Climbing the New Career Ladder in the Great Recession

Last post, we discussed how to get started in the new, self-employment-based careers of the Great Recession.  In today’s post, we’ll describe this in more detail, along with the career paths available in this new environment. To get an idea of the new career ladder, let’s explore a hypothetical worker who has reached the top of the traditional ladder, and show what it looks like to start over as a self-employed worker.

For this example, we’ll use a CEO of a small corporation who had worked their way up from a job in the mail room.  From there, this person moved into customer phone support, to inside sales, to outside sales, to sales management.  Showing great skill as a manager, this person was promoted to VP of marketing, where their strategic vision was recognized, leading to their role as CEO.

Now, this CEO finds that their firm has shut down, with little if any prospects for another CEO position on the horizon.  Instead of waiting for another CEO  job to appear, I have suggested that this person use this time to make the jump to the new self-employment model.

While it’s possible that this CEO could immediately find, bid on, and win a job that fully utilizes their CEO skill set, these jobs are going to be few and far between, and highly competitive.  Further, without a track record, and without any experience as a contract CEO, they are very unlikely to win these bids.  Instead, I have suggested that they take on a short-term, entry level position.

For this CEO, any job or task they have ever performed is a possible target job that they can pursue.  For example, they could bid on jobs involving marketing strategy, sales management, inside/outside sales, or even as an administrative assistant.  Further, they could also bid on task oriented projects, like writing a press release, or preparing a Powerpoint presentation.

Regardless of which job they decide to pursue, the goal here is to win a bid.  This will accomplish many things:

  • Bidding on a job is empowering.  Rather than submitting a resume to an employer who doesn’t respond, you will gain immediate feedback on who you are competing against, how your skill set compares to theirs, how competitive your bid was, etc.
  • Bidding on a job forces you to explore your skill set, and focus on jobs where your skills are particularly strong and/or enjoyable.
  • Bidding on a job forces you to better understand the needs of the person doing the hiring.  In a world-wide competition for jobs, would you rather pay $4 per hour to someone in India to write a press release, or $20 per hour to someone located in Texas?  If you’re going to pay $20 per hour to someone in the US to write a press release, would you prefer an ex-CEO without a track record, or a recent marketing graduate with four successful engagements in their portfolio?
  • Winning a bid allows you to experience a full cycle of working in the new economy.  This will come in handy when you’re ready to hire your own contract workers (to be covered in future posts).
  • Winning a bid is also empowering.  Once you make your first dollar as a contract worker, you’ll realize that your total income is under your control.  It’s simply a matter of growing your income to the level you desire.
  • After your contract is complete, you will have built up some credibility within the freelancing service you used, allowing you to better compete on your next bid.

Now, not everyone is a CEO looking to make the tranzition.  The good news is, regardless of your prior background, you can bid on any job you desire.  If you don’t have the credentials, or the experience, or face some other deficit, you can always lower your bid price to the point that someone will be willing to take a chance on you.  Even if you have to work for free, you are gaining experience, and building a reputation that will help you win your next job. (note: doing a short-term job for free is *much* less expensive than going back to school).

In future posts, we’ll continue exploring self-employment options, including those in the start-up arena.  As always, comments encouraged and welcome.  Until next time … is a blog by Jay Fenello, principal and founder of, an Atlanta-based
Business Brokerage and Placement firm that helps people buy and sell small businesses and franchises.

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