Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Archive for the ‘Career Change’ Category

Vault’ s Careers Blog is Moving

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An announcement: after almost a year on WordPress, we’re discontinuing Vault’s Careers Blog on WordPress. But don’t worry: you’ll still be able to get your fill of career information and advice on Vault.com–where our blogs are going from strength to strength.

Our full blog lineup on Vault.com is as follows:

Vault’s Careers Blog
Vault’s Law Blog
Consult THIS: Consulting Careers, News and Views
In Good Company: Vault’s CSR blog
In the Black: Vault’s Finance Careers Blog
Admit One: Vault’s MBA, Law School and College Blog
Insider Career Advice from SixFigureStart
Innovate with Influence: Global High Tech

Thanks for reading us on WordPress.

We hope to see you over on Vault.com soon!

–The Vault Editorial Team

5 Things Comedy Class Teaches You About Job Search

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For six weeks this fall, I’ve been studying writing of a different kind—Karen Bergreen’s beginner comedy class at the Manhattan Comedy School. I always tell my job-seeking clients and column readers to be well-rounded and unique and to keep learning and stretching. So learning about things seemingly unrelated to my own day job is part of taking my own advice. Luckily, comedy is relevant to job search technique:

Be specific. The funniest comedians give very specific details. The same can be said about compelling job candidates: the best candidates are specific in explaining what they want and what they contribute. When good job candidates give an example, we understand the scope of their responsibilities and the scale of their accomplishments.

Edit ruthlessly. You don’t need a lot of explanation before getting to the punch line of the story. In fact, too much explanation diminishes the power of the joke. Similarly, don’t ramble in your interview responses and other job search communication. Get to the point quickly and keep your listener’s attention.

Talk about what you know. Being comfortable and familiar with your subject matter made it infinitely easier to be specific and find the humor. Successful jobseekers need to get comfortable and familiar with the industries, companies, and jobs they are targeting. Do research before meeting people. Prepare your interview examples. When you talk about what you know (because you have researched and prepared in advance), you captivate your listener.

Be yourself. There is no one profile or style that is the funny one. It is better to infuse who you are genuinely into your comedy set. In the case of job candidates, your unique personality differentiates you in addition to your professional attributes. There are other good communicators, exceptional problem-solvers, and strong leaders. You compete on skills and experience but also contribute your unique style.

The audience needs to get the joke. Sometimes a student was really attached to a joke that others in the class didn’t understand or didn’t think was funny. Instead of arguing the point, students were encouraged to rewrite and rework the original premise. Similarly, jobseekers should pay attention to any feedback that suggests what you’re doing isn’t working. You may think your job search technique is fine, but if it’s been several months and you haven’t landed anything, employers clearly aren’t “getting” you. Don’t argue with the market; rework your job search.

Sometimes when you are overly-focused on a goal, you can get stuck. It’s very helpful to step back and focus on something very different—to refresh, reignite your creativity, and broaden your perspective. You may find that you come back to your original goal with fresh eyes and are more productive. You don’t have to take comedy class specifically or even do something artistic. It can be sports, cooking, joining a book club. Diverse interests are valuable to the jobseeker because they make you more unique, they stretch and challenge you in different ways, and they enable you to remain fresh and productive.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Written by A.A. Somebody

November 3, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Career Moves to Make Before Year-End

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We have two months to go before 2011. You might be tempted to ease into the holidays and push into the New Year your work on landing a new job, starting a business, making a career change, or getting a promotion. But there are certain things you should do now to take advantage of the remaining days of 2010.

Prepare for end of year discussions. If your company pays bonuses or determines promotions at year end, this might be the time that decisions are made. Make sure people are aware of your contributions. If you have any emails from colleagues thanking you for a job well done, forward these to your manager. (If you have none of these, you should, so start collecting them for 2011!) If there is no formal review process, schedule a meeting proactively, so you can discuss in detail your contributions and your expectations going forward.

