The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Preparing for the Next Recession
I admit it – I’m a Prepper. Not the kind with machine guns and years of freeze-dried food stored in the basement; I’m generally more concerned with preparing for financial downturns because they are rather predictable and to be expected. According the National Bureau of Economic Research it’s been 7 years and 5 months since the end of the Great Recession in the United States (the generally accepted definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth). That particularly cruel recession lasted 18 months, from December 2007 – June 2009. In the United States there have been 11 cycles of recession / recovery since 1945 and the average length of those recessionary periods has been 11.1 months.
The NEBR defines “recovery periods” as the time from the trough of the last downturn to the peak before the next downturn. Of the 11 cycles in the US since 1945 the average expansion time has been 58.4 months. We are now in month 89 of the current expansion. That history, along with the uncertainty of a very new political reality in Washington, means that we’re due for a downturn in the next few years. And then things will bounce back and we’ll continue the cycle. So it makes sense to pro-actively manage your career to account for these cyclical events, right?
I’ve been doing some research online and in my own database on the job market during the Great Recession of 2008 – 2009, and to a lesser extent the recession of 2001-2002. We all know that employment trends lag GDP growth, and because of the depth of the last recession the unemployment rate in the US remained unusually high far longer than June 2009: unemployment peaked at 10% in October of 2009, after GDP had begun growing again, and it remained above 7% until November of 2013. We can’t accurately predict the timing of the next recession or the persistency of unemployment following it, but we can safely say that job creation is limited for a far longer period than the actual recession itself. I’ve seen talented executives search for mid-level and senior-level positions for years and only recently been able to find opportunities that make sense for them.
So what career management decisions can we consider to plan for this eventuality? A wise person once said that the best time to fix your leaky roof is when the sun is shining. Thinking back over the stories of how some people successfully navigated the last recession / recovery cycle I found some trends. For the most part these are Marketing and Business Development professionals in the medical technology and biopharmaceutical industry, and they were able to maintain a fairly steady income throughout the cycle. Back in the day conventional wisdom held that if you were able to secure a job at a large, global company in the Fortune 50 you could expect to ride out a recession without getting laid off. But I have friends at places like Merck, Medtronic and Becton Dickinson who were victims of reductions-in-force. So the conventional strategy of seeking security in numbers is now risky, and most would agree that we need better ideas to proactively manage our careers through tough times.
I’ve identified four techniques that may make sense to consider:
Seek privately-held organizations
The privately-held organizations I work with tell me that they are better positioned to make investments and limit short-term cost containment measures that their publicly traded counterparts. Without quarterly pressure from stockholders to post positive financial results management can remain focused on making decisions in the best long-term interests of the organization. There is a 50 year old privately held medical device company that I help to hire marketing personnel, and they have had no force reduction or layoffs over the past eight years. In contrast, their three publicly traded direct competitors – large, global corporations with huge market caps – have each had multiple rounds of layoffs during that time span. Although sometimes viewed as being risk averse and lacking in innovation, these long-standing privately held companies, whether family owned or otherwise, often provide safe harbors during economic downturns.
Develop a sub-specialty
I’ve noticed that over the past eight years the marketing professionals I know who have been able to thrive have developed specialized skills that are differentiating and hard to find. Examples include digital and online marketing capabilities, health economics and payer-focused programming, and in-licensing skills that help an organization grow with less capital and labor investment. There are many examples and they all follow relatively new trends that require special skills not developed by the masses – and they frequently relate to cost containment. These are advanced capabilities that make an employee different and valuable to an organization, as opposed to a more generalized skill set focused on strategic planning, for example. It’s also generally true that a marketing job which is farther downstream and closer to the customer is less likely to be impacted or eliminated in a workforce reduction than a role that is upstream and internally focused.
Work with first-in-class technology
My analysis showed that a disproportionate number of workforce reductions in last eight years were at organizations that manufacture relatively mature technology in markets that are becoming commoditized. Examples include pacemakers, small molecule drugs used in the primary care setting, and ELISA kits in the clinical diagnostics segment. At one time variations of these products were highly innovative and on the cutting edge of the life sciences, but no longer. When cost pressures impact payers and large buying groups they often look for deep discounts from suppliers of these undifferentiated products, and that leads to job instability for the suppliers (unless you’re in market access or reimbursement – see last section). While it’s true that first-in-class technology is often born in risky start-ups, those career opportunities are often less risky in an economic downturn than large, old-school organizations (provided they have adequate financing, of course).
Build an external professional network
Some of the most talented marketing execs I know were laid-off in the Great Recession – many of them more than once. Yet a significant number of them have been able to build highly successful consulting careers based on the relationships they fostered while toiling away for their employers. They kept in touch with former managers and peers, and even networked with agency personnel and vendors from management consultancies and the investment community. They’ve been willing to build 1099 contract-based consulting careers with multiple clients, and in many situations have found their next full-time permanent position after first completing a successful contract assignment for the would-be employer. In a recession employers often prefer to “try before they buy” a permanent FTE, and they first look to their personal networks to identify a contractor to fill a short-term need. Linked-In has been incredibly valuable in this regard, but there is no substitute for old fashioned one-on-one emailing and phone calls.
