There's no doubt about it, as 2011 is coming to an end, most will agree that it's been a hard and uncertain year with 2012 looking like more of the same. We came across the below article where Rachel Watts of Penna asks "Can you influence your own career direction in a difficult market?". Times are clearly still tough, so talking about career management, particularly with how to progress your career, may seem to be a bit of oxymoron. Keep your head down, get on with the job, and work longer hours until things get better may seem like better advice. However, this sort of passivity towards your career is a dangerous strategy, particularly as waiting for things to improve could mean waiting a number of months or, more likely, years. Instead of looking at it negatively, think positively. Tougher times can actually present great opportunities for personal growth and ultimately help you to shape your future career direction. This will require you to 'think outside the box' as the usual routes may not be so obvious. It will also require you to think longer-term and balance the opportunity to further develop your skills in-line with you longer-term career aspirations against immediate financial reward. The first thing you need to consider is your how resilient you are. This is linked to whether you want to be seen as the person who keeps their head below the parapet, hoping to go unnoticed and survive until things get better or whether you embrace the difficulties your organisation is going through and are able to turn this to you advantage, using it as an opportunity to raise your profile among the senior influencers of the business. If you've mapped out your career or have a three-year career plan in place, think broadly about your skills and those you will need in the future. Once identified, start looking for opportunities within the organisation that will enable you to further hone those skills you have identified as being critical to your future success. These opportunities do exist but will require you to seek them, as opposed to waiting for them to find you. Recruitment freezes may also proffer a great opportunity to raise your profile, for example by becoming involved in projects that are aligned to your future career goals. Additionally, becoming involved in tasks that were performed by individuals who may have left is another way of being seen as someone who is committed to the future success of the company. As well as putting you in direct contact with people you may not have worked with previously, including the influencers within the business, your willingness to step forward and take on new responsibilities and challenges will not go unnoticed. The only word of caution here is the need to balance offering yourself up for new responsibilities with delivering on your current role. Tough times look set to remain, for the foreseeable future at least. Being proactive around managing your career has never been more important. This is no time to stick your head in the sand. Be positive and start planning (even if it's your plan B). Once you've been able to make the mind shift that difficult times can have a positive effect on your career, you will be better positioned to take charge and start to shape your future by seeking out those opportunities that will help you to further your career. Tougher times provide a unique opportunity to develop and enhance your skills, and your ability to thrive during challenging environments will make you a much sought-after commodity. The challenge is to think bigger picture and longer-term in terms of your career. After all, often it is how you perform during the difficult times that get you noticed!

Rachel Watts is Commerical Director for Penna plc a global HR Services and Consultancy Goup, helping oganisations improveperformance through their people. Theirexpertise spans the entire employment lifecycle - from communications, resourcing, executive search and interim and assessment to board and executive coaching, consulting solutions, management coaching and development and outplacement.