Learn to 'Recession-Proof' Your Career

Dale Kloefkorn is as likable as they come. He's a family man, gracious and affable, with a free spirit and a rock 'n' roll hairstyle.

And in his nine years as a data analyst, Kloefkorn, from Tucson, Ariz., always played by the rules. But last fall, the rules changed. Kloefkorn was laid off.

"I was told over and over again that there's no way that they would cut me loose," Kloefkorn said. "I really didn't feel like it would happen to me."

Since then, the 40-something divorced father of three has been unemployed.

"No matter how marketable you think you are, no matter how smart you think you are, there's something uncomfortable, very uncomfortable, something that shakes your confidence when you drive home and you walk through the door and you know that you are no longer employed," he said.

Kloefkorn was at a crossroads, so "Nightline" arranged for him to meet with straight-talking super coach Peggy Klaus, who wrote "The Hard Truth About Soft Skills." For almost 15 years, she's been giving Fortune 500 CEOs career advice. (CLICK HERE to take Klaus' Soft Skills Quiz to help you identify your strengths and where you need improvement when it comes to recession-proofing your job.)

"I realize I'm a work in progress," said Kloefkorn, "So even though I feel like I'm good at what I do, I feel like I need to learn how to do those intangible things in my job that will make me more secure."

Lesson One: The Workplace Is No Place for Modesty

Kloefkorn was in for some tough love when he spent four hours with Klaus. When it came to talking up his accomplishments, he was tight-lipped.

"You know for me, brag is a four-letter word," he said. "We grew up in that era, I grew up in that era where that's something that was really looked down upon."

Kloefkorn's communication style underwhelmed his coach, and Klaus' first lesson was that the workplace is no place for modesty.

"There was something holding him back from saying, 'I really am good at this job.' He used equivocating words like 'I'm kind of good', 'I'm pretty good at this,'" Klaus said. "If that's what you're saying, well, you know you're not going to be the go-to person when that recession hits."

Lesson Two: No Job Is Completely Secure

Which brings us to her next lesson.

"The way the work force has evolved as I've seen it with mergers and acquisitions, downsizing, whatever you want to call it, is that no one is really safe," she said.

"He knew about three months before that it looked like things were not going well, and that he might be laid off," Klaus explained. "And what he needed to do was really take the initiative and say, 'Look, I would really like to stay here. This is what I'm great at. Is there anything open?'"

Klaus said it's not enough that Kloefkorn possesses the technical skills and is a nice person.

"Oh, if only nice were enough," she said. "It's really a shame. I wish I could say nice is enough. I wish I could say doing your job is enough. But it's not."

The truth is, Kloefkorn's attitude is hurting him.

"If there is one thing I communicated, it's that I'm a cog in the wheel, and I'm working hard," he said.

Lesson Three: Don't Be a 'Paycheck Player'

Kloefkorn's lack of passion, energy and enthusiasm made him low-hanging fruit easily plucked from the work force.

In the wise words of Jerry Maguire, you can't be a "paycheck player." Tom Cruise's sports agent character told his client, "Here's why you don't have your $10 million yet. You are a paycheck player. You play with your head. Not your heart."

Klaus says that if you're a paycheck player, you may eventually stop getting one.

"What did you enable [your company] to do?" Klaus asked Kloefkorn.

"You know, I kept the machine going," he replied.

"Do you see how -- I'm just going to say it -- how boring that is?" Klaus said.

Klaus decided to show Kloefkorn just how boring, by videotaping his answers in a mock job interview. When he watched the tape, Kloefkorn agreed that he didn't look enthusiastic about the interview.

Lesson Four: No Job Is Perfect

Perhaps the problem was the job, so he and Klaus investigated other positions that might be more gratifying, including nonprofit or consulting work. But the doors closed even before they'd opened.

"I don't want to go backward in salary," Kloefkorn said, ruling out one job listing.
"I don't like to travel," he said about another.
"Being away from my kids Monday through Friday is definitely a drawback," he said.

Klaus said it's important to recognize that even your so-called "dream job" won't be perfect.

"Your belief system is really limiting, so you're cutting off your options before you even explore them, right?" she told Kloefkorn.

"I've gotten several job offers in the Bay Area, had to turn them all down," Kloefkorn said. "Now I'm beginning to see, well, you know, there's possibilities. I was being way too picky because I basically was limiting my job search to the location and job description of my last job, and that doesn't have to be the case."

'It Was Me! It Was No One Else!'

To get Kloefkorn out of his comfort zone and to show how she gets revved up before a meeting, Klaus demonstrated her "over-the-top" exercise.

"I am the expert, and I cannot wait to tell you this!," she exclaimed. "Sit down and listen to me because I have something fabulous to tell you! I am so excited to be here! Thank you so much for having me!"

Kloefkorn was nervous, but he gave the exercise a try.

"Peggy, I am so excited to tell you exactly what I have been doing! You better buckle that because I'm going to blow you away! I am the one who actually wrote the process for profiling data. It was me! It was no one else! It was me because I am the expert! I am the go-to guy!"

"I'm incredibly grateful and awed by the fact that he would put himself in such a vulnerable position," Klaus said.

Kloefkorn was on a roll, until Klaus suggested he cut his long, rock 'n' roll hair. "You can always grow it back, right?" she said. "Again, just knowing how much is dependant on that first impression, OK?"

One week later, Kloefkorn had a new haircut to go with his new outlook. Klaus said these types of strategies can help you recession-proof your career, but only to a point.

"You can do it as much as possible, but I think that this is the way of the workplace. There are no guarantees," she said. "But I think Dale really gets that, and I think he's going to do it."

"I'm actually excited to get up tomorrow and start my job search," Kloefkorn said. "This is going to make me a better person, and I'm going to wake up tomorrow and ... just flat be a better person."

After his meetings with Klaus, Kloefkorn retooled his resume and posted it online. Less than 12 hours later, he'd heard from 11 recruiters, one of whom gave him a promising interview for a senior level position at a health care company.

Kloefkorn is ready for a new day in this new economy.

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