Prepare for the economic upturn now…

I keep hearing that the economy is picking up, although my life hasn't changed much lately (needless to say there are always more open marketing positions here than we can fill). But if the economy is improving (and in the interest of optimistic thinking, let's say it is), there are some things I think you can do from a career perspective to be prepared for any changes that result from the economic climate as well as to position yourself as a top candidate in the industry. Dr. John Sullivan writes about some of the industry changes that occur during an upswing in his article titled "The Worldwide War for Talent II is Coming: Are You Prepared?".

If you listen to leaders in the staffing industry, including Dr. John, you'll hear that an improvement in the economy will result in more job movement. Employees that feel trapped in their jobs have hesitated to look for new jobs because those jobs have been scarce and the competition has been pretty stiff. In the meantime, many employees have had to take on additional job responsibilities because of cut-backs. Companies have been less likely to move people throughout their organizations because they know the market is tight (internal employee movement means double risk: first the risk of losing their expertise in the old role and second the risk that they won't do well in the new's a calculated risk because they know the employee, but a risk nonetheless). And while the employees are often doing double-duty, it has become less likely that they will take the risk to leave (so much for optimistic thinking, but this is what I am hearing). Companies have been investing less in training for employees overall. In my mind, all of this could be leading up to a frenzy of activity in the staffing industry (or it's just intended to really freak out us HR folks). And while you may not be one of these people that “needs” to look for a new position, you still might want to consider how you can make the most of the position you already have and prepare yourself for that "dream job" that might come around. Either way, this economic change is an opportunity. Here are some ideas: 

1) Update your resume. Even if you are not looking for new job opportunities outside of your company, you should have an updated version of your resume on hand (always people..always!). Why? Because if others start to leave your company creating open jobs or if economic growth allows your company to open more positions internally, you want to be in a position to immediately consider those opportunities before they are offered to outside talent (and there will be a lot of people looking).

2) Make sure that you can quickly articulate your value to your organization (verbally). Again, this is important if you hear about a new internal opportunity and need to move on it quickly (a hiring manager would certainly appreciate the initiative and see you as a go-getter). It's also important if you get a call from a recruiter. I can't tell you how often a conversation with a candidate goes awry because they cannot articulate achievements in their current role in a concise manner. Think about the things that are important right now: streamlining processes, saving money, generating revenue (or fending off losses) and discovering new markets and opportunities. Three to five bullet points here.

3) If you get a call from a recruiter during this time, use it as an opportunity to benchmark your market value. Seriously, these conversations are a great opportunity for you to gather information and I am surprised how many people don't take advantage of them. Find out what kind of experience requirements exist for someone going into certain kinds of roles and also get some idea of the compensation that goes along with it. When the economy is strong and you go into a performance review conversation, you want to know what other people in similar roles are being paid elsewhere.

4) Even if you don't get specific information from the recruiter, use them as a contact to build your Rolodex. So you may not need to call on this recruiter any time soon, but think about the people in your personal network and the last time you knew of someone that was looking for a new position. Consider that your value to this person increases if you are able to help them identify new opportunities in the marketplace. My best networking contacts aren't necessarily candidates, but are the "connectors" that can help direct me to the right people in the industry.

5) As I have mentioned before, make yourself marketable on the Internet. People inside your company will see it as well. The more the public regards you as an "expert" in your space, the more your company will see you as an asset.

6) If you are going to look actively, be selective and have a good story to tell. If the number of open positions in the tech marketing space increases, you'll have to decide what attracts you to one opportunity over another as the best candidates won't have time to pursue them all. As a recruiter I always ask why a candidate is interested in my company. I'm most interested in candidates that tell me how the opportunity at Microsoft is going to challenge, grow or inspire them. But I'm much less excited if I feel they are seeking to make a move to get away from their last job versus going to their next job. Again, know your 3-5 bullet points on the impact that you have made in your current or most recent role. Memorize them if they aren't on the top of your head.

7) Don't make the mistake of believing that this hiring boom is like the last one (this is where I disagree with Dr. John a little bit). A few years back, corporations understood that many employees wanted to "try the dot com thing" and frankly, I can appreciate the initiative and risk taking spirit. I don't see this upcoming increase in hiring to be particularly focused on dot coms (I'm sensing that it will be a broader situation...see #8 and #9 below)) and I think employees remember the fall-out that resulted for many of them. So the job-hopping thing just isn't as good/cool/acceptable/desirable as it used to be. We are still seeing candidates hopping since the 1999-2000 frenzy and because they haven't been anywhere for too long, it's really hard to tell if they have made an impact during that time.  So you joined a dot com that closed it's doors? That's OK, especially if you learned some good business lessons during the process (and can articulate them well). But if you continue to choose opportunities that don't get beyond "start-up mode", you may have some difficulty in expressing to a potential employer the results you were able to drive in the market. If "start-up mode" is your thing (and you are willing to commit to it for the long term), think about a career in consulting. You get lots of variety without the high risk.

8) Think about how the economic up-turn is going to impact your industry. For example, if I were in product management and had some international experience, I would definitely be checking out opportunities focused on emerging geographic markets (China, India, South America). Or maybe I'd be looking at how I could expand my role to encompass those additional geographies. I would be a step ahead of the game to ensure that those cool new job responsibilities were included in my role (and ended up on my resume) rather than the company going outside to hire the talent. Don't wait for your company to open the job. Let them know you have the skills now and show your foresight and initiative by driving your own job content in market growth areas. And if you are looking for something outside your company, set up job search agents that contain key words specific to the particular markets where you have expertise.

