Sunday, January 27, 2008

Job search in a transitional market

I describe the current job market conditions in the Bay Area as transitional, because we’ve yet to feel the full impact of a slowing economy from a hiring perspective, yet economic indicators point to a slow down in employment in the coming months. When I ask my recruiter colleagues, both inside and outside of my firm, how things are going, I receive similar responses: things aren’t as robust as last year, but they are still busy working on searches for key roles.

What I’ve seen personally in the last six months is a decline in demand for senior management to executive level positions, while the demand for middle management and senior-level individual contributors has stayed consistently strong. What does this mean for the 2008 job seeker? Stay tuned, because as employment is a lagging indicator for the health of a local economy, I think the Bay Area employment climate will evolve in the next six months. However, there are things one can do to take advantage of the current transitional employment situation. In the coming weeks I will share more thoughts about job search in a transitional market.

The point for this week is DON’T WAIT! Right now, I believe it’s prudent to seize viable opportunities as they come. If you were planning on waiting until the middle of the year to make a job change, due to a slow down in the market, a viable opportunity may not be available to you in the next six months.

If you are currently in the middle of a job search, and waiting for that PERFECT opportunity to surface, you may want to rethink your parameters. Get it, while the getting is good. Given that it looks like the Bay Area economy may be slowing down, that PERFECT position may take longer to obtain than you initially thought.

Finally, and this point goes back to what I said about not waiting to get started, plan for a longer job search process. As demand slows, so will the availability of opportunities, thus it may take longer to identify the right opportunity for your next career move. Thus, you may want to start your transition process sooner, and plan for it to take longer.

For more insights about the Bay Area job market visit:

--Steve Hernandez

Friday, January 18, 2008

Age Discrimination in the Job Search

In response to several clients who are in their 50’s and in anticipation of our upcoming workshop, Job Search for the Over 50 Crowd, I’ve had some thoughts regarding age discrimination in the work place. As an older Baby Boomer (I’m 59), I understand that age can be a real issue in the job search.

First of all, age discrimination, like many other types of discrimination, is a real phenomenon. It is often masked when we hear about being “overqualified” or in never having our calls and inquiries returned. And, yes, it is illegal, and yes, you can choose to fight and complain and even sue someone over it. In the big scheme of things, however, I believe that the best way to deal with age discrimination is to make a convincing case that your age is a non-issue.

This begins when you develop the attitude that your age doesn’t matter and that for you, it’s an irrelevancy in the job search. This means that you approach everyone in your job search with an open mind and open heart and that even when you experience obvious discrimination that you not let it affect your approach or mind set.

Once this attitude has been established, you will want to be able to tell your story in a clear and compelling manner, making no apologies for being somewhere for many years, having the same job for a long time, or using that terms and language that might be trendy. Instead, you focus the particulars of your story around the value that you consistently add with your work, your depth, your wisdom, your consistency, reliability, and your flexibility. And of course, you must have examples of each of these.

Finally, it comes down to the fact that most people get hired based not just on their background and competence, but on the relationships and connections they have built over the course of their careers. As someone over 50, you may have a real advantage here if you have been diligent in building and nurturing relationships. If you have not been consistent about this, now is the time to begin. Networking, which is key to a good job search at any age, becomes a key strategy for those over 50. I recommend regular informational interviewing, even when not actively looking for a new job, including talking with people who are in your field, people who are not in, but near your field, as well as anyone else who has ideas, information, advice you would find useful.
Best wishes in your job search.

Mark Guterman

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pay Attention! Don't get caught off guard at work.

I recently met with someone who had been laid-off after working for roughly 15 years with the same employer. His job search is moving slower than he anticipated, mainly because his skills and experience are fairly specialized, primarily specific to the organization he worked for. He’s now at a point where he’s anxious about his prospects, and feels he may now need to take any job that will accept him, versus pursue an opportunity that suits his career goals.

In expressing empathy for his situation, I commented that I understood his angst, disillusionment, and frustration, at being thrown into this situation so suddenly after providing his organization with 15 years of good work. His response to my comment surprised me. He said that he actually “saw his lay-off coming a year-and-a-half ago.”

