Merger Survival Guide - Six Tips for Keeping Your Career Intact When Your Company Merges

Margaret Steen

The news can make even the most confident worker uneasy: Your company is merging with another. Whether your company is being bought or is buying another, a merger can mean job cuts, reorganizations, and new bosses.

You may not know for months exactly how the merger will affect your career. But you can do more than just wait. Here are six tips from the experts on how to get through a merger with your career intact:

# Assess your chances. To plan your next move, you need as much information as possible about the acquisition and your place in the new company. Sometimes a company will simply acquire the technology of another and let most of the workers go. Other times, the acquiring company wants to keep most of the workers.

Your specific job influences the likelihood that you'll be let go, as well, says Barb Kinnune, a longtime recruiter in Silicon Valley and currently career center manager at NASA Ames Research Center. "If you're in a revenue-producing role, the chances are much greater that you're going to stick around." Cost centers such as human resources, finance, and legal departments are often targets for consolidation after a merger.

# Learn the new culture. "One of the companies is going to win: In other words, one style is going to take over," says Mike Beasley, owner of Career-Crossings in Portola Valley, Calif. Try to identify and adopt that style of working. If you have a hard time with the new culture, it may be time to look for a new job.

# Stay visible. It may be tempting to hide in your cubicle and hope no one notices you, but it's not the best strategy. Beasley worked at Hewlett-Packard during several acquisitions. "The people who were out there being a part of the process were the ones that were the most successful."

Helen Harkness, founder of Career Design in Dallas-Ft. Worth and an author and researcher about careers, says frequent conversations with your manager are one way to keep the lines of communication open. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes "your manager is not going to know any more than you do."

# Don't assume your new boss knows you. If you get a new manager, especially one from the other company, consider yourself interviewing all over again, Beasley suggests inviting the new boss to lunch and bringing your resume so you can go over your accomplishments and how you can help the newly merged company.

Before you have these conversations, though, you have to be able to explain those accomplishments clearly. "Tell it like a story," Harkness says. Be ready to cite specific examples of how you used your talents in the past and what the payoff was.

# Keep your options open. Even hard-working, valuable employees may be let go in a merger. Kinnune suggests updating your resume and beginning to explore job possibilities outside the company. This will not only prepare you for the worst, but also help you from feeling "trapped or fearful," Kinnune says.

And consider other career possibilities. "Think, 'If I weren't doing this job, what else could I do?'" Harkness says.

# Look on the bright side. The announcement of a merger or acquisition is the beginning of an emotional roller coaster for employees. It's important to keep your spirits up, not only because you'll be happier but also because a good attitude can increase the chances that you'll end up in a good job.

"The more positive you can be, the more you're going to stay energized and motivated, the more people will want to be around you. It's an upward spiral rather than a downward spiral," Kinnune says.

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