Barbara Pachter used to take pictures for the Evening Bulletin.

But when the newspaper nearly everybody read printed its last edition 25 years ago, it didn't matter whether Pachter was good - she was out of a job. What mattered was her position as acting president of the Philadelphia Photographers Association.

That's when Pachter, now a career coach, learned a lesson she still teaches today: "You need to be visible."

When an economic slowdown looms, when the economy sheds 17,000 jobs instead of creating them, as it did in January, when the number of people who filed initial unemployment claims last week rivaled the number who filed after Hurricane Katrina, it's all about your network, she said.

Her leadership role in the photographers' organization gave her a connection that led to a position as an industrial photographer at Merck & Co. Inc., and ultimately to a whole new career as a corporate trainer. Besides being a career coach, Pachter, of Pachter & Associates in Cherry Hill, is an author and a widely quoted expert on business etiquette.

"You can't totally recession-proof your career," agreed Jane Finkle, president of the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Career Professionals International. But in a recession, "building a professional network is especially important," Finkle said.

Networking is one of those things that's simple but not easy, local counselors said last week after the U.S. Labor Department's jobless-claims report came out.

"When things become unstable, people hunker down and work really hard, versus looking outside their organization and connecting with other professionals who do what they do," said career counselor Beth Ann Wilson, of Media, a past president of the group.

"People think if they work really hard, they'll be able to keep their jobs," she said. "That may be so, but sometimes decisions are made not based on how someone works, but on a strategic plan or budget.

"So along with that hunkering down, people get isolated," she said. "They'll say, 'I've been working so hard, I haven't kept up with anyone. My network is zero.'

"If you are not out talking to people, you won't know about opportunities or what other people are doing."

The best strategy, the career counselors said, is to build networks inside and outside the company.

On the inside, they said, volunteer for new projects or companywide initiatives, even for community-service days. That may lead to a job-saving lateral move.

Wilson went on to give two competing instructions.

On the one hand, she said, start putting aside money. On the other hand, it might be time to spend some of it to upgrade your skills, invest in new-technology training or get certification to document skills you already have.

In companies, she said, workers know one another's skill levels. But when the organization separates, having the right credentials on an updated resume can make all the difference in getting a job.

"If you know you have taken steps to manage your career and [are] proactive, you're one step ahead of the game," Wilson said.

"It helps you complete that confident, competence circle. If your organization is in chaos and you are in control, you'll feel better and you'll work better," she said.

Helen Richardson, president of Career Consciousness Inc., in Mount Airy, said employees should extract the maximum in learning and knowledge from their current employers. "You need to be very intentional about learning. 'How can I leverage what I do here so I have something to offer?' " she said.

People should not be afraid to go outside their comfort zones to gain experience. One client of Richardson's was the only African American woman in a room of white men taking training in project management. But any discomfort she might have felt dissipated when she saw long lists of job openings in the field, Richardson said.

"Look at everything as an opportunity," Richardson said.

Networking is not just about getting opportunities - it is also about giving them, the counselors said.

"Pay it forward," said Maribeth D. Renne, a career counselor in Medford. "If you reach out to others in need, then when you are in need, it's not awkward to reach out to them."

Recession-Proof Your Career

The best time to recession-proof your job is before you lose it. Some tips from area career counselors:

Update your resume, or at least have a place to keep track of your accomplishments.

Update your training. Keep current.

Don't get overwhelmed by managing your career. Instead set a goal of one or two tasks per week, or per month.

Keep the tasks simple. Rejoin your professional organization, attend a meeting, volunteer for a committee. Call a former colleague. Ask a business associate, maybe a vendor or a supplier, how he views the economy or the condition of your industry or profession.

When you go to a function, show interest in the people you meet. If a person mentions a child in a soccer tournament, jot that down on his business card, and then when you e-mail him, ask about the game. Forward an article about a common interest.

Keep in touch, always being in the position of helping the other person, or the other person's company.

Share some industry trends you've learned with your own employer. It will keep you valuable.

A session with a career coach may help you find gaps in your resume, training or experience.

Consider a career buddy, but not someone in your own organization. You can encourage each other to pick up the pace on networking, resume revision and skill upgrading.

Do it now, while you have a job.

- Jane M. Von BergenEndText

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.