Over the past few months I have witnessed numerous friends, colleagues and industry contacts be affected by massive corporate layoffs. Unlike the dot-com crash from 2001-03, when companies were affected over time, sector-by-sector, the recent market collapse has affected companies across all stages, geographies and industries simultaneously. Executives at prestigious companies who (only 6 months ago) wouldn’t even consider leaving their jobs have been calling in a panic, frantically trying to figure out what opportunities were available in the market. Company stage, investors, even sectors didn’t matter. They desperately wanted to know what options they had. It was clear… they thought they could be laid off next.
Over the past 6 months companies had to make decisions about which employees would stay and which ones would go. Some were more obvious choices than others. I don’t think anyone was surprised when companies let go of their “C” players (non-revenue generating functions were also typically part of the first cuts made, but again, very few surprises here). Next came the very tough decisions about which “B” players would be terminated. Capable employees (even friends of the Management teams and Board of Directors) were asked to leave. It was difficult to watch and even more gut wrenching to go experience. But when people saw “A” players get terminated, the terrifying realization hit that even the best and brightest were not immune. There were no guarantees in this market and that created panic.
For the last 6 months, startups were forced to severely restrict new hires and public companies had hiring freezes. The market has flooded with talent at all levels, functions and geographies. Unemployment hit 8.5% in March 2009 but as companies continue to do lay-offs or go out of business I expect that number will continue to rise when April’s numbers are released. The stock market seems to be recovering, but job seekers continue to anxiously wait for the jobs to come back.
Amidst the corporate layoffs, hiring freezes, salary reductions, equity pools being recapitalized and companies going out of business, executives are spending a lot of time wondering how to approach an incredibly competitive job market. The volume of calls and emails I have received over the past few months from job seekers has been tremendous Some have called to see what assignments my firm was working on. Others have asked for help on how to negotiate offers and get baseline comparisons for similar roles in their respective industry. At networking events and cocktail parties I have heard people express everything from relief of getting out of a bad decision to indifference to borderline depression. After a while the stories all started sounding the same, but I noticed that there were few questions being asked about how to tackle this job market and even fewer solutions being offered about how to standout and win.
So while job seekers wonder where their next opportunity will come from and how they should differentiate themselves, I began to think about what strategies job-seekers might consider using, and most importantly, how they could put themselves in the best position possible to win that next job? In my next post, I will share some thoughts for job seekers about specific strategies they can use to tackle today’s market… but for now, keep the faith! We all know the market will eventually get better, but the savvy job-seeker will maintain his/her career discipline and continue to build and enhance their own personal brand.