Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘advancement

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

Down in the Valley: How Tech Leader Policies Limited Recruiting

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Google. Apple. Intel. Adobe. Intuit. Pixar. Each of these names is known to elicit superlatives for innovation and leadership. Each is also counted among the most desirable employers of Silicon Valley. And yet, as a U.S. Justice Department investigation has revealed, working for one of them could mean your career prospects could be severely limited for the rest.

On Friday, the aforementioned gang of six collectively consented to a Justice Department order to cease a series of clandestine no-poaching pacts. The department alleges that, through much of the past decade, the implicated parties kept do-not-call lists to mark each other’s staff as off-limits for job offer solicitation. In turn, those recruitment restrictions hampered opportunities for rising talent at top companies.

As the government’s resulting settlement describes, “The agreements eliminated a significant form of competition to attract highly skilled employees, and overall diminished competition to the detriment of affected employees.”

For tech professionals, the existence of such policies can only be disheartening. It’s difficult enough to soldier on in the IT field’s current state, as the rise of mergers and acquisitions threatens to consolidate the industry—and squeeze out workers in the ensuing layoffs. To know that employers actively avoid certain candidates can quash not just advancement or competitive salaries, but the perceived value of one’s own accrued skills and experience.

Moreover, Silicon Valley is a climate that thrives on migration. For decades, the industry has been characterized by the ability of its workforce to roam amongst market leaders and scrappy startups alike. It is this viral spreading of knowledge and talent that bolsters progress. The actions of Google et al risked stifling that dynamic, at a time when new ideas were so vital to the market amid a dire recession.

But even after striking a blow against the major players, this may only scratch the surface. In announcing its settlement with the six conspirators, the D.O.J. said it “continues to investigate other similar no solicitation agreements,” raising questions as to the scope of this practice. It may be minimal: while leaders such as Microsoft and IBM were implicated at the investigation’s inception, they were ultimately omitted from the settlement. But given the industry’s interwoven dependencies among firms, it’s not hard to suspect that many alliances have included deals to prevent poaching.

A statement by Google (thus far the only party to publicly respond) bodes particular ill: Assistant counsel Amy Lambert assures on its Public Policy Blog that Google “abandoned our ‘no cold calling’ policy in late 2009.” But by acknowledging “a number of other tech companies had similar ‘no cold call’ policies,” she seems to imply that the company followed an established trend, rather than marching to its own drummer. That’s not what you come to expect of an innovator.
— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

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

What’s Keeping You From Getting Hired?

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If there was one thing that stood out from Vault’s recent Job Hunting in CSR series, it was the disconnect between candidates and employers. A recent survey by Towers Watson further indicates that this disconnect might be much more widespread because of a difference in priorities for employers and employees.

Job Skills

A survey released by TalentDrive, the team behind online resume aggregation search engine TalentFilter, now adds yet another layer to the troubling scenario. The report suggests a widening gap between current employers’ expectations and job seekers’ actual skill sets.

In a month-long survey, 79,000 job seekers (86 percent actively seeking employment) were asked to assess their personal skill set and attitude toward the current job market. Additionally, 20,000 hiring managers from Fortune 1000 companies were asked if they had noticed a change in the quality of candidates since the recession’s start.

The results of the survey are unnerving:

Almost three-quarters of the job seekers surveyed were pessimistic about their career search: that’s the number of respondents who indicated that they possessed the required skill set for positions, but were not getting hired. Little wonder, then, that 37 percent of respondents expressed no hope that things would improve.

However, 42 percent of the employers surveyed indicated that the recession had not only increased the quantity of candidates, but that they were finding more qualified candidates than in years past.

So where is the disconnect? When candidates believe they possess the required skill sets, why are they not getting hired? Take into account that 67 percent of those surveyed reported having between one and five interviews per month since the beginning of their job search, and that 75 percent of those had not received a single job offer.

Specialization or general business skills?

Since your company started hiring, how many interviewed candidates on average would you consider

Could the disconnect come down to a question of specialized vs. general business skills? According to the report, 71% percent of HR representatives reported that more than half of their open positions were specialized.

Comparatively, 61% of the job seekers’ group considered themselves to be “professionals with broad skill sets.”

