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Tips for keeping your job

With the U.S. jobless rate at a 25-year high, the authors’ new book seems ideal for the times.

The U.S. unemployment rate is at its highest level in over 25 years. (Amy Sancetta/AP)
The U.S. unemployment rate is at its highest level in over 25 years. (Amy Sancetta/AP)Read more

It's too bad that Michael J. Kitson and Bob Calandra's new job-survival book wasn't out in 1993, when Calandra got canned from his job as senior editor of a health magazine.

Maybe he could have used the advice offered in How to Keep Your Job in a Tough Competitive Market: 101 Strategies You Can Use Today, published in April by Adams Media, a division of F&W Media Inc. in Massachusetts.

But as it was, Calandra never saw his canning coming.

These days, Calandra and Kitson are not surprised by the misery and fear they see in the job market.

As jobless rates continue to rise, more and more people worry about whether they will be able to stay employed. On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate had risen to 9.4 percent in May, the highest level in more than 25 years.

In 1993, when Calandra lost his job, his magazine had published only an issue or two. Then, one Wednesday, the publisher's assistant told Calandra the magazine would close that Friday.

"We thought it was going swimmingly," said Calandra, 57, of Wyndmoor. "We were wrong."

It is interesting that neither Calandra nor Kitson has to worry about getting fired. They work for themselves. Calandra is a freelance writer specializing in business, human resources, and health topics. Kitson runs Michael Kitson Associates in Malvern, a management-consulting firm.

They met in the mid-1980s, when they joined the same ice hockey team.

Unlike Calandra, Kitson, 61, of Coatesville, has never gotten a pink slip. But he has been an architect of layoffs.

As director of strategic organization planning and development, his job was to oversee three major downsizings at Sunoco Inc. in the 1980s. The company went from 22,000 people to 9,000.

After a decade of layoffs, Kitson left Sunoco to take steps toward starting his own business. "I was just totally fried, burned out," he said.

Question: What is it like to be a planner for massive layoffs? You become the villain.

Kitson: You absolutely do.

Q: What would attract anyone to a job like that?

Kitson: Quite honestly, the thing that enabled me to do this was that I was convinced I could actually make this process more humane.

Q: Any strategies?

Kitson: We had a very well-designed process. Rather than having one manager in a closed room making a determination about who stays and who goes, it would be an open process of a group of managers. That would prevent one manager from stealing the best person and also from just [firing] people they didn't like anymore. More people got a fair hearing. The managers had to make their decisions in an open process.

Q: Is that where you got all the ideas for this book - observing the layoff survivors?

Kitson: Actually, where I got most of the ideas was teaching and working with very successful professionals. Individuals who are ambitious and who take responsibility for their careers, they do these things. It just so happens that they are the same actions that individuals who are stuck need to employ.

Q: Bob, where did you pick up the ideas in the book?

Calandra: I was writing for a lot of human resource magazines, learning a lot of these things almost by osmosis, as a reporter does.

Q: What if things are beginning to unravel at work? What should you do?

Kitson: I'd start with taking stock of myself. What is it about me that I feel great about myself in the work I do? As wheels that may be out of my control begin to start churning, what are the things that I want that might be within my control?

Q: Then what?

Kitson: Then I would try to get as much information as I can about what's changing to understand what the facts are and what the implications might be for the organization and for myself.

Q: How does one avoid being paralyzed by fear?

Kitson: Probably the worst thing I could do is to actually become immobilized because of uncertainty. It actually would work against me. One thing is, I must continue to do my job and do it well. I have to realize I need to be productive. If for no other reason than to demonstrate to the organization that I am still valuable, and to allow me to look at what other opportunities I could seize hold of.

Q: Like a life raft?

Kitson: Yes. A life raft. Possibly a shift to another part of the organization if my own area is in jeopardy.

But in order to be able to do those things, I need to have a network of people who are going to be advocates - be they sponsors, colleagues, managers. If I'm doing those things, I'm less likely to be paralyzed.

Q: Bob, what do you see?

Calandra: You've got to start coming to work on time and staying there as long as you can. A lot of people are going to try to fly below the radar. But that's a mistake. You make yourself visible by being active and making sure the manager sees you.

Q: The employee works hard, but then faces being tossed out. How does one handle the sense of injustice?

Kitson: Well, I think that's a very realistic emotion. But I think one needs to think beyond that, which is to say that this actually is, believe it or not, possibly an opportunity.

I need to invest in myself here a little bit on the bet that this may turn out well for me. To do nothing and just feel like I'm being done to doesn't enable me to have some control. To have some control over my own life, I also need to invest a little bit in this company [even though] it seems to be working against me at the moment.

Q: You have to invest in yourself and your company?

Kitson: As it turns out, if you do things in the right ways, they will be in your interests and in the company's interests. If both of those come together, there's a pretty decent chance you'll have an opportunity of being viewed as more valuable.

Q: How do you communicate that?

Calandra: Blow your own horn, but never too loudly. It all comes down to expressing your value to your manager.

Once you have established that, now you have to go to your manager and say, 'Look, I know things are bad here. I know that there's going to be a shakedown. What can I do to help you survive?'

Kitson: To me, it's looking out beyond my own job to a number of things around me: to my team, to my colleagues. To professionals that may be in parallel jobs elsewhere. The more I can be viewed by those individuals as someone who helps them, someone who has expertise, and someone who is not being a victim but actually trying to advance others as well, this is a very important tactical strategy.

What are things I can do that actually make a positive contribution to myself and at the same time have value to the organization?

Bob Calandra

Age: 57.

Family: Wife, Linda Miller Calandra, pediatric nurse practitioner; a daughter.

Hockey position: Goaltender.

Why hockey: The bright ice and the brotherhood among teammates, the physical and mental challenge of stopping the puck, and the exhilaration of making a great save.

Favorite tip: No. 27 – Get experience elsewhere.

Details: Volunteer for nonprofit leadership to learn skills, gain managerial practice, and expand your network.


Michael J. Kitson

Age: 61.

Family: Wife, Angela Kitson, English tutor; two sons.

Hockey position: Defense.

Why hockey: Competitive, aerobic, but the best is the diversity of people on the team; economic and professional differences dissolve on the ice.

Favorite tip: No. 46 - Support your boss.

Details: Support your boss' career by removing stress from his life. Example, pick up a task the boss doesn't like. When you take initiative, you make your job bank-vault safe.