I keep hearing that the economy is picking up, although my life hasn't changed much lately (needless to say there are always more open marketing positions here than we can fill). But if the economy is improving (and in the interest of optimistic thinking, let's say it is), there are some things I think you can do from a career perspective to be prepared for any changes that result from the economic climate as well as to position yourself as a top candidate in the industry. Dr. John Sullivan writes about some of the industry changes that occur during an upswing in his article titled "The Worldwide War for Talent II is Coming: Are You Prepared?".

If you listen to leaders in the staffing industry, including Dr. John, you'll hear that an improvement in the economy will result in more job movement. Employees that feel trapped in their jobs have hesitated to look for new jobs because those jobs have been scarce and the competition has been pretty stiff. In the meantime, many employees have had to take on additional job responsibilities because of cut-backs. Companies have been less likely to move people throughout their organizations because they know the market is tight (internal employee movement means double risk: first the risk of losing their expertise in the old role and second the risk that they won't do well in the new role...it's a calculated risk because they know the employee, but a risk nonetheless). And while the employees are often doing double-duty, it has become less likely that they will take the risk to leave (so much for optimistic thinking, but this is what I am hearing). Companies have been investing less in training for employees overall. In my mind, all of this could be leading up to a frenzy of activity in the staffing industry (or it's just intended to really freak out us HR folks). And while you may not be one of these people that “needs” to look for a new position, you still might want to consider how you can make the most of the position you already have and prepare yourself for that "dream job" that might come around. Either way, this economic change is an opportunity. Here are some ideas: 

1) Update your resume. Even if you are not looking for new job opportunities outside of your company, you should have an updated version of your resume on hand (always people..always!). Why? Because if others start to leave your company creating open jobs or if economic growth allows your company to open more positions internally, you want to be in a position to immediately consider those opportunities before they are offered to outside talent (and there will be a lot of people looking).

2) Make sure that you can quickly articulate your value to your organization (verbally). Again, this is important if you hear about a new internal opportunity and need to move on it quickly (a hiring manager would certainly appreciate the initiative and see you as a go-getter). It's also important if you get a call from a recruiter. I can't tell you how often a conversation with a candidate goes awry because they cannot articulate achievements in their current role in a concise manner. Think about the things that are important right now: streamlining processes, saving money, generating revenue (or fending off losses) and discovering new markets and opportunities. Three to five bullet points here.

3) If you get a call from a recruiter during this time, use it as an opportunity to benchmark your market value. Seriously, these conversations are a great opportunity for you to gather information and I am surprised how many people don't take advantage of them. Find out what kind of experience requirements exist for someone going into certain kinds of roles and also get some idea of the compensation that goes along with it. When the economy is strong and you go into a performance review conversation, you want to know what other people in similar roles are being paid elsewhere.

4) Even if you don't get specific information from the recruiter, use them as a contact to build your Rolodex. So you may not need to call on this recruiter any time soon, but think about the people in your personal network and the last time you knew of someone that was looking for a new position. Consider that your value to this person increases if you are able to help them identify new opportunities in the marketplace. My best networking contacts aren't necessarily candidates, but are the "connectors" that can help direct me to the right people in the industry.

5) As I have mentioned before, make yourself marketable on the Internet. People inside your company will see it as well. The more the public regards you as an "expert" in your space, the more your company will see you as an asset.

6) If you are going to look actively, be selective and have a good story to tell. If the number of open positions in the tech marketing space increases, you'll have to decide what attracts you to one opportunity over another as the best candidates won't have time to pursue them all. As a recruiter I always ask why a candidate is interested in my company. I'm most interested in candidates that tell me how the opportunity at Microsoft is going to challenge, grow or inspire them. But I'm much less excited if I feel they are seeking to make a move to get away from their last job versus going to their next job. Again, know your 3-5 bullet points on the impact that you have made in your current or most recent role. Memorize them if they aren't on the top of your head.

7) Don't make the mistake of believing that this hiring boom is like the last one (this is where I disagree with Dr. John a little bit). A few years back, corporations understood that many employees wanted to "try the dot com thing" and frankly, I can appreciate the initiative and risk taking spirit. I don't see this upcoming increase in hiring to be particularly focused on dot coms (I'm sensing that it will be a broader situation...see #8 and #9 below)) and I think employees remember the fall-out that resulted for many of them. So the job-hopping thing just isn't as good/cool/acceptable/desirable as it used to be. We are still seeing candidates hopping since the 1999-2000 frenzy and because they haven't been anywhere for too long, it's really hard to tell if they have made an impact during that time.  So you joined a dot com that closed it's doors? That's OK, especially if you learned some good business lessons during the process (and can articulate them well). But if you continue to choose opportunities that don't get beyond "start-up mode", you may have some difficulty in expressing to a potential employer the results you were able to drive in the market. If "start-up mode" is your thing (and you are willing to commit to it for the long term), think about a career in consulting. You get lots of variety without the high risk.

8) Think about how the economic up-turn is going to impact your industry. For example, if I were in product management and had some international experience, I would definitely be checking out opportunities focused on emerging geographic markets (China, India, South America). Or maybe I'd be looking at how I could expand my role to encompass those additional geographies. I would be a step ahead of the game to ensure that those cool new job responsibilities were included in my role (and ended up on my resume) rather than the company going outside to hire the talent. Don't wait for your company to open the job. Let them know you have the skills now and show your foresight and initiative by driving your own job content in market growth areas. And if you are looking for something outside your company, set up job search agents that contain key words specific to the particular markets where you have expertise.

9) Understand where companies invest as the economy gets better. Aside from geographic markets, think about the kind of IT spending that companies put-off during rough economic times. When things turn around, companies start making those expenditures, driving growth and jobs in those industry spaces. I am no economist, but it seems kind of logical to me that a move into systems integration, ERP and eBusiness and other server technologies could make sense (***please do your own research on this though...don't take my word for it!). If that's your goal, try to align yourself with those industries now. Gain the skills that will help you create a bridge between your existing expertise and the job skills in that new industry space.

10) Get there first. Knowing that recruiters will have more work on their plates, take your job search seriously and make sure you are either a)already top of mind with the recruiter or b) get your information to them very quickly after you learn of new opportunities with their companies (job alerts are great for this). Recruiters love to sit in a meeting with a hiring managers and when they hear of a job requirement, explain how they already know of someone with those skills. Know that many corporations will likely need to turn to outside recruiters (have I convinced you yet to develop these relationships with the outside recruiters right now?). In a good economy, these firms will spend more time generating new business from employers and less sourcing new candidates so it's important to be in their database now.

Just some thoughts on how you can be ahead of the curve when the economy really gets humming again.