6 Success Strategies from Workers Who Are Thriving in a Recession

Nina's been promoted. Kelly just got a raise. And, Brian received a merit bonus only weeks ago. Who are these folks and what are their secrets to going strong in a down economy? Here are each of their stories, as well as their two key tips for staying employed, and even growing your career, in a tough economy.

1. Positioning

Nina's career has blossomed since last fall. "I really like where I work. It's just fun," she says. This young woman from Denver spent many years working as an office manager at brokerage houses until she made her way into her current business: educating and advising employers on 401K plans for their employees.

Nina found the position through a friend back in August of 2008. After she joined the company she learned that, just a week before her arrival, the company had laid off a large number of workers.

Not only did Nina manage to get picked up amidst layoffs, she's excelled at her job ever since. She has more responsibility and client exposure than ever. Her boss and she have discussed a higher salary and more opportunities in the future. So, no raise yet, but she says, "I'm just happy to have a job."

Nina believes that the recent market changes have put her department's services in high demand. "Clients are looking for answers. It's a volatile world for the markets, retirement plans... it's just so unpredictable." Her department is profitable but she admits that, if they weren't, it would be, "whip, out the door."

Nina's Tips:

  • Work in a department that's thriving and busy.
  • Be willing to take on more responsibility, even without a raise.

2. Hard Work

Unlike Nina's thriving business, Kelly's industry is officially sagging. Kelly works in online travel and has managed to do the impossible this year: get a raise. "I think it was just to bring me up to the market rate for my position, but still, it was a big surprise. I didn't expect it," she says.

Kelly started out her career as marketing coordinator and is now an account executive who gets to take the occasional, all-expense-paid trip to review resort destinations. "Over the years, during re-orgs, my position and title have changed a bunch of times," says Kelly.

Her company recently laid off around 200 people. "It was sad. Some of these people are close colleagues. You see them sometimes more than you see your family," she says.

Kelly notes major layoffs were a new thing for her company and were shocking to everyone. "It's a little unnerving because what does that mean going forward?" Kelly says.

Despite these worries, Kelly feels fairly confident about her job security because, like Nina, her department is profitable. She saw the layoffs that happened as more about streamlining the business than eliminating poor performers.

When asked how she has survived and thrived for so long at her company, Kelly humbly explains her theory, "I will jump in there and do what I can to make sure things are done right. I have always had a passion for what I do. People are saving up years in advance to take a vacation somewhere and you want to create the best experience possible." Kelly's game plan for the near future? "Continue to do my best work."

Kelly's Tips:>

  • Work with full drive and passion.
  • Be flexible and willing to accept changing job responsibilities.

3. Skills

Brian will tell you that his recent job success has been all about extra effort, and lots of it. "I think it's reputation, work ethic, visibility to leadership and continual learning and education. Those are what I think is key."

Brian finished his undergraduate degree in business and worked in finance at a small, privately-owned company right out of college. After that, he picked up contract work as an administrator at a large manufacturing firm, dealing in the area of international trade. He was asked to join his team as a full-time employee seven months later and from there has worked his way into various leadership positions.

When the financial crisis struck last fall, Brian was just getting settled into a new role in the company. "I was promoted to a position in a different company location with a slight financial increase, more responsibility and, with that, a greater sense of commitment to the company."

Meanwhile, Brian's employer pursued a series of layoffs in the following months that he managed to weather. Being involved in an essential area of the business, international trade, may be shielding Brian from trouble. "I think that it is scary. I think it could hit anybody. Knock on wood, I don't necessarily feel threatened," he says.

Brian also credits improving himself so that he has more to offer. He completed an M.B.A. recently while working full-time and makes sure his knowledge of international trade is some of the best in his industry. He recently received a merit bonus and says, "I was surprised. But, I am meeting my goals and objectives."

Brian admits that he pays attention to building his working relationships, including rubbing elbows with key players. "It's organizational awareness. Making sure you're positioning yourself with the right people. I never thought I would say that, thinking pure hard work was the end all, but I think it's true. You need to be keen to both hard work and your office relationships."

Brian's Tips:

  • Have a skill set or knowledge that the company absolutely needs.
  • Keep positive working relationships with company leaders and co-workers.
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