Executive Careers Blog

Career Cross Training


As we predicted last Monday in this space, national unemployment climbed above 10% for October – the highest jobless rate since 1982.

(To put that in perspective, it’s the highest rate ever in the total life of a 26-year-old associate at a bank or law firm. It’s higher than any 48-year-old has seen in her entire adult working life.)

While many career blogs offer advice to the unemployed, those of us who still have jobs as managers and executives need help almost as much.

Most great athletes sing the praises of Cross-Training.

When a defensive lineman learns yoga poses, when a basketball star takes kick boxing instruction and when baseball sluggers get into the pool – they are all striving to get an edge on their competition, prevent injuries and take their conditioning to another level. This is also true for executives – and never more so than in these turbulent and dangerous times.

At Vault.com, we view the career market as a matrix with horizontal and vertical considerations. If you are a manager or executive, the vertical consideration would be industry. Your career exists in a particular industry vertical, but what verticals are adjacent and naturally accessible to you? Your version of “cross training” might be to find a position in a new vertical to give yourself exposure and experience. From a horizontal point of view, consider your profession. You might think about seeking a position which would broaden your professional skill set.

In my own case, I had plenty of operational experience managing large cost centers.

Horizontally, however, I had little experience overseeing sales and finance.

I took a CEO position with a smaller company to accelerate my learning curve – and that exposed me to and taught me about professional categories I never would have encountered without “cross training.” And while I had worked extensively in television, I had only limited experience with the internet and web-based media. Moving to a website company has broadened my knowledge and experience base in adjacent verticals to my more traditional media background.

Everyone has their own version of these opportunities – and there is no “right answer.” The only given is that the more versatile and experienced and knowledgeable you are – the more marketable you are. And in this environment, that could be the difference between keeping and losing your job. Or getting a good one, if you lose the one you have.

More Executive Strategies on CNBC.com:Where To Find A Job NowToday's Riskiest JobsExecutive Career Strategies

Erik Sorenson is CEO of Vault, the Web’s most comprehensive resource for career management and job search intelligence. Vault provides top talent with the insider information they need to make critical career decisions. An Emmy award-winning media industry veteran, Erik served as president of the MSNBC cable news channel through 2004. His experience spans radio, local and network broadcast television, cable and syndicated TV, and the Web.

Comments?  Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com