The following is an excerpt from the book When Life Strikes: Weathering Financial Storms by Cal Brown, CFP, MST. The excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy. Copyright © 2011 Cal Brown, CFP, MST, author of When Life Strikes: Weathering Financial Storms (Brown Book Publishing Group).
It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose your own. -- Harry S. Truman
Whenever I hear reports about bleak job prospects for recent college grads, I can certainly relate to how it feels. When I graduated from college in 1975, the nation had been hammered by a three-pronged economic assault: we were entrenched in a seemingly endless recession, the Arab oil embargo resulted in long lines at gas stations (that is, if your local filling station even had any fuel), and unemployment numbers were through the roof. I remember reading a story inNew York Magazine's September 1975 issue about a cab driver with a doctorate -- despite his advanced degree, he couldn't find any other line of work. If all that didn't seem bad enough, the recently ended Vietnam War and the fallout from Watergate both called into question our collective trust in government. It was under these unfavorable circumstances that I earned my bachelor's degree in transportation from the University of Arkansas. Given all the possible setbacks, I felt very fortunate to get a job upon graduation.
At twenty-two years of age, I accepted a position with an oil company, Conoco (now ConocoPhillips), to work in its distribution department. A few years later, I took another step up the job ladder and joined Cities Service Company, part of which was the gas station chain Citgo. My career in transportation motivated me to study for an Interstate Commerce Commission certification. The ICC was a federal government entity that regulated transportation in the US. I passed the comprehensive exam and earned the title of ICC Practitioner-Class B, which was essentially a law degree for transportation matters. My certification was nationally recognized and would advance my career, result in a salary spike, and ensure job security . . . or so I thought.
In the early 1980s, President Jimmy Carter initiated the deregulation of transportation and began the process of eliminating the ICC. His successor, President Ronald Reagan, hammered the final nails in both coffins. Then the division of Cities Service Company that I worked for was sold off to a venture capital group. Shortly after the acquisition, I discovered my new employer was hemorrhaging red ink. In summary, federal deregulation of my industry and the demise of the ICC made my certification and specialized knowledge obsolete, and the new company I was working for was in trouble. As a result, I found myself hating going to work, and I felt trapped in a dead-end situation.
I shared my frustration with a friend, and he suggested that I read the book What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. I immediately bought it and began to work my way through it. When I say "work," I mean it. This book isn't casual reading. To get the most out of it, you've got to put pen to paper and complete exercises that help you determine what you're good at, what you like to do, where you want to live, and much more. I wasn't the only one reading this book. It was originally self¬-published in 1970 and commercially published in 1972. To date, more than ten million copies have been sold worldwide. I still have the copy I purchased in 1983. Bolles's book leads to my first recommendation: if you want to make a career switch, read What Color Is Your Parachute? In this chapter, I'll explain why it's important to look for your new job while you're still working in your current position, and then I'll provide six steps to creating lasting and fulfilling career change.
The Pitfalls of Procrastination
I've noticed a disconcerting trend. These days, young people seem too eager to quit their jobs before they have another one lined up, and once they're unemployed, they take their sweet time looking for new work. Yes, it's a broad generalization, and I know that there are plenty of exceptions. For those who feel no urgency to find employment, however, there are clear consequences to not moving quickly. If you lose your job, have a high amount of debt, and have very little cash to cover expenses, then you're in serious danger of financial disaster. In fact, you've increased your probability of being forced to declare bankruptcy. You may even have to resort to imposing on friends or family for a place to sleep and eat. Postponing getting a new job will create a work gap in your resume that may make it difficult for you to get hired because potential employers may question the long lapse between positions. Most of all, prolonged unemployment is emotionally stressful, and being desperate to find a job is no fun at all.
So why wait for the layoff notice before beginning your career search? Instead, take action while you're still earning money. In my case, after working through What Color Is Your Parachute? I knew that I needed to make a complete career change and begin the process of looking while I was still working full-time. My search led me to financial planning, which was a relatively new profession with an incredible upward trajectory. Lynn Hopewell, the founder of my current firm, The Monitor Group, once shared with me the advice that his Harvard Business School professor told him: "May you find a job in the right industry at the right time." I was fortunate to have attained that, as the financial planning profession was just beginning to take off, along with the stock market rally that began in August 1982.
The Truth about Job Security (or the Lack of It)
A 2010 study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that "the average person born in the latter years of the baby boom held 11 jobs from age 18 to age 44." No doubt, the days of working for forty years for one company are numbered. The reasons are many. Sometimes career switches are due to corporate downsizing, but frequently they take place because people are frustrated with their jobs and seek change.
I remember a not-so-funny get well card for a coworker that read, "Here are four words that will motivate you to get well soon: You can be replaced!" If you're convinced that you have the kind of job that will last you to retirement, think again. In a capitalistic system, a company's primary loyalty is to its shareholders, who are the owners. Business leaders may give lip service to cliches such as "Our employees come first," or "Our most important asset is people," but don't be fooled, because it's all about the stockholders. The company must make profits to stay in business, while those who have risked their capital to invest in the company (the stockholders) want to maximize profits and decrease expenses. For most businesses, the largest expense category is wages and benefits, which means that if an organization's bottom line nosedives and you aren't an owner, then you are expendable.
Despite these harsh capitalistic truths, the system works. You just have to understand the role you play and how to position yourself to succeed. For example, I previously owned my own business, and currently I'm part owner of The Monitor Group. I've put a significant amount of personal savings on the line investing in this business, and I want to realize a return that compensates me for that risk. Because I've played the role of employee in my previous career and shareholder in my current role, I understand that unless you're an owner, your job is at the mercy of those who run the business that you work for.
In addition, it was commonplace decades ago for companies to fire workers just before they became eligible for pension benefits -- talk about dirty tricks! This practice has become less common due to anti-age-discrimination laws and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, which regulates company retirement plans-but it still happens. It's tempting for companies to replace highly paid folks in their fifties and sixties with young people who command lower salaries.
"It's for these reasons that I avoided the cutthroat world of corporate America and opted to become a public servant instead," you may say. After all, law enforcement and public safety professionals, teachers, and government employees may not always earn the best salaries, but the trade-off for lower wages is a solid pension and job security -- or so people think. But even these jobs are expendable. An employee's so-called permanent or tenured status can quickly be replaced with a pink slip when the government can't pay the bills. The bottom line is that whatever your job situation, you can't bury your head in the sand and think that your employer will always take care of you.