Use the holiday festivities to step up your networking. Many professional associations have holiday mixers, so if you haven’t kept up with your industry colleagues, now is a good time to play catch-up. If you have extra bandwidth, volunteer to assist at the mixer. You will make deeper connections with the group, and it’s a great way to ensure you meet with most of the attendees. Sending holiday cards is an easy but thoughtful way to build in a hello each year.

Plan and organize for next year. Clear out your office files. Mark your 2011 calendar for key meetings and appointments. Look at your company’s training calendar, and sign up now so you prioritize your professional development before your schedule gets too crazy. Think of your big career goals for 2011, and schedule your calendar now for reminders throughout the year. For example, if expanding your network is a goal, then schedule a weekly reminder to reach out to several contacts.

Finally, if there is a career goal you know you want now (e.g., land a new job, start a business, make a career change, or get a promotion), then start now. It’s a myth that hiring stops near the holidays. It’s also dangerous to wait for that perfect time to start. The above checklist of items are still good ideas, but should not displace efforts you make towards bigger career goals.
— Caroline Ceniza-Levine

10 Frightening Realities of the Post-Recession Economy

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The recession ended in June 2009. Did you notice? Chances are you probably didn’t—especially if you’ve been looking for a job. The bad news: things aren’t likely to get much better any time soon; current economic growth rates mean the unemployment rate will do well to drop by much more than a single percentage point by the end of 2011.

All of that is likely to continue reshaping the employment market, and will affect everything from your ability to conduct a salary negotiation to the pace at which you can expect to climb the ladder—or even get on it in the first place.

So what’s a job seeker to do? Vault’s industry and career experts put their heads together and identified a number of key trends that will affect careerists over both the short and medium term.

1. Doing more with less

In season five of the brilliant HBO series “The Wire,” the tight-belted, high-waisted head of the fictionalized Baltimore Sun declares, upon announcing a paper-wide job cut, that “we will simply have to do more with less.” It’s a quote that could serve as a template of companies both large and small in the post-recession era. After sacking thousands of employees in order to cuts costs, pummeling employee morale in the process, managers focusing on the bottom line will be hesitant to hire more bodies in order to explore more avenues of business, even when profits begin to pick up. Instead, they’ll simply turn to their existing employees, put a cool hand on their shoulders, smile, and ask them to take on increased duties.

2. Held back by housing

The recession may have ended in June 2009, but a little over a year later, The National Association of Realtors reported sales of previously occupied homes plummeted 27 percent in July 2010, the worst showing in 15 years. So, despite the good news, unemployed job seekers struggling to pay their mortgage still have fewer options for their job search. For them, it’s either find a job where they live or accept a job elsewhere, relocate and add on the extra expense of paying rent while they wait for their home to sell.

3. Choose your education carefully

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that applications to school surge during a recession. There are no jobs, so why not get more training and make yourself a better candidate when there are jobs? Makes sense, right? In the past two years, prospective students applied to graduate schools in droves; particularly to law, business and health services degrees. While health care is one of the fastest growing industries and will likely be able to handle the influx of new graduates, the law, finance and consulting industries will not. It’s unlikely, however, that this will deter prospective students from applying this fall—and next.

4. Age diversity

An aging workforce is going to continue to be a big challenge for employers, who increasingly prefer to cut costs on training for new positions. Compounding this is the fact that people are delaying retirement because of the recession. While gender and racial discrimination will remain critical concerns, age diversity presents a new challenge for the corporate world.

5. The finance industry

Don’t let the National Bureau of Economic Research fool you. Although GDP might have hit bottom more than a year ago, and we’re technically in an expanding economy, the US still looks very recession-like to the record numbers of men and women out of work, as well as to those still employed. And nowhere does the immediate outlook worse than in finance.

