Recession Career Guide: How to Move Up and On at Work

Caring for your career is more important than ever. Whether you want to move up, make more money, or change everything, here's how to know what you're worth, who's worth knowing, and what's next.

By Hilary Sterne & Cathy Gandel from Reader's Digest | April 2009

Work As Long As You Can

If you’re on the cusp of retirement, you may be staying at your desk longer than you had hoped, thanks to a decimated 401(k) portfolio and declining home values, a traditional source of equity. Most Americans over 50 haven’t even roughly evaluated how they’re going to pay for retirement, says Bob Skladany of Prepare for the long haul: Beginning at age 40, make sure you are in a vibrant sector, he says. “Work very, very hard after age 55. Don’t ‘retire’ on the job. Tell your boss you intend to work 10 to 12 more years, and go on record,” he advises.

Staying employed reduces the number of years you’ll have to live off your retirement income and gives you time to rebuild savings and boost future Social Security payments. Working full-time past your anticipated retirement date could increase retirement income by about 7 percent for each additional year of work, says a report by T. Rowe Price Associates. How much money you will need in retirement depends on how you want to live. Conventional wisdom suggests squirreling away 70 to 80 percent of your preretirement income for each of your golden years. Calculators at and can help you estimate. Visit (click on the Estimate Your Retirement Benefits link) to see what you can expect from Social Security.

Headhunt the Headhunters
“The old adage ‘Fish where the fish are’ works well in job searching,” says Cleveland-based consultant Joel Cheesman, who runs a whip-smart, highly opinionated blog devoted to online recruitment at “Do your best to get caught, which means finding recruiters online who blog or who are part of a social network,” he advises. “Join their social network and become a friend. Comment on their blog and make sure there’s a link to your LinkedIn profile.”

You’ll get contacts but also insight into what makes recruiters tick, their thoughts on various job boards, and other relevant news and information. To find lists of recruiters by specialty, try sites like,, and It’s not only recruiting blogs that are worth bookmarking but also those by people who cover specific industries.

Says Willy Franzen, founder of,”:Bloggers are usually at the forefront of their field, and for the most part, they’re very accessible.”

Find a blog that covers your area of expertise, read it regularly, and e-mail comments, links, and other useful info. Just don’t hit the author up for a job with your first e-mail.

The New Temptations of Temp Jobs
Whether you’re downsizing your hours or trying to right-size your career, consider temp jobs. If you still equate them with filing and typing, jump ahead a few decades. Today, highly educated professionals fill short-term slots-typically three to five monthsacross all industries, including medicine, law, and technology. Indeed, 88 percent of surveyed temp employees say their stints in temporary jobs helped them improve or learn new business skills. Should a full-time permanent position open up, you’ve got the inside track because you’ve already proved your value to the company. And if you’re interested in changing careers, you can get a firsthand look at different fields without a long-term commitment. Some temp firms even offer benefits, including health insurance and vacation time. To find an agency near you, click on Job Seekers at –Neena Samuel

What’s Next?
Heidi Waterfield, 43 Daly City, California
Field: marketing/project management

“I have two part-time jobs at small companies because they allow me the flexibility I need as a mom with a young child and a husband whose work schedule is inflexible. I do PR and marketing for a manufacturing company, and I manage projects and write proposals for a graphic design firm. I have an undergraduate degree from Yale and a master’s from Harvard in education, but I’m not putting either to use. I was thinking about starting my own educational consulting business, for flexibility and, I hope, more income.”

Free Advice (from Nancy Widmann, coauthor of I Didn’t See It Coming): “You’re picking up valuable skills but may be spread a little thin. Pick one company with the most potential and make a commitment. This should free you to work on starting your own business. Put together a survival fund that covers expenses for 8 to 12 months. Moving full-time to your own business should be paramount, but only when it can replace the income from your part-time jobs.” –Kathryn M. Tyranski

What’s Next?
Dorothy Dobbs, 67 Jacksonville, Florida
Field: insurance compliance

“I had planned to retire this year, but I’ll probably need to work another two or three years, if not longer, to recoup the losses that my retirement portfolio has taken recently. Since I’m over 65, I’m able to collect Social Security, which goes straight into my 401(k). I’ve kept my portfolio balanceda third in stocks, a third in bonds, a third in cash. The stock market can be volatile, but I don’t plan to pull out. I love my job and I don’t mind working. But when I do finally retire, I want to continue to enjoy my life whether I’m hot-air ballooning or visiting Las Vegas.”

Free Advice “You’re healthy and you want to have fun in retirement, so you need enough money for a couple of decades,” says Sherrill St. Germain, founder of New Means Financial Planning in Hollis, New Hampshire. “If you’re not comfortable with a higher level of risk, you’re right to want to continue working.” Adds Bob Skladany of, “Income from a job is the one thing you can do something about.” –Kathryn M. Tyranski

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