In the News, Watercooler

Surviving A Merger; Four Steps To Make Your Career Safer

If you failed to notice before that corporate mergers are regaining momentum, the news that AT&T wants to buy T-Mobile for $39 billion sounded the bell loud and clear.

For anyone in mobile communications or other industries with the urge to merge, that bell signals a career warning: Tend yours carefully in the weeks and months ahead.

Mergers are heating up in an array of sectors. Hospital mergers grew 33 percent last year, according to one report. Transportation, aerospace, construction and chemical industries all have experienced huge increases in mergers and acquisitions in 2010, in some cases doubling total values from 2009, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Technology is in takeover mode: Google, Facebook and Intel have been gobbling up smaller companies.

This year, the most active industries for M&A will be tech, media and service and consulting firms, according to a Duke University / CFO Magazine Business Outlook Survey.

So what can you do if your company or industry is targeted to protect your career?

“If you hear something, say what are the implications?” said Robert Hellmann, a Five O’Clock Club career coach. The biggest mistake individuals make when a merger or buyout is announced: “They kind of just watch and don’t make things happen,” said Hellmann who has worked in career coaching for more than 20 plus years.

Here are Hellmann’s four steps to manage your career amid a buyout or merger:

  1. Build and maintain your network. “Stay in touch with everybody” and especially with co-workers who are landing jobs elsewhere, he said. Check to see if your employer has an alumni network, its own or on LinkedIn. While you’re on LinkedIn, update your profile and add some contacts.
  2. Boost your value in the company. “Go above and beyond your little job,” he said. “Be visible. Be essential.” Volunteer for committees and new initiatives. Make yourself known as a contributor. Develop your value equation.
  3. Look at severance package possibilities. If your company gives generous ones that will pay you for a year or more, you may want to volunteer to depart. Many people who do that feel glad they gave up their job, he said.
  4. If things slow down, use the time wisely. Often during a merger or reorganization, there’s down time, with less work responsibilities. Make that time count. Get out to networking events. Start researching potential target employers. Get introduced to people at the acquiring company.

Mergers can bring big changes in leadership, direction – and career directions. It also can bring some surprises. After AOL bought the Huffington Post, it laid off 900 people – including 200 editorial staffers at AOL.

That big blow got my attention recently. So my WorkingKind blog gives six more tips for taking charge of your career when a buyout blasts into your employer.

“Be very vigilant” when a buyout or merger is likely, said Hellmann. Then get busy on the career development steps that will serve you well even if the acquisition gets thrown out or trumped by other corporate deal-making.