Let's start with something your mother probably told you: More important than good looks is personality. I've said it before and I'll say it again, at a certain level decisions are based on chemistry as much as competence. "There is no surprise that a person the manager likes has a better chance," says William Roiter, who counsels executives who have to make these decisions.
And what most people like is a positive attitude, so that's what you have to project., even if it means an Academy Award performance.
One executive who is in the process of laying off or reassigning a whole division said that, all things being equal, "I'll keep the person who understands what the company is going through and doesn't take it personally that we have to count the paper clips."
The executive added, "The person who is teed off, stops coming up with ideas, and says, |If I'm not laid off, I'll start working again,' is not going to get that chance."
Now, in order to be liked, you have to be seen - so don't hide. Mr. Roiter, who is a psychologist with American Psych Management in Boston, says there is a "pack mentality." People think they'll be safe if they can get lost in the crowd and avoid standing out. But it's easier to lay off someone who's anonymous than someone you know. Let's face it, if you're invisible, the manager isn't going to notice if you're gone.
To stand out from the crowd you can volunteer to take on a special project for the boss, get mentioned in the company newsletter, and serve on a committee with people more senior than you.
A Good Soldier
Loyalty is another quality managers like. With rough times ahead, they want someone there to watch their backs. "You think to yourself, |Joe may not be the brightest light, but he helped me,'" says the executive who is dismantling a department.
Of course, loyalty to one person should not be your only ticket. You may have noticed that higher-ups are not safe from the corporate ax. And, don't confuse loyalty with longevity. Plenty of 25-year veterans are getting pink slips instead of gold watches.
Adaptability a Big Plus
Now, combine the above attributes with flexibility.
Managers want to keep people who will help them meet the company's goals and objectives, but this is tough. Sometimes the senior people aren't sure what road the company is on.
Model T Syndrome
This means - to continue to be a survivor - you have to seek out signs, scarce though they may be, as to shifts in corporate priorities, so you can shift your activities accordingly. This is called being flexible, and it's one of the first words out of managers mouths when they're asked what qualities are important to them these days.
If you only know how to do one thing in one way, even if it is important, you are a Model T in the banking industry. The one-person, one-function job is a thing of the past, says Bud Thompson, chief human resources officer at Continental Bank in Chicago.
The person who wears a number of hats, is interested in developing new skills, and shows adaptability has a better chance of making it.
And real survivors won't just wait for things around them to change. Take the initiative to get knowledge and skills.
Broaden Those Horizons
Try to anticipate shifts in technology, customer trends, and workplace issues. So start changing your reading habits. Look for books and articles about future trends. Head up a meeting for your professional association on what's ahead for your speciality.
There's even an association in Washington - the World Future Society - that publishes books and sponsors conferences.
It used to be there were two things you could be sure of, says James Cantor, a senior vice president with outplacement firm Right Associates. They were death and taxes. Now they are death, taxes, and change.