The Warning Signs of Career Disaster

Many of us have recurring dreams. Mine is that I’m driving down the freeway and can’t read the road signs until I’ve missed an important exit. Fortunately, it’s just a dream. But many people have trouble reading signs-not road signs, but career warning signs.

A career warning sign is any change that indicates possible career disaster. While warning signs may vary according to employment situations, there are four basic warning signs to look for.

Warning Sign #1: Your industry is experiencing a downturn.

Telecommunications is a perfect example. A few years ago, telecom was one of the fastest growing industries, with positions available at all levels. The first negative indicator was unmet earnings expectations. Those who paid attention left the industry.

People who practice career management watch the growth trends within their industry and know to leave ahead of the crowd.

Warning Sign #2: Sales are down in your company.

While not everyone in an organization is involved with sales, all jobs are affected by sales levels. When revenues decrease, profits are held steady by cutting costs, which often means cutting jobs. Protect yourself by paying attention to your company’s sales.

While not all employees are privy to sales numbers, there are ways of finding pertinent financial information. Public companies must publish financial statements. And employees of non-public companies can also read the signs of declining sales, like:

* Work load decline

* Boss suddenly concerned about small costs, like pens and copy paper

* Sales manager was fired or sales department reorganized

Alert employees are sensitive to such indicators. They keep their resume updated at all times and cultivate a growing professional network for potential future job leads.

Warning Sign #3: Management changes.

Any management change has the potential to damage your corporate position. Be watchful during:

* Mergers and acquisitions

* Successive short-term management (e.g., three bosses in two years)

* Retirement or replacement of senior management

Wise employees listen closely to new-management rhetoric. Is he making dramatic promises? Does he have a reputation as a job cutter? The first announcement of new management is the time to prepare your resume and cautiously explore outside options.

Warning Sign #4: You’ve lost favor with your boss.

This is the sign that, for many, hits home first. If you once held the enviable role as “company wonder boy,” but now your gut feelings are warning you that you could be easily replaced, check for some of these objective indicators:

* A less-than-exemplary performance review

* No performance-based salary increase

* Smaller than expected year-end bonus

* Your input is not requested at planning meetings

* Your suggestions are ignored

If you sense your position on the corporate totem pole is falling, trust your gut. When jobs are at stake, yours will be one of the first sacrificed. Prepare your new career action plan.

These warning signs may seem obvious, but they are often ignored by those who fear change. Rather than take action, they lean on false hope that loyalty to the employer will pay off in the end.

Those who practice career management never confuse company loyalty with aversion to change. When career warning signs appear on the horizon, read the signs clearly so that you’re ready for the next exit with a strong resume, career action plan, and interview skills.