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A New Year Means New Career "Moves"

Happy New Year! Tell the truth now; were you happier for the beginning of 2009 or for the end of a truly wretched 2008? If you chose the latter, you are correct. 2009 should scare the hell out of us, so I reserved my celebrating exclusively around the joy that the nightmare of 2008 had ended.

The best prognosis I heard over the holidays for 2009 went like this: the first two quarters suck, but not as bad as the last two quarters of ’08; and things start getting a little better by 3rd quarter. And that was the brightest prediction I heard. I will spare the majority, which were considerably less cheerful.

So what is a career resolver to do? (Don’t be morose. I said resolver, not revolver.) This is the time, after all, when most of us shrug off our 10-day hangover and buckle down to thoughts of self-improvement. There are opportunities aplenty, especially if you know where to look and have some—uh, pardon the expression—resolve.

1. The road less traveled
2. Under your nose
3. Back to school

No, those aren’t “Jeopardy” categories, though they sound like they could be. Those are three areas of career advancement opportunity available to most of us executives as we enter an uncertain 2009. I mused repeatedly in 2008 about “the road less traveled” – suggesting that valuable exec skill sets (leadership, vision, financial engineering, team-building, etc.) could be transferred laterally to sectors of obvious need (growth) like energy, health care, infrastructure and government. This story is not new anymore and Barack Obama will be inaugurated in two weeks so you need to be smart and quite aggressive to make a productive move.

Secondly, there are the opportunities “under your nose” where you work. Chances are, if you’ve read this far, your company and/or your industry are under siege and under “consolidation.” While sometimes frightening, this environment is ripe for the enterprising exec. Fellow execs are getting reassigned or eliminated left and right which always opens chances for advancement. Resist the temptation to “hide” during these times. Be very visible, talk with the decision-makers in your organization, be present (work long hours) and be watchful. If you see company operations under-managed, volunteer. If you see critical functions falling by the wayside during shakeups, step up the plate and offer to accrete those functions. Be a hawk. Be part of the solution. And in no circumstance, be part of the problem. Not now.

Finally, if your company or industry is being hit by a tsunami and there’s not even a desk to cling to perhaps it is worth considering graduate school. This can take several forms. For many execs, an MBA or other graduate degree in a business-related subject like accounting can be helpful in future career advancement. Others might consider graduate degrees in Law, Education or Engineering to further their chances of moving ahead once this Recession recedes.

Bottom line is that there are many viable options for executives in this difficult environment. Remember—to coin a phrase—necessity is the mother of invention. But you have to make the first move!

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Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. Mr. Sorenson, 52, oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company. He is widely regarded as an expert on media strategy and industry trends, with experience spanning radio, local and network broadcast television, cable and syndicated TV, and the Internet. From 1998 through 2004, Mr. Sorenson served as president of the MSNBC cable news channel. He has won more than twenty Emmy awards as a writer, producer, and television executive.

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com