Develop Career Resilience

How to Develop Career Resilience

Debbie Brown, SPHR MBA, MSW

In the last decade we have seen two recessions. The most recent recession that started in 2007 continues in 2010. News reports tell us that it could take years to replace lost jobs and the lost values of our retirement savings.

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), resilience is the ability to adapt to and grow from adversity, trauma, and other sources of stress, including workplace and financial pressures. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences. Many of us have shown resilience in our lives; be it recovering from the death of a family member or a close friend, moving on after a divorce or break-up with a significant other, or perhaps overcoming a serious medical illness or injury. Think about the skills we employ to overcome such adversity. These same skills can help us develop career resilience as well.

Potential Setbacks

Here are some examples of potential setbacks:You did not get an expected promotion and there is no where for you to go in your current company.

  • You worked in a technology (or another) field, you lost your job, and you have not been able to find another one, even though you have been looking diligently for the past 6-12 months.
  • You are a small business owner and you have seen a decline in business and income since 9/11.
  • You are in a well- paying career, but realize that you do not like your job/career and you want to do something else.
  • You want to move to the next level in your career, but you realize that you do not have the experiences or skills that would get you that promotion.

Attributes of Resilient People

Susan Dunn, MA,

People who are the most resilient:

1. Can self-reflect and gain wisdom from their experiences. They know who they are without embellishment or fantasy.
2. Face reality head-on, labeling their setbacks, losses and disappointments for what they are.
3. Know their feelings, label them correctly, and express them routinely to others.
4. Know their time zone: past present and future.
5. Commit to the agony of grieving when necessary for as long as it takes.
6. Find meaning and purpose in their struggles.
7. Have High EQ.
Think creatively and flexibly under stress. Expand rather than shut down
when faced with a challenge.
8. Keep reserves of energy built up through regular periods of rest and renewal.
9. Have people around them whom they can depend, and who know and love them as they are.
10. Know when they need help and get it.

Recovering From a Career Setback

“There are no problems, only solutions”

John Lennon 1980

What do you do if you experience a setback in your career?

  • First, remember that what happens in the world is not a reflection of you and what you have to offer. Broaden your view of success. It might take you a little longer to get where you want to go, but don’t lose sight of the end result.
  • If you did not get that expected promotion, look at other companies who might be interested in someone with your skills and goals. Many times in order to move ahead, you have to make a lateral move to another company where you have the opportunity to develop new skills and gain a broader perspective.
  • If you are still looking for a job after being layed off 6-12 months ago, undergo a thorough self-assessment. Perhaps your job search strategies are not working. Maybe instead of looking for someone to hire you, you can become more entrepreneurial and develop a plan to market your services, rather than looking for someone to pay you a salary and benefits. Being an independent contractor can provide you with some income to help you make it through the tough times. And you will find that you develop some valuable skills and will gain the confidence that comes with developing resourcefulness. Or perhaps this is a time to get some training and launch a new career. Often times, layoffs offer an opportunity to examine your former career and see if it still fits, or if you have skills and abilities you would like to use in a new career. If you do not see a recovery for your industry in the foreseeable future, you also may want to consider being trained for a new career. This can actually be exciting and energizing, despite some of the stresses involved in the process.
  • If you are a small business owner with diminishing income, perhaps you need to look at developing other revenue streams. Is there a related business you can start? Perhaps you can even market these services to your current clients. Also, cutting costs is crucial. Let go of all expenses that do not help you to generate revenue. Evaluate your marketing costs to see which ones offer a good return on investment. Focus your time and money on further developing your business and let go of those activities that do not help you to achieve your business goals.
  • If you are on the fast track in a well-paying career, but you find that you are not happy, this is the perfect time to evaluate other options. Sometimes people remark to me that, given the economy, perhaps they should just be grateful for the job they have. It is true that we should be grateful for the opportunity to support ourselves and our families. But while you have a job is the perfect time to do a self-assessment and determine what kind of a career you would really enjoy. You will then have the time to work towards developing a new career without the pressure to take anything to have money coming in.
  • If you want to further your career, but you do not have the skills and experiences to get that promotion, there are specific things you can do both inside and outside of your organization. Talk to your supervisor about your goals. Perhaps you can get permission to work with other departments to broaden you experiences. Appointment to committees can provide greater visibility within the company. Outside of work, volunteer projects can add to your resume if you take on leadership roles in well-respected organizations.

According to the APA, besides having caring and supportive relationships, additional factors are related to resilience. These include:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities
    Skills in communication and problem solving
  • The capacity to manage strong feeling and impulses
  • How to Develop Career Resilience

How do you develop career resilience?

The APA suggests 10 ways to develop resilience:

1. Make connections
Close relationships with friends, relatives, civic groups and faith-based organizations can contribute to feelings of wellbeing.

2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems
Try to look beyond the problem, focus on the future and gain strength from new opportunities that may present themselves.

3. Accept that change is a part of living. Certain career goals may no longer be attainable. It is better to accept those circumstances and put your energy into developing new career goals.

4. Move toward your goals
Develop a plan and take steps to work towards it every day.

5. Take decisive action
Taking action will move you toward your goals and lift your spirits.

6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery
Many people who experience work setbacks report that they grow during these challenging times and become stronger and more resourceful.

7. Nurture a positive view of yourself.
This process of developing resilience also helps to build self-confidence.

8. Keep things in perspective.
Keep a long-term perspective and try to avoid blowing the event out of

9. Maintain a hopeful outlook.
Focus your thoughts on the vision you want for your life and try to avoid nurturing your fears.

10.Take care of yourself
Practice “extreme self-care.” Exercise, eat healthy food, keep a journal, spend time with friends and family. Even if you may not be working, you should regularly plan and enjoy fun activities.

“Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time….
Max Ehrmann, 1927