Interestingly, my interviews with MBA graduates Ashley Jablow and Geet Singh reveal a flipside to the specialization picture. Having focused on CSR and sustainability at business school, both Jablow and Singh confessed that their job hunts weren’t exactly working out to be walks in the park. However, in their case, partial blame goes to a lack of demand for CSR work. For the respondents of the TalentDrive survey, specialized skills leaned toward more traditional fields like IT and technology.

Job Search Destinations

What source has recently delivered/uncovered the most quality candidates?

If there is one area where the TalentDrive survey shows job seekers and employers in agreement, it is where they are finding each other. The winner: Social Media.

An overwhelming 74% of job seekers said the most beneficial job search method was posting a resume on job boards followed by 27% picking social media, for the first time surpassing traditional methods like classified ads, professional recruiters and networking events.

Agreement was mutual with 27% of employers saying the highest response for most effective search method was social networks, followed by resume sourcing technologies.

Other highlights:

For the types of positions your company fills, what skills/activities make an applicant stand out?

Differs for each position: 55%
Longevity with past employers: 21%
Certification: 16%
Advanced degrees/MBA: 5%
Extracurricular work/Volunteer work: 3%

What category would the majority of your open positions fall under?

Mid level/management positions: 67%
Entry level: 16%
Director/Executive positions: 14%

Since beginning your active job search, how many interviews have resulted in an offer?

No offers: 75%
Less than half: 21%
More than half: 3%
All interviews resulted in an offer: 1%

Given the current job market, how willing are you to transfer fields or change your skill set to adapt to a new work environment or industry?

Not willing or interested: 11%
Somewhat willing, depending on the opportunity: 44%
Very willing: 45%

Does your experience relate to these results? Do you have a story to add to these numbers? Leave a comment, email us In Good Company or connect on Twitter @VaultCSR!

Should You Bring ‘This’ Up During a Job Interview?

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In 2007, when the financial industry was at the brink of collapse, one executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) saw opportunity. Shannon Schuyler, then a member of PwC’s recruitment team, wrote a white paper for company leadership emphasizing that the firm needed someone to reorganize and refine their community initiatives, and give their corporate responsibility a face.

Three months later the job was hers. How did she re-strategize the firm’s hiring policies and recruitment outreach to encompass PwC’s commitment to corporate responsibility?

  1. For one, having a background in experienced hiring and on campus recruitment helped. She has seen first-hand the gradual evolution of the hiring landscape, where candidate priorities shifted from the best-paid job offer to work/life balance, and today, to a company’s commitment to responsible corporate citizenship. Her experience assured peers that directives coming from the new Corporate Responsibility Leader would be balanced and realistic.
  2. Secondly, the message from campuses was loud and clear. According to Schuyler, candidates are increasingly asking what the firm is doing to give back to the community, who they donate to, what they do toward the environment, etc. “They want to know how they can get engaged when they start. They want to know what our strategies are,” she said.
  3. Finally, she noted, markedly changing business strategies and decision making processes can be a double-edged sword. As her team continues to work on ensuring that new hires are aware and receptive of the company’s commitment from day one, she is also responsible for inculcating a deeper cultural change among current employees. And that is where her real battle lies.

Her observations mirror findings of Vault’s recently concluded Job Hunting in CSR series, where four MBA candidates discussed business school, their career transitions and job hunting, all connected with a commitment to CSR and change management.

For now, Schuyler is focusing on the “life cycle of a student.” Her team is busy redefining the firm’s hiring strategy by shifting their focus from best practices to candidates’ personal journey. “Increasingly, we ask, what are the opportunities? What could we continue to build on as a continuum? Would that really change what their education experience is, and ultimately, their success? It’s not just how you do the equations, but how you’re taking that and making it part of their life.”

–Posted by Aman Singh, Vault’s CSR Editor

Does Dissent Have Any Room In Your Team?

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In today’s highly skilled work environment, dissent is a no brainer. As college graduation rates continue to climb, they are gradually also redefining work culture. Hierarchies and established ways of doing things are increasingly being tested by a new generation, adept in technology and much more in favor of a work/life balance. Call it the war between the millennials and baby boomers or just yet another realignment of the way we operate in corporate America, life in the cubicle is changing.

