Book Review
Title: "Harvard Business Review on Managing Your Career in Tough Times"
Authors: Various
Publisher: Harvard Business Press, 2010; 192 pages; $22

I don’t normally review "job" books. Real estate and person finance tend to define the boundaries of my book review wheelhouse.

But after poring over all the astonishingly negative real estate data that came out a couple of weeks ago (15-year-low monthly existing-home sales rate! 11-year-high inventory! lowest rate of new-home sales since — wait for it — 1963!!), I’ve become increasingly convinced that the fortunes of the job market and the real estate market are inextricably intertwined.

And, like the housing market, I’ve seen the recent job market drama and trauma so up close and personal I can no longer pooh-pooh unemployment reports as overblown, or simply not applicable to people like me. I know attorneys who are out of work, among many other educated, professional, did-it-all-right folks who are struggling to keep their heads — and incomes — above water.

And beyond that, I know dozens of people who fall into the category of underemployed, working less-than-desirable freelance gigs, part-time jobs and even full-time jobs for which they are decidedly overqualified, so their personal career crises aren’t even receiving the dignity of a tally mark on the government rolls — they don’t even rate to be discussed in news reports of the crisis.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the current unemployment rate is 9.6 percent; the most recent Gallup poll says that on top of this, about another 9 percent of Americans are underemployed.

Enter the Harvard Business Review, with a very real-world applicable volume of their Ideas with Impact series, "Managing Your Career in Tough Times." A compendium of eight essays, which all originally appeared in the monthly Harvard Business Review, many of these offer very fresh and expert perspectives on being strategic, staying employed (or surviving unemployment) and growing your mindset, leadership skills and career in today’s recessionary and fast-changing corporate climate.

Each article is brief; the first, How to Protect Your Job in a Recession, presents readers with 10 pages of action steps ranging from the demeanor you should maintain to the actual changes you should make to the substance of your work during a soft economy.

The next essay/chapter, Courage as a Skill, covers the skill set involved in exercising corporate courage — going out on a limb to push for something off-the-grid or unpopular. Not a recession-specific endeavor, but certainly one that can be paralyzed by recession-era job security concerns. This inspirational, yet practical, piece presents what the author, Kathleen K. Reardon, calls her "courage calculation" — six decision flows that maximize the chance that the courageous decision will be a successful one, at the same time minimizing the prospects of making an ill-advised move. This one, alone, is worth the price of admission, folks.

And the next one is just as good — and just as useful. Herminia Ibarra captures the essential fallacies that cause people who follow the conventional advice about how to change careers — i.e., decide what career you want, then do x, y and z to get there — to be the exact advice that keeps so many people stuck. In How to Stay Stuck in the Wrong Career, Ibarra calls those who crave to make a successful, life-enhancing career shift to turn that advice around, taking a test-and-learn approach, trying on different careers for size as they refine a much more accurate sense for what career it is that they really want, reinventing what Ibarra calls their "working identity."

A Survival Guide for Leaders is a handbook for avoiding the (seemingly) inevitable coup attempts that erupt when corporate managers and leaders are called to implement large-scale company changes — especially in a soft economy.

For those who don’t survive, The Right Way to be Fired offers managerial and higher-level employees dozens of rapid-fire steps — to be taken from the day they sign their employment contract to months after they receive a pink slip — to protect their finances, their psyches, their families and their careers in the event the worst-case scenario becomes reality.

In Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Andrew Ward offer case studies drawn from the very highest levels of enterprise that will motivate any reader to bounce back bigger and better than ever after any type of career disaster — actually, any sort of life disaster.

How Resilience Works provides a simple three-step recipe for cooking up resilience in your own career and life; while What’s Your Story? pitches the power of storytelling, encouraging readers who are transitioning careers to create a strong, powerful narrative that inspires themselves and those around them to believe in their ability.

This book has no-frills — it lacks all the branding, frippery, snarky comedy and slapstick stylings that are so common in the career and financial books styled for a more popular audience. What is has, though, is substance, and a lot of it — especially for those who are striving to or currently work in higher-than-entry-level positions.

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