Working in today's cutthroat economy has become a lot like the old joke about two guys being chased by a grizzly bear. One guy stops to take off his work shoes and lace up some sneakers.
"Are you crazy?" says Guy No. 2. "You can't outrun a bear."
"I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you," Guy No. 1 quips.
And with high-tech firms laying off nearly 20,000 workers in the past month alone, outrunning the other guy is fast becoming the survival mode for IT.
Here are seven tips for outlegging the competition and surviving the downturn with your job intact. What you find here may come off as common sense, but when it comes to keeping ahead of the guy in the cubicle down the hall, common sense just might be all you need to gain an edge. After all, how often do you see your coworkers demonstrating common sense these days?
IT survivor tip No. 1: Roll up your sleeves -- and cheer up, damnit
The good news? You can survive in today's tight economy. The bad news? You may have to log longer hours and take on less-than-exciting projects.
Start by taking notice of the projects that get the most attention from management and ask to be a part of them, advises Betsy Richards, director of career services at Kaplan University.
"Ask to be transferred to a critical area, or volunteer for extra duties to support these activities," Richards says. "You'll be viewed as an employee who goes the extra mile while inoculating yourself against expendability when the pink slips get handed out."
More than just work harder than the next guy, you have to look like you're working harder, says Simon Stapleton, a technology careers coach who calls himself "the IT industry's answer to Indiana Jones" (but without the bullwhip). Show up before your boss gets in and leave after he or she leaves. Skip the long coffee breaks and work through lunch.
"My best advice is to roll your sleeves up -- literally," says Stapleton, who's also chief innovation officer at Skandia Investment Solutions, a U.K.-based financial services firm. "Pick up the pace when you walk around the office. Carry a clipboard. Your determination to help your company succeed will show in your body language. Now is the time to display the visible signs that you're busting your ass."
And if you can, do it with a smile.
"IT people tend to be grumps," notes Curt Finch, a formerly grumpy software programmer who's now CEO of Journyx, a maker of Web-based time- and expense-management software. "The No. 1 thing is having a positive attitude. The glass-half-full guys, the optimists, the ones who say, 'Sure, we're in a tough situation, but here's how we're going to get through it' -- those are the people I want around me during a recession."
IT survivor tip No. 2: Show off your mad skillz -- or get some, fast
The most reliable path for self-preservation is to become the in-house expert on topics vital to the business.