times are unsettling and difficult, but can also present an opportunity
for those individuals and companies that recognize the situation
and act quickly. A key component of readiness is having the right
skills and the right people, in the right place at the right time.
This article looks at the ever-changing employment picture and
what it takes for individuals to be successful in advancing their
careers, in spite of uncertain times.
a difference a year makes! Barely 12 months ago, the jobs picture
was as bright as at any time in recent memory. Around the world,
there were approximately 3.5 million job openings of all types
with only about 500,000 candidates actively in pursuit of these
jobs. Oracle hired 15,000 people in 2000; Siemans hired 25,000.
Unemployment rates dipped below 4% in many states. These skill
gaps and almost insatiable demand, coupled with a declining birth
rate, augured well for future job seekers.
those times, a fundamental shift occurred in “hiring power” —from
the company to the candidate. Because of the great demand for
skilled candidates, they could call their own shots. The terms
“free agent” and “signing bonuses” now applied to Java programmers,
CDMA engineers, and top sales performers as well as to athletes
and musicians. The employment landscape became supply- as opposed
to demand-centric. Recruiters prospered, hiring wars were commonplace,
and emphasis was placed on passive as opposed to active candidates.
There were simply not enough active candidates to fill employment
needs and requirements.
also experienced relatively high turnover rates, so simply hiring
a person did not solve the skills supply problem. On average,
U.S. companies experience 50% turnover every four years. Two-thirds
of all executives change jobs within 36 months. The skills supply
problem could only get worse.
the engine began to sputter. Equivocal signs appeared in January
2001, and by summer 2001 the dot.coms led the way to a slow down
and then to a full-fledged recession. Leading companies in virtually
every industry segment laid off thousands of employees, unemployment
rates jumped to almost 6%, and real estate occupancy dropped almost
as fast as Enron.
worm turned quickly. Contract recruiters who had enjoyed six figure
incomes the year before were now out of work. Hiring slowed, college
recruitment ebbed, and salaries leveled or declined. The nexus
of power in the hiring market shifted one hundred and eighty degrees.
Companies were back in charge. Jobs were no longer a dime a dozen.
And candidates began to face arduous roadblocks and conservative
these macro-economic conditions do not necessarily spell bad news
for candidates—just different news. In reality, the runaway skills
market of the past several years was unrealistic and unsustainable.
The market has corrected—probably overly so. While finding a job
was once too easy, jobs now go to the candidates who are good
and really work at it. An oft-cited expression says, “the worm
turns on a hot real estate market.” The best real estate agents
often sell more houses and make more money in a slow time; the
bad real estate agents do something else.
uncertain economic times, you can have hope and promise. But you
have to work at it, and distinguish yourself from other potential
candidates. We’ve taken the following set of recommendations from
best practices, personal experience, and expert advice from such
sources as AIRS and the ERE Exchange columns.
for Job Seekers
the market: Even in down times, certain industry segments
are in great demand. Know what these segments are (e.g., biotechnology,
teaching, nursing) and which specific skills are most crucial.
Know what’s hot and what’s not.
skills: Develop as many market-hot skills as possible. Go
beyond listing experiences; focus on skills. Get “hands-on” and
detailed. Skills are your biggest security blanket
yourself: Approach getting a job as an exercise in strategy
and brand awareness. How can you differentiate yourself from others?
What message do you want to convey? What are the three most important
points you want people to remember? Who do you target?
it or sell it: In tough times, focus on the core of any business:
making and selling. Don’t present yourself as someone involved
in ancillary functions such as marketing, strategy formulation,
the top and bottom line: In a similar vein, position yourself
as someone who can help a company save money or build revenues.
Of the two, revenue generation is the most critical. If you have
an aversion to the word “sales,” get over it.
beyond a resume: Everyone has a resume, and most are boring
and badly done. In addition, up to 73% of people in a recent survey
admitted to misrepresenting information on a resume. Employers
place little stock in a resume alone. Have examples of work products,
readily available references, a portfolio to show or offer to
take skill assessments as additional evidence of your capabilities.
a flexible specific-generalist: In today’s fast-changing work
environment, companies want people who learn quickly and do not
adhere to a rigid job description. Be detail oriented, but be
able to learn different skills and jobs quickly. Rigid is wrong.
the Web: The web has some incredible job and career resources
that can and should be mastered. Use the web for research, finding
job opportunities, posting your resume, and communicating with
Network: Your people network is probably your most valuable
resource in finding a job. Contact colleagues, peers, friends,
past acquaintances, association members, college/high school friends,
or the person you sit next to at a baseball game. Keep looking
and keep expanding the ring.
It can be a daunting task to communicate with companies and
HR departments. Don’t give up, keep the pressure on, and don’t
get discouraged by bureaucratic bumbling. Keep on keeping on.
activities, then, can distinguish you in a tight job market and
can land you a job. Many people will keep on doing the same things
they did before and lament their lack of success. The smart and
successful people will recognize the different market conditions
and take action accordingly. We need new approaches to help ensure
both individual and organizational readiness in these uncertain
C. Forman is President of Sage Learning Systems and founder of
elearning Jobs, a site dedicated to e-learning and training professionals.
Forman is a veteran of 25 years in the training business and has
helped companies such as Gateway, IBM, FedEx, Merck, and many
others to use technology to improve the knowledge, skills, and
performance of people. Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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