How to Find (and Keep) a Job

In today’s wacky economy, there are no guarantees. Here are the new rules of employment, from experts who know best.

Photo by  Burcu Avsar

Once upon a time, talent, skills, and a strong work ethic were the keys to holding on to a good job. And if you wanted a new one, you spent some time polishing your résumé. Now, as everyone knows, all bets are off. To help you stay afloat―and, yes, even prosper―in the current career scene, Real Simple asked the executives who do the hiring and firing, along with human-resource specialists, career counselors, and economists, to answer your most pressing questions about how the working world works today.

1. Layoffs are happening all around me. How can I show my boss that I’m an asset?

“Stay visible, and try to connect with your manager,” says Eve Tahmincioglu, who writes a weekly career-advice column for “It’s much easier to lay off the loner in the corner, regardless of how great she may be at her job.” Don’t pop into your boss’s office every day asking for things to do―you’ll just come across as underemployed. Instead, try to pinpoint her exact needs and fill them. Write a monthly ideas memo geared toward saving money or creating new revenue streams for the business; volunteer to lead a special project outside your usual area; offer to mentor new staff. One partner at a business-consulting firm recently witnessed a middle manager turn from a quiet, behind-the-scenes guy into a vocal and proactive player over a month’s time. “It saved his job,” the partner says.

2. Is it suicide to ask for a well-deserved promotion now?

No, but be realistic. Although job losses dominate the news, there are other things going on out there. “In some companies, people are getting promoted and laid off at the same time,” says Carol Semrad, president of the Society of Human Resource Professionals, based in Chicago. That said, tread lightly. “Start the conversation with something like ‘I recognize that the timing may not be perfect, given the economic climate,’ ” suggests career expert Kirsten Dixson, an online branding coach based in greater Boston. Then be clear about why you should get a bump up: Are you doing the work of two people? Have you brought in a key client? If your boss’s response is positive but a promotion is out of the question now, “ask for other negotiables, such as more vacation days or a few four-day workweeks during the summer,” says career consultant Stephen Viscusi, the founder of, an online résumé-writing service. And if you’re turned down flat? Well, at least you’re still employed.