Hedge funds are currently experiencing their worse year on record, collectively growing assets by a mere 1.7 percent thus far in 2010; and Merrill Lynch recently estimated that as many as 20 percent of hedge funds could shutter by the first quarter 2011. Meanwhile, following deep job cuts in 2008, investment banks started to hire again in 2009. But now with markets ice cold—and predicted to stay that way at least until 2011—firms might be significantly cutting back again. Bank of America, for one, is in the midst of 1a large job cut, reportedly sacking 5 percent of its capital markets staff, and some analysts believe that other banks, afraid of the cooling markets, if not a double dip, might not be too far behind.

6. The legal sector

In the legal sector, 2009 saw a dramatic drop in hiring—a trend that has continued into 2010, with entry-level hiring not likely to return to pre-recession levels any time soon. Law firms have adopted a variety of solutions to maintain a smaller, more efficient workforce. Many of these solutions will likely survive beyond the recession, and affect law firm infrastructure, professional development, compensation and recruitment.

In addition to cost-cutting moves like the consolidation and relocation of back-office functions, other measures include a shift from traditional lock-step salary structures toward performance-based compensation systems. Many firms now offer alternative, non-partnership career tracks or have established apprenticeships for new lawyers. On the recruiting side, behavioral interviewing techniques are gaining popularity as a means of identifying candidates who will, in the words of one law firm hiring partner, “be able to deliver client service on day one.”

7. More short term jobs

The recession might be over, but unemployment figures have remained the same. This has forced Americans to look at jobs differently, with many accepting temporary and part-time positions rather than holding out for full-time permanent work. That’s helped the underemployment rate to remain sky-high—it’s currently over 18 percent—and there are no signs of it changing anytime soon: retailers are expected to hire up to 650,000 temporary workers this holiday season.

Toys R Us is an example of a company that is going even further: it plans to open 350 temporary “Holiday Express” stores by early October, creating 1,000 temporary retail positions. Other temporary positions are expected to become available during the holiday season. But when those temporary positions end, the unemployment rate will go right back to where it was before they were created.

8. The IT consolidation trend

The initials “IT” and “M&A” already go together like cereal and milk. And with spending on hardware, software and IT services expected to hit $3.5 trillion next year, the major players in the field have lots of incentives to keep adding to their range of offerings. One way they’re doing that is by snapping up smaller firms. Recent examples include HP’s acquisition of 3Par, Intel’s purchase of McAfee and IBM’s takeover of Netezza. But while the rapid pace of consolidation might be a good thing for consumers, waves of tech professionals will likely be squeezed out of Silicon Valley just as quickly.

9. The importance of internships

Because of the shortage of jobs, landing an internship is going to be more important than ever. Despite increased competition, if you’re a college student or looking to break into a new field, they’re an integral part of your next career move.

Starting in high school, students need to cultivate paid or unpaid work experiences that build skills, character, work ethic and resume. Employers use internships to prescreen and hire talent. Your career currency comes down to the following equation: internship experience + skills. Even if only on a volunteer basis for a few hours per week—this is how you get your foot in the door and demonstrate your passion for your field of interest.

10. Negotiate a package, not a salary

While the recession has affected the number of jobs and the kind of compensation on offer, it hasn’t changed how you should approach salary negotiations. However, what you negotiate for might change. While salary increases, stock options and signing bonuses might be in shorter supply, there might be opportunities to for other types of compensation such as at-risk pay based on milestones achieved, paid time-off and a flexible work schedule.

