Are you career-resilient? In today’s uncertain economic climate where technology evolves overnight and whatever you learned in college – even if you graduated in the last five years –  is already irrelevant, building career resilience is a powerful approach to your professional life. If you are mid-career or further along, this is especially true.

Career resilience – which has also been called career management – is defined as, “the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, even when the circumstances are discouraging or disruptive…or being career self-reliant”  (ERIC 1997)

Over the last several months, I have attended more than 25 networking events near my home in the Delaware Valley, and all over the country. It’s been fascinating research, and I think I’ve learned the most from those who have found themselves on the receiving end of a layoff. That got me thinking – who isn’t being laid off and why not? Who is rising strong despite a layoff? Who was prepared for it? And who wasn’t?

Characteristics of Career Resilience

I knew intuitively that this couldn’t be strictly a matter of luck.  I was curious. So, I asked a lot of questions and put the answers together with my own experiences and those of my clients. I found that, in fact, there are some meaningful differences between people who survived and even thrived through difficult times, or a layoff, and those who are still struggling.

Overall, those who have career resilience have invested in themselves. They built strong relationships with colleagues. They have been intentional about their job choices, and they are focused on staying at the top of their game.

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Keys to Building Career Resilience

You can build some career resilient muscles of your own by taking control of your career in a few specific ways:

  1. Build and maintain a strong professional network. Do this whether your employer supports it or not. In fact, if your employer doesn’t see the value, it’s even more important and perhaps a red flag. Make time to reach out to your network through events, emails, coffee etc., at least twice a year.  Better yet, do it quarterly.
  2. Keep your skills current even if you’re spending your own money. Read up on your industry, study best practices, and whatever you do, stay up to date and know how to use the latest technology in your field.
  3. Serve others.  Don’t just join professional associations and external organizations in your field. Get involved, be a speaker, be a mentor, join a board. Most people at the top of their professional game are doing this.
  4. Step outside of your job description. Volunteer for special projects and serve on committees where you can meet and interact with people in other parts of your organization.
  5. Say “yes” to new opportunities. Occasionally you’ll be asked to do something you’ve never done before. Jump at it! These opportunities build new skills, and can justify a raise or promotion.
  6. Look for red flags.  When you notice a failure to invest in people, or you aren’t provided with tools to get the job done well, then staying may be putting your career at risk.
  7. Don’t be afraid to leave.  Staying too long at one organization can erode your skills and your ability to change.

You can find some additional ideas on the topic in a previous blog post of mine on how to lead from where you are.

What the Career Resilient Don’t Do

In summary, folks who’ve developed career resilience did not sit around waiting to be recognized for doing their job, or doing their job especially well. They did not allow their skills to become obsolete. They did not complain about a lack of training, or shrinking budgets, or mean bosses.

If you recognize yourself in any of that – I get it, and I urge you, snap out of it!  Don’t abdicate control of your career, to some anonymous decision-maker who doesn’t care one hoot about you, your family, or your future. Need help or have questions? I’d love to help – email me at