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Paranoia? Or Is Your Job In Jeopardy? Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

A curious incident from my corporate days. I rushed into my boss's office one morning to ask for clarification on one of my projects. She was on the phone and flipped her hand at me to sit and wait. As I did so, I noticed something, um, peculiar. On her ultra-tidy desk, all by itself and facing directly my way, was a job ad she had cut out from the newspaper. It was for the same type of marketing job that me and a few other people were doing at my company already.

I never did ask why she was promoting employment at one of our competitors (I was too afraid she might tell me I ought to apply). But the advertisement stayed there prominently on her desk for most of the week. Weird, eh?

It's a stretch to believe that this stunt was accidental. My gut told me this was her way of saying that one of us in her group should leave. Or else she was jerking with our minds to make each of us a touch paranoid. After all, nothing gets you to put your nose to the grindstone like a little jab of terror now and again.

Nowadays when I work with clients who've just been downsized, you'd be amazed how often they begin with a similar story: 'I was simply doing my job to the best of my abilities, and one bleak day--with no advance notice whatsoever--they came in and let me go.'

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign For the most part, the claim that there was no advance warning ends up being less than accurate. Not that you're expected to be Sherlock Holmes in picking up clues. However almost always there are early signals that your job could be in peril. The signs--subtle or otherwise--typically come in two distinct forms:

(1) General Indications that your job could be at risk.

(2) Specific Signals from your employer that your days are probably numbered.

In the case of General Indications, the signs might well consist of factors beyond your control, such as when your company's financial performance has been less than stellar for a while, or perhaps your boss has lost the ear of senior management. Other factors could be more directly in your control, like when you yourself have been experiencing performance issues, or possibly haven't been getting along with your peers. What makes these indications ''general'' is at this point your employer has not taken overt action against you as a target for downsizing.

It's Them, Not You Other General Indicators include:

(1) External Events
  • Your employer is about to be--or has recently been--acquired by another company.
  • The industry you're in has begun to decline (for instance, automotive production in Ontario or forestry most anywhere in Canada).
  • New laws or policies have a significant negative effect on your employer's ability to compete (like if you'd been working for Napster or TorrentSpy, say bye bye).
(2) Internal Events
  • The company is re-organizing in order to reduce costs or compete more effectively.
  • Your boss, who absolutely loves you, is replaced by someone who has different priorities or their own favourite people.
  • There is a shift your employer's direction (or they lose a big client) and your particular skills or experience are no longer key to the organization's success.
It's You, Not Them As for Specific Signals, it's when your employer starts giving you hints that you in particular are being targeted for possible termination. Clues may include being suddenly excluded from important meetings, having vital responsibilities or staff taken away from you, receiving a negative performance review and/or no raise, all the way to seeing your own job advertised on Workopolis or Monster (don't laugh--I've seen it happen)!

Even if the company's doing well and your own contribution is solid, there are things to watch for, like the the following:
  • You passionately hate your boss or the company you work for.
  • You dislike the work that you do itself.
  • You're vying for a promotion and one of your competitors gets the nod, not you.
  • Your boss or colleagues genuinely dislike you.
Time to Reassess In these circumstances, while you may convince yourself that there's smooth sailing ahead, don't be surprised if you find yourself gradually doing career-limiting stuff like reducing your output, showing up a little later, leaving a smidgen earlier, being more vocal about your dissatisfaction, etc. Sooner or later people notice, believe you me.

Regardless of whether the warning signs are subtle or blatant, impersonal or personal, you might consider hunkering down and doing your job better than ever. Also scanning for outside opportunities is not a bad idea. Hopefully you can stave off being downsized if you're hoping to stay. But just in case things look really gloomy, please feel free to read a couple of my previous articles on how to prepare in case you think you might lose your job.

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