He worked at a divisional office for a national firm, so about a-year-and-a-half ago he started to see corporate enact policies that decreased the autonomy of is local branch. He saw reorganizations reduce his staff and scope of responsibility. He began to see closed door meetings that he wasn’t invited to. Finally, he witnessed his biggest advocates in the organization be forced out. All the signs were in front of him, that his job was in danger, yet he didn’t act.

Over the years, I’ve heard of many situations similar to this one. I’ve seen people read the signs and act, and I’ve seen many do nothing. I believe the reason people often choose not to take action, even though they’re sensing trouble, is because change is stressful. Most people find change of any sort unpleasant, especially when it’s as emotionally taxing as job change. Thus, even when one’s work situation becomes uncomfortable and seems to be deteriorating for the worst, they may carry on and simply hope things change for the best. Sometimes they do. But, if they don’t, one can quickly find themselves in a difficult job search situation -- especially as the economy slows.

To avoid this situation, the first step is to pay attention. When you see signs that indicate things are going in a negative direction, take steps to ensure that you’re not caught off guard. What could those sign look like? Perhaps you see reorganizations that keep decreasing your responsibility and importance to the organization. Maybe your relationship with your boss has become strained, and instead of improving, it’s getting worse. Have you been passed over for promotion on more than one occasion? Have you become a “lame duck” within your organization? Do people care about what you think? Are you not being invited to key meetings that effect your department? A big distress sign is when you see people coming and going on interviews within your department, and you’re not being told what position they are interviewing for.

Also pay attention to signs that indicate larger scale organizational instability: decreasing revenue, or funding; reorganizations and lay-offs in other departments; heavy consolidations, mergers and acquisitions within your industry; an economic climate that adversely impacts your industry.

At the same time, I’m not suggesting that one should “jump ship” at the first sign of adversity. I believe it’s commendable to stick with an organization, especially one that has taken care of you, through difficult times. Taking action to protect your career doesn’t necessarily mean starting a full blown job search. If one is sensing trouble at work, there are things one can do to prepare for the worst case scenario, while still doing good work and investing in your company’s future.

Here are examples of proactive activities one can do, before it’s necessary to take extreme action: update your resume; network with peers and professionals outside your organization; make sure you’re aware of what skills and experience are currently in demand within your professional space; become aware of who is hiring within your industry; gather information, talk with recruiters, but make sure you’re comfortable with their commitment to your confidentiality.

-Steve Hernandez

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Thriving at Work in 2008

Happy New Year!

This is a time of potential and possibilities and you might find yourself wondering: How do I make this the most successful year of my career? I believe that it happens when we focus our attention and develop ourselves in three areas of competence.

The first competency is Performing, which is the capacity to do whatever is in front of us as well as possible and to recognize that what we do now has impact on the future. Performing is the key to insuring that we are consistently adding value with our efforts. The skills associated with performing are: Taking initiative, knowing your job/field as well as possible, creative problem solving, written and verbal communications, conflict resolution, team dynamics, and discipline. When fully developed, this competency results in excellence and a sense of mastery.

The second competency is Designing, which is the ability to picture and create a future built from our talents, aspirations, and values. Designing needs to be practiced, not just when we need to change jobs or careers, but as a consistent and regular part of our work lives. The skills needed to develop this competency include: Values clarification, goal setting, gap analysis, decision making, development planning, and market research. When fully developed, this competency results in clarity and confidence.

The third competency is Changing, which is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and our capacity for changing our minds and behaviors when necessary. Our ability to change is how we navigate successfully from the present to our designed future. The skills needed to develop this competency are: Understanding of the change management process, keeping your resume and interviewing skills current, networking, intelligent risk taking, and listening. When fully developed, this competency results in agility and resilience.

Each of the competencies is important, but we thrive when we are tending to all three. By paying attention through formal or informal study, development, and practice, you’ll not only do better, but you’ll find yourself feeling better and more able to handle whatever the future holds for you. Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2008.

Mark Guterman