Our Take: Navigating the Doldrums

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Last week we discussed taking a detour to business school when the job market is stagnant. Now, let's look at maintaining your career's momentum while you keep working.

When advancement opportunities shrink because of market conditions, it becomes more important than ever to gaze beyond the immediate landscape. Instead of plotting a near-term career move, you should acquire a variety of small chits that make it easier to land your next job somewhere down the line.

The following suggestions reflect three guiding principles: Plan ahead. View your career assets as a package whose elements grow in value if they complement each other. And when life gives you lemons, well, make lemonade.

1. Nurture Contacts, Both External and Internal

People who know your work represent your best bridge to future opportunities. Therefore, it's wise to devote considerable time and energy to re-connecting with former close colleagues, trading partners, customers and other associates you lost touch with. If you seek out such people while you're not actively job-hunting, the likelihood of a pleasant reunion is high because you won't put them on the spot by asking for a favor.

While most professionals cultivate good relations with current colleagues, a job-seeker's greatest assets are his ex-colleagues. People who worked alongside you, or did business with you, make the best possible referral sources, says Gregg Berman, head of risk business at RiskMetrics Group. They can speak first-hand about your work skills and work style - which your brother-in-law or the guy you met at a networking event cannot honestly do.

Building friends within your firm, whether in your direct work group or not, is equally important. Such people may provide entrée to internal transfers - sometimes a key to survival when a firm is downsizing.

2. Be Alert For Internal Opportunities

A bear market or recession might seem the worst possible time to seek a lateral move. But if your company has frozen hiring, transfer opportunities might actually improve. That's because managers might be allowed to fill openings internally even when external hiring is banned.

Even if a transfer has no obvious upside in pay or title, it could strengthen your resume by adding a new skill that creates synergy with your present skill-set.

3. Burnish Your Credentials

There is probably no other industry for which acquiring and maintaining cutting-edge skills is more challenging - and more essential - than finance. A part-time MBA or other advanced degree program can signal commitment and qualify you for roles previously out-of-reach. Although a part-time MBA won't do for your resume or address book what a full-time program will, it won't subtract two years from your career and your bank account. Obtaining one of the many professional certifications, or even taking non-degree professional development courses through a specialized training institution, can also add stature to a resume. Yet another option is serving on a committee or board of a professional association.

4. Move Where the Opportunities Are

Sometimes an experienced professional can jump from an out-of-favor sector or specialty to one that's currently "hot." Hiring managers in new, fast-growing sectors tend to be more open to candidates with "transferable skills" - a euphemism for lack of direct experience - if only because the supply of people with direct experience hasn't caught up with booming demand.

A geographic move also may help. As growth in the U.S. and Europe weakens, emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East dominate banks' plans for new staffing. Some 15 - 20 percent of new managing director titles are being awarded in emerging market locations by institutions such as Morgan Stanley and Barclays. In the Middle East, many firms are expanding local offices by relocating experienced bankers from London and New York.

Of course, personal considerations make an intercontinental move unrealistic for many. But if you're not tied to a current location, keep an open mind about relocating wherever the business is. Commenting on a recent story that portrayed a transfer to the Middle East in a negative light, one eFC user wrote, "I don't know about the other cities but I recently relocated to Dubai and it's great!....Fantastic lifestyle, if I knew I would have moved much before."

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