that by asking for new projects or roles at your current employer or by proactively and strategically making a move.


You should be constantly and honestly assessing your work performance and the value you’re bringing to your employer.   You can do this by keeping documentation on significant projects, and how they made or saved the company money, or improved a process.  Assess the positive impact your work made on your department and your company, and be sure to quantify the value of those outcomes where possible.  This will prepare you to tell that success story later when you need it!


One of the most overlooked aspects of proactively managing your career, is building your network.  Many people, especially those in technical professions, shy away from networking.  Some even feel it’s insincere or too much like “sales.”  Research shows effectively building a network of contacts has more to do with “giving before you get,” or helping others than selling anything.   No matter your profession, if you make meeting new people a priority, with the right attitude, you’ll reap huge rewards.  To succeed, you must be sincere and take an interest in what others you encounter are trying to achieve.  Look for opportunities to help, even in the smallest ways.  For example, I had unexpected business travel that derailed my plans to see a Broadway show.  I gave those tickets to one of my contacts, because his daughter loves dance.  It really is the little things that make a difference.  Being thoughtful and courteous pays off with a loyal network that can serve you, personally and professionally, for the rest of your life.  More important is you’ll make a positive difference in many lives.   A great book (oldie but good) on this approach is called Give and Take:  A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam M. Grant, Ph.D.

None of us can predict what circumstances may impact the potential loss of a position. But proactively managing your career works well regardless of economic conditions.  So assess your career goals, and get the skills and experiences you need to meet those goals.  And don’t be afraid to explore new opportunities both inside and outside your current employer.