Hang on, or go?

It's a question facing many federal workers who have lost their jobs, are threatened with it, or have been bumped downstairs.

Even bureaucrats whose niches seem secure may ponder the perhaps bleak outlook for pay raises and promotions in an administration determined to cut back.

"Do you want to stay around in a declining organization?" asks Ronald L. Krannich, a former political science professor turned career planner and author. A decline is what he predicts for federal service at least through the '80s. And if the future with Uncle Sam seems uncertain, the career prospects in state and local government he sees as even bleaker into the '90s.

Many cities, he says, face astronomical costs to rebuild neglected bridges and streets and water, sewer and transit systems, forcing "major cuts in programs and personnel."

"I believe we face hard times in government," says Krannich, "and harder times lie ahead for government employes who do not prepare for a new era of increased job insecurity."

If the '70s produced the "me" generation, says Krannich, 1980-81 quickly became the "not-me" years for bureaucrats. The prevailing thought: "Others will have to cut their programs and personnel, but 'not me.' " By this year, those still surviving had added "for now."

His counsel: "It may be to your advantage to move out of government voluntarily rather than wait for the cutbacks to affect you."

A transformation, "perhaps a major upheaval," says Krannich, "is taking place among America's 79,269 units of government, 500,000 politicians and 15 million government employes. The message is clear but somewhat contradictory: Manage with less and increase productivity."

With nearly 80 percent of government budgets earmarked for personnel, says Krannich, "managing with less inevitably means terminating employes . . . Those remaining will most likely receive meager salary increments and experience little career advancement."

The country may be witnessing a return to a "pre-1950s situation," he believes, "when government employment was not considered a life-time career; individuals used to take a government job for three, six or eight years and then move on to a more permanent career in the private sector."

For government workers who, after taking a hard look at their situation, agree with his gloomy forecast, Krannich has written a comprehensive career-change manual, Moving Out of Government: A Guide to Surviving and Prospering in the 1980s (Impact Publications, 144 pages, $14.95). It's a sequel to Moving Out of Education, which he wrote while abandoning that "declining" profession. (He taught public administration and political science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk from 1975 to 1981.) His firm, Development Concepts Inc., is located in Virginia Beach.

Krannich, 36, stresses that he is not urging people to move out of government service. Many bureaucrats "love their jobs. That's where they should be." And it alarms him that "we're losing a lot of top management talent." But the federal Reduction In Force (RIF), he says, is being "poorly managed. The damage to morale is a cost that's not been addressed."

At the same time, "It's no fun managing decline. Growth is what we all learn as managers. In a decline, you have to tell people the bad news."

In such a situation, where insecurity is rampant, "It doesn't hurt to explore options," he says. "Take a look outside government, because government is going to be considerably smaller. Don't be a victim."

Some people, of course, expect a turnaround in the next year, or certainly with a new administration. He warns that those who "do not prepare for an uncertain and turbulent future" will be the ones who are "shocked, angered and depressed when things get worse."

Even if we return to prosperity, he adds, "People are going to be much better off preparing for career transition." Advancing technology may force many workers--private as well as public--to change professions two, three or four times during their lives.

Many RIFfees see an advantage in hiring lawyers and filing grievances to hold onto a federal job, perhaps to protect retirement benefits. But he sees it as a waste of time for others.

"You need to really get hold of yourself. Too many who get RIFfed or are unhappy don't look at the future. They look at the past. They blame office politics." Instead, he says, "Focus on your strengths. A lot of people don't know what their strengths are."

To make the transfer to the private sector, he recommends a step-by-step process of self-assessment followed by a systematic job search. Plan on spending several weeks.

"You should first find out what it is you do well and enjoy doing, and then find a job or career which is conducive to your skills and interests." To do otherwise often means trying to fit yourself into a job, rather than finding one that fits you.

You may find you have skills as a manager that can be transferred readily to another profession, or you may need training in new skills to meet the requirements of the job you want. Along the way, you probably will have to acquire job-hunting skills.

"It's harder often to find a job than do a job," says Krannich, particularly for government workers and educators. "They've been cloistered."

Usually not risk-takers, "They find it difficult to use such methods as networking," which can mean knocking on a lot of doors or making a daily round of phone calls. "Talking to strangers takes practice." Since 75 percent of jobs are never advertised, networking--to uncover the "hidden job market"--is essential.

Unlike salespeople, government workers also may be unused to putting their egos on the line. "They can't take 'no's," says Krannich. "They get three 'no's and they quit." But as successful salespeople have learned, "The more 'no's you collect, the more 'yes's you collect."

In a job hunt, an important thing to remember, he says, is that "some businesses may want your specialized knowledge of government."

Another is that lack of experience and qualifications in the field you are seeking is not an insurmountable obstacle. These criteria, says Krannich, tend to rank third and fourth with employers. "Employers normally seek people who are competent, intelligent, honest and likable."

His advice:

"Since they are hiring your future and not your past, you must communicate your future value to employers. In the end, the best-qualified person is the one who knows how to get the job"--the one who "convinces employers they will like him or her best."