9) Understand where companies invest as the economy gets better. Aside from geographic markets, think about the kind of IT spending that companies put-off during rough economic times. When things turn around, companies start making those expenditures, driving growth and jobs in those industry spaces. I am no economist, but it seems kind of logical to me that a move into systems integration, ERP and eBusiness and other server technologies could make sense (***please do your own research on this though...don't take my word for it!). If that's your goal, try to align yourself with those industries now. Gain the skills that will help you create a bridge between your existing expertise and the job skills in that new industry space.

10) Get there first. Knowing that recruiters will have more work on their plates, take your job search seriously and make sure you are either a)already top of mind with the recruiter or b) get your information to them very quickly after you learn of new opportunities with their companies (job alerts are great for this). Recruiters love to sit in a meeting with a hiring managers and when they hear of a job requirement, explain how they already know of someone with those skills. Know that many corporations will likely need to turn to outside recruiters (have I convinced you yet to develop these relationships with the outside recruiters right now?). In a good economy, these firms will spend more time generating new business from employers and less sourcing new candidates so it's important to be in their database now.

Just some thoughts on how you can be ahead of the curve when the economy really gets humming again.


Comments (12)

  1. Good advice… another key for interacting with recruiters is, if you are not a good match for an opportunity, to always offer to help them in finding someone that may be interested. I will email a mailing list I belong to or mention the opportunity at a trade group meeting. I will always try to make sure the recruiter knows where I am spreading their news. I have found that they will keep you in mind the next time something comes around that may be a better match or just make them remember you. I have talked to many recruiters years down the road that have remembered me just because I helped them.

  2. Heather says:

    Great idea would you mind sending me a list of all the good technical marketers you know ; ) (I am only kind of kidding).

  3. I will Heather if you send some decent recruiters that will work with me. My biggest compliant with recruiters is the lack of "service" they give their recruitees. I understand that at the end of the day they work for the client companies but they also provide a service for job seekers. I think some of them forget that. I cannot count the number of times a recruiter will be pushing me to jump through all sorts of hoops and then stop contacting me. I will wait a bit and call them only to get told the opportunity was put on hold. I can understand that but why not a call or email to notify me of the opportunity status change.

    I am afraid that this new round of economic upturn will only produce more lazy recruiters that are looking out for their bottom line. I am seeking the ones that have a passion for being the Interface between the job seeker and the company in need of great talent. So I can help you if you can help me! 🙂

  4. Heather says:

    Chris- are you talking about finding a position for you or about networking? The recruiters I work with here do get back to candidates once they have an initial discussion.

    Your characterization of recruiters as "lazy", though is, I think, a little shortsighted. I do think it’s possible that the amount of work a recruiter has on their plate could impact their responsiveness. But I do agree that not getting back to a candidate after an initial discussion is not good. On the other hand, as recruiters, we often have candidates asking us for follow up just after submitting a resume and based on volume, it’s just not something that we can provide updates on.

    Frankly, there are lazy people everywhere. And I am not sure how an economic upturn is going to inspire more people to become lazy.

  5. I agree that I may have misrepresented recruiters as lazy. I do apologize. I have found that some recruiters seem not to realize the value of a good reputation within the market they are searching for candidates.

    Now I will probably have a true statement that Microsoft probably hires the top 1% of marketing and recruiting specialist.

    My comment concerning recruiters in an economic upturn is that there will be a rush for people to fill the need for recruiters and possibly some of these people will not have the training, desire or passion for doing the job. I found that within the developer market during the dotcom boom. Many people rushed into the IT market with dreams of getting rich or at least making a very good living and did not know or care about the actual work. It does happen in many markets that get hot.

    Thanks for responding to me. I am looking for a new gig but have time to find a good fit since I have a decent job at the present time.

  6. Heather says:

    Fair enough Chris. Good point about the impending influx of people entering the market. I’ve definitely met *all kinds* of recruiters during my ten+ years in the industry and I can’t say that they have all been good. We do a good job of hiring the best here (and I have to say that many of the best recruiters here are people that had other types of jobs before coming to microsoft).

    You are absolutely right that many don’t pay enough attention to their reputation. It’s vitally important to ones success as a recruiter (but frankly, we have all made the mistake of failing to follow up with someone once or twice). One thing I notice about good recruiters is that they are truly motivated by helping people and that doesn’t have to be exclusive of making money. Also, good recruiters tend to remember what it was like to be the candidate (I do!)

    I’m hoping that companies are really starting to understand the importance of hiring good people (and therefore of bringing on the best recruiters). Hiring mistakes cost big time.

  7. Tremendous advice, Heather. Really, it boils down to having an understanding of positioning. This is not something that many developer-types pay attention to, but they probably should. People in your space know all about it, though. 😉

    I found this particularly important:

    "Think about the things that are important right now: streamlining processes, saving money, generating revenue (or fending off losses) and discovering new markets and opportunities."

    In my humble opinion, this is where most job-seekers fall down. Correct me if your experience says otehrwise, but I notice that most people tend to focus on the task – "I’m really good at doing *this*" – while failing to understand that they need to demonstrate the benefit of doing the task. One needs to demonstrate that he or she is effective and keeps an eye on the bottom line.

  8. Heather says:

    Christopher Hawkins-you are right. Many people have trouble differentiating between activity and results. Just because a person is good at doing something doesn’t mean that that "something" actually benefits their employer. The key thing I look for in an employee is someone who is not only focused on results but can synthesize information in such a way that they can predict what is gong to happen and can create strategies right now that can address future changes. It’s so much less interesting to me to hire folks that need someone to tell them what they need to do.

  9. Heather wrote a great little ditty yesterday about preparing yourself for the upswing in the job market. That’s right … word on the recruiting street is that the market will soon be turning around, and while jobs may not be as abundant as

  10. Heather wrote a great little ditty yesterday about preparing yourself for the upswing in the job market. That’s right … word on the recruiting street is that the market will soon be turning around, and while jobs may not be as abundant as

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