Learning to embrace opposition and maneuvering it toward resolution is no easy task. Even in the most modern and youth-centric offices, traditional rules and authority often end up becoming reasons for dissent and fraction. But sometimes all it takes is a different take on the process or eventual conclusion of a project.  As an executive, then, how do you handle conflicting ideas from team members?

Keeping in mind that not all offices follow a democracy, here are five ways to ensure your team remains motivated, creative and purposeful.

1) Set the tone for the team and the project: When introducing the project, make the process, the expected conclusion and everyone’s role in it clear. By detailing personal targets as well as specifying individual roles, you will make participation easy as well as achievable and accountable. Also, by spelling out the process, you’re indicating how much participation, engagement and thinking outside the box you really want. Because let’s face it: not every project needs brain surgery and new processes. But what if you’re positive that your idea will succeed and you just need your staff to fall into line? Again, offices aren’t democracies, so just make your idea clear and ensure that everyone understands what you want. You might not receive the Favorite Boss of the Year award, but at least you won’t send mixed signals to the team

2) Talk it out: Despite making goals and the processes clear, sometimes team members–many of whom have been taught that creativity, engagement and leadership give birth to the best ideas–will still go ahead and put forth a proposal that might run counter to yours and propose a different set of outcomes.

You can handle this two ways: a) Invite the employee to present her idea to the team and get collaborative feedback. Hey, after all, two (or three) heads work better than one. Or b) you have a one on one conversation with the employee and demonstrate why you think your proposal has a higher rate of success. If there remains disagreement, chart out the pros and cons, connect the differences in the two proposals and invite dialogue instead of restraining thought. While debates don’t always lead to conclusions, they ensure active engagement and tell your team that their ownership in the project is equally valuable.

3) Test it: If an active debate doesn’t sort out the picture, give her the chance to test it out. Give the employee a fixed time span, the resources and the bandwidth to test out the proposal within a limited test area. By encouraging a practical solution, you’re ensuring engagement, encouraging creative thinking, leadership and respecting their input. As I said, the aim isn’t to prove someone wrong, but to find the most efficient and successful way of completion. Together.

4) Simulate a proposal: Simulation exercises can be useful in resolving team conflicts. Especially if the project is time-sensitive and you need to test out a new theory/proposal of a team member, and don’t have the resources to ensure a proper test. Give the team member a test environment to work with internally and use the results of the simulation, whether that be a closed network meeting, a survey of the contended parties, or a role play within the office, to decide the eventual process. Again, this will keep your team motivated and involved. And nothing breeds respect for the boss and commitment to the company’s success like active engagement.

5) Make it clear: Every executive has a different modus operandi. Make it clear if your prescribed methods are the only way. The autocratic management style still exists in many executive suites and if it is the way you swear by, the least you can do to ensure follow-up and diligent conclusion is to make it clear from the start. Again, no guarantees of team loyalty laurels, but at least you ensure attracting the right kind of talent for your team. Rest assured there remain many today who will kowtow to your ideas and orders without the tiniest objection, so if obedient and hard working employees are your goal, make it clear.

    Event Alert: Accredited Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Workshop

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    Next month, the Center for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) will complete five years of conducting sustainability seminars and certifying CSR practitioners. The two-day seminar historically have always been filled with useful workshops, individual presentations from practitioners, many debates and rich discussions surrounding the aspects of corporate responsibility and sustainability.

    Last year, I attended one of CSE’s workshops and came back certified as a CSR practitioner as well as armed with much-needed clarified information on the issue. This workshop, which is conducted by CSE and approved by international think tank, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), attracts executives every year from a range of industries. For example, my session last year had a diverse group including representatives from consulting firms, consumer products manufacturers, lawyers, policy regulators, professors, scientists as well as HR specialists and a pilot from an international airline.

    If you are seeking a broad overview of CSR this workshop is highly recommended. Besides theoretical concepts and key guidelines, the forum gives you an opportunity to network with other CSR-minded professionals across industries. This networking and sharing of ideas and more so, learning from what they are doing in this growing field, can prove immensely helpful in carving your career in CSR and green issues.

    What is even better is that this year for the first time, in collaboration with Vault and In Good Company, CSE is offering an exclusive discount to our readers. Just make sure to mention “VAULT” during the registration process and you will be able to shave 25% off the fee!

    For complete details, including registration process as well as first-person perspectives from last year’s workshop, visit Vault’s CSR Blog: In Good Company.

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