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Sage Learning System

The e-learning KnowledgeBase


The Elearning Guild

Favorite recent book: 

Seabiscuit: An American Legend. Laura Hillenbrand (Ballantine, 2002)


Turbulent 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.

What 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.

During 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.

Companies 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.

Then 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.

The 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 hiring practices.

But 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. 

In 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.

Guidelines for Job Seekers

1.    Study 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.

2.    Emphasize 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

3.    Market 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?

4.    Make 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, or support. 

5.    Enhance 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.

6.    Go 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. 

7.    Be 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.

8.    Use 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 prospects.

9.     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.

10.    Persevere: 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.

These 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 times.

David 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


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