You should value the entire package and quantify everything. How you do that is up to you. Your compensation number should factor in what is essential to you and what is non-essential. You could even give weights to the essential and the non-essential in determining the value of your offer. As an example signing bonus, relocation, 401k match, day care and base salary could get an 80 percent weight while the other 20 percent would fall under extra vacation, nicer title etc. At the end of the day, each person will be different on what they value and what they consider essential.
— The Staff of Vault.com

Career Path Q&A: Legal Recruiting

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It’s no secret that the law sector has taken its share of blows amid the economic uncertainty of recent years. Yet, the industry remains on its toes due in part to its multifaceted range of services, and the expansion of recruitment and guidance resources. One professional familiar with this is Jennifer Bird, who has seen both sides of the industry as an attorney and a legal search consultant. Bird, a graduate of Yale Law School, practiced law at White & Case‘s New York headquarters before transitioning to a career in recruitment. As vice president of Empire Search Partners, she now advises attorneys at all levels and conducts workshops for candidates exploring their career options. In an interview with Vault, Ms. Bird discussed the route that brought her to her present position, the challenges facing law professionals in the current economy, and much more.

VAULT: Prior to entering the legal search field, you were a tax and trust and estates attorney at White & Case. What prompted your shift from practicing law to recruiting?

JENNIFER BIRD: I really enjoyed the practice and the people I worked with at White & Case, but over time I found myself drawn to the relationship-building aspect of the business. When I left the firm, I took some time off to explore other options and was attracted to recruiting because it allowed me to utilize my knowledge of the law and law firms while focusing on relationship-building and career advising which I love. At the same time, I get to continue to work with lawyers, which is a lot of fun for me and also very rewarding.

V: In addition to direct consultation, you lead workshops for legal professionals. As the industry undergoes a period of instability, what are some of the frequent concerns you address for attendees?

JB: The workshops I have led with good friend and career coach, Suzanne Grossman, have primarily been for attorneys who are thinking about the next steps in their careers, whether it be moving to another firm, the government, the nonprofit sector, going in-house or leaving the law altogether to pursue another path. A common concern for attendees is “how do I figure out what I want to do next?” In the workshops we encourage attorneys to explore internally and externally, examining who they are and what they want out of life and identifying possible career paths by networking and talking to professionals in different industries. We also spend time advising attorneys on how to position themselves to get the careers they want once they figure out where they want to go. The current economic climate has made transitioning more difficult, but at the same time has provided a great opportunity for attorneys to take the time to explore and figure out what they really want.

V: Your background includes experience in legislation, social aid and even the Australian judicial system. Did you approach each of these ventures with the expectation of launching a career, or with intent to broaden your skill set for an eventual career elsewhere?

JB: I’m not sure if I was entirely aware of the benefit that the array of experiences would eventually have on my career. I adopted a sort of trial and error method in terms of trying on different kinds of jobs, with law as a common thread among them along with a desire to help others and have an impact. With each position, I was able to explore a different aspect of the law and to both learn more about the field and whether it might be a good fit for me long-term. What I’ve found through all of these experiences is that finding a good career fit is definitely a long-term process. I often advise candidates that although a position may not be perfect, every experience, every interview, provides an opportunity to learn more about what you like and don’t like, eventually helping you get to where you want to go.
Read the full interview here.

Retail Jobs Surge, but Little Action Elsewhere: This Week in Employment

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Is there any point in even mentioning the biggest job/economy-related story of the week? We all know by now that the recession ended in 2009, right? Officially, at any rate, if not by Warren Buffett’s more common-sensical standards. And we’re all equally aware that, whether we’re technically in a recession or not, things are still pretty bleak and likely to remain so for some time? Good. So let’s move on to the good stuff.

Frankly, economic distractions aside, it hasn’t been the best week if you’re looking for positive employment news. Sure, we found out that retailers are anticipating a slightly better festive season than last year, prompting a prediction of up to 650,000 temporary jobs during the period this year. And, sure, Macy’s alone is creating as many as 65,000 temporary positions. All of that is decent news, but temporary hiring is, well, temporary—and the example of the Census earlier this year suggests that, in this economy, once temporary jobs have gone, the unemployment rate is likely to go straight back up to where it was prior to the positions.

