Ten years on: 3 career lessons from the GFC
Updated: Jun 3, 2018
The crisis of 2008 continues to impact many of our careers.
There’s nothing like a little cynicism to destroy the exuberance of youth. If like me you’re an early millennial, then its likely 2008 was the year this happened to you. 2008 of course was the year much of the world was plunged into an economic crisis following the collapse of the US housing market and in turn, major financial institutions. Bankruptcies, hiring freezes, rescinded offers and redundancies – the GFC affected, and perhaps continues to impact many of our careers directly or indirectly.
2008 was also the year I moved to New Zealand, a small developed economy among the most impacted by the crisis. And I was studying finance, the discipline at the center of it all. Let’s just say it wasn’t fun. And it remained not-fun for many years to come as fixed term contracts and constant restructuring became the new normal at the workplace. As we mark 10 years since the GFC this year, I will be writing more about it in the coming months. As a first here are three career lessons I took away from it –
Don't take your 'place' for granted If this wasn’t already clear at the turn of the millennium, it certainly became so in 2008. Your expertise, performance, relationships, or years of service – nothing can guarantee your place in your firm in a time of crisis. Employees are always dispensable if the existence of the firm itself is at stake. The key lesson here is to consistently fight the illusion of being indispensable and focus on ‘transferable skills’ in every job you take.
Never implicitly ‘put your faith in the system’ A lack of faith in the system is perhaps the biggest consequence of the crisis in my view. And predictably so with millions of people let down by their trust in regulatory authorities, ratings agencies and audit firms. We will do well to remember that all ecosystems designed and managed by humans are imperfect, and susceptible to manipulation, corruption and incompetence. At the end of the day if your money, career or lifestyle is at stake, you have to do your own homework and look out for yourself.
Always look to create value This has been tricky for me to articulate but I’ll try anyway. In a simplified way the GFC was brought on, among other things, by financial derivatives that had low underlying value but were created, re-packaged and sold as good investments. So what’s the lesson here? Well, if you are creating not value but the illusion of value then you are on shaky ground. Try to seek jobs or start businesses that are built on the foundation of solving a real problem or a genuine value proposition. I find that asking yourself ‘am I creating value here?’ is often a good tool to affirm your hold. If the answer is no, you’ll be glad you caught on before anyone else did.