There was some positive news for the tech sector, where it emerged that spending is estimated to top $3.5 trillion in 2011—and all of that spending does tend to suggest that hiring will follow. But that was tempered by news of cuts in other sectors, as noted on Vault’s Employment Tracker. While the news that Abbott Laboratories is laying off 3,000 workers was the worst cut of the week in terms of pure numbers, it wasn’t the worst signal out there. That honor went to the news that Bank of America is cutting 400 jobs in its global banking and markets division. The reason for that—a slowdown in revenue from trading and advising clients—may well have industry-wide reverberations. And as we’ve learned to our cost over the last couple of years, when the financial industry isn’t making money, the rest of us may well have good reason to be nervous.

What’s Your Breaking Point?

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A rocky job market affects more than just the unemployed and recent graduates—even those still employed are feeling the sting. With little certainty of finding placement elsewhere, labor statistics show that few professionals are willing to leave their jobs, despite a rise in reported employee dissatisfaction and especially dispiriting working conditions recently seen in the news. To gauge this sense of career confinement, in a recent poll Vault asked its readers “What would be the last straw to make you quit your job?”

One workplace issue which held the collective attention this past summer was the threat of bedbug infestations in New York City—and it would be hard to blame anyone who runs screaming from an office crawling with them. However, just 2 percent of Vault readers said these vermin would prompt them to resign. But quitting may not be necessary: Bedbug infestations have thus far resulted in complete shutdowns of a Victoria’s Secret, Manhattan offices for Google and Cadwalader, and most recently the flagship Niketown store. And you can’t quit if there’s no job to go to.

Fewer still indicated that they would pack it in for an impending company merger. Yet, if we’ve learned anything from the year’s rash of buyouts, industry consolidation doesn’t leave much room for staff: The merger of Pfizer and Wyeth, for instance, resulted in thousands losing their jobs and facilities shutting down around the globe. Now, with the completion of United and Continental Airlines’ amalgamation, another drastic round of layoffs won’t be far off.

The prospect of benefit reductions also failed to influence resignation decisions, with just 5 percent stating that would be their breaking point. Sadly, this has been reflected in practice: One of last year’s more shocking developments was the news that insurance company WellPoint reduced its own employee health benefits, even while encouraging staff to protest health care reform. In spite of that, there was no surge of people lining up to leave Wellpoint in response.

The point at which respondents begin to rankle, it seems, is the prospect of outright mistreatment. While toxic offices have inspired some of our favorite films, from Office Space to The Devil Wears Prada, they remain a professional hazard. Abuse can take different forms at different levels: Some superiors will demoralize staff to the extremes seen in the tragic suicides at Foxconn, while sexual harassment may (allegedly) come from such diverse figures as the New York Jets or the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. That kind of treatment would apparently cause 31 percent of respondents to move on.

And then there’s the suffering endured at the hands of customers and clients. By now we’re all familiar with one such incident, when an allegedly unruly passenger prompted the abrupt resignation and emergency chute escape of JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater. And he’s likely not alone in his frustration: some 9 percent of respondents to the poll said they’d have likely done the same.

Ultimately, however, stability rules the day: Nearly half of our respondents confirmed the notion that the only way they’d quit is with a new job waiting for them. But even if that seems the safe bet, it’s not always the wisest—by continuing at a job that doesn’t meet your standards, not only do you risk stagnating but your industry does as well. As posited by author AnnaLee Saxenian in a Wired article, “Job-hopping, rather than climbing the career ladder within a corporation, facilitates flows of information and know-how between individuals, firms, and industries.” When the workforce is able to distribute its talents effectively to where they are required, that’s when growth becomes possible.

While one hopes that a healthy dose of self-esteem should sufficiently compel disenchanted employees to say enough is enough, the viral popularity of “folk heroes” like Steven Slater and TheChive.com’s fictional “Jenny” still indicates a sense of powerlessness in the workforce. Their exploits, real or not, reflect what many wish they could do themselves—throw caution to the wind, and “deploy the slide” as a defiant act of personal satisfaction. But without dramatic improvements in the rate of job creation, most will remain in a holding pattern.

— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

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