These are four career management techniques that have been used successfully in recessionary periods, and there are many others. One need not wait for an economic downturn to take these steps, however. Give the length of our current economic expansion it may be wise to take pro-active measures such as these to fend off career misfortune. As always, I welcome your comments and questions at email@example.com
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: The Cost of Bad Writing
From the dawn of human commerce the livelihood of marketing professionals has been built on clear communication, and with the growing importance of electronic messaging the need for effective writing skills has never been greater. Technology driven industries, including Biopharma and Medical Device, are particularly reliant on clear, concise writing because of the complex nature of the information being communicated. Yet many industry executives and students of organizational communication lament the reality that writing proficiency is in decline.
In a recent survey published by Harvard Business Review, 81% of business people who spend more than 20 hours per week reading for their job said that poor writing skills cause a significant amount of wasted time for them, and over half said that what they read is frequently ineffective because it is too long, poorly organized, unclear or filled with jargon. Employees get little training in how to write in a brief, clear manner and the result is a profound lack of impact in what they are trying to communicate. And the problem is not just in junior level cubicle dwellers – senior managers struggle to communicate exactly what they want within the subject line / title and first few sentences of what they write. As the HBR story points out, when executives are clear and direct in their business writing they will develop a reputation for candor and truthfulness, and employees will get to work accomplishing the goals that are set out for them.
In the context of the marketing profession, the need for effective writing is not confined to customer engagements or promotional material. The long term planning process, built in part on reporting the “voice of the customer,” is driven by clear, concise communication of strategies that are based on extensive analyses and in some cases massive amounts of data. The magic happens when a marketer can identify patterns in customer’s voices and articulate them clearly in written form. A Vice President of Marketing at a high-growth surgical instrument company told me that one of the most important drivers of their success is the ability of upstream marketing personnel to bring clarity to product development needs. The success of his organization, like most companies operating in a dynamic, fast-paced environment, depends on efficiency in the written word.
So why does this matter in the world of filling jobs and obtaining jobs?
On the employee side of the table it’s more important than ever to be clear and concise when writing a resume, a cover note that describes motivation, and the follow-up correspondence after interviews. Managers place a premium on finding candidates who can write efficiently, communicating the most important points in as few words as possible. Hiring authorities are most impressed by resumes that begin with a maximum of two to three sentences of “overview” statements describing key attributes and qualifications. They want to get to the point about where someone has worked, the kind of problems they were asked to solve, and the results of their efforts.
From the employers’ perspective, it’s time to take a hard look at what’s being written in job descriptions and online job postings. It’s remarkable to me that some of the largest, most prestigious organizations in the world create job descriptions that fail to convey the specifics of what an employee will do on the job. Here is some language from two job descriptions different clients of mine have written for current marketing openings:
“Responsible for the development of specific marketing plans and activities for specific product(s)/project(s)/product line(s) to establish, enhance or distinguish placement within the competitive arena. Activities may include tactics, tools, logistics, campaigns, basic messaging and positioning. Leads cross-functional teams/groups, (i.e., launch teams); to develop new products or enhance existing product(s) or product line(s). Understands business environment and relates extensive knowledge of internal and external activities to trends. Interfaces with a variety of management levels on significant matters, often requiring the coordination of activity across organizational units.”
“Responsible for the design, development, implementation and coordination of marketing plans for specific product, product line or product areas. Design, develop and implement deliverables such as product specifications, branding and launch strategies per New Product Development procedures and Launch Excellence guidelines.
• Core team representation as commercial and customer VOC on internal product development teams, also responsible for launch planning.
• Commercial Integration – partnering cross-regionally to identify best commercial practices to accelerate penetration.
• Executes marketing plans and programs, both short and long range, to ensure profitable growth and expansion of company products and/or services
• Researches, analyzes, and monitors financial, technological, and demographic factors so that market opportunities may be capitalized on and the effects of competitive activity may be minimized”
The problem with this unclear, subjective style of writing is that it not only fails to inspire talented prospects to want to pursue a job opportunity, it also leaves the description wide open for unqualified individuals to assume they can perform various functions because of lack of clarity that they cannot. I can’t complain too much about this problem, however, because candidates rely on me to explain what the job actually entails.
It’s clear that bad writing leads to wasted time and ineffectiveness in the corporate world. It’s possible that texting has led to a dumbing-down of writing skills in all forms, but I think the cause is more complicated than that. It’s incumbent upon senior leadership to insist on improvement in employee and candidate writing, and as a start they should work to enhance their own skills, setting a high bar for others to follow. As always, I welcome any comments or questions.
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Job-hopping – a generational thing?
I work with hiring managers to identify candidates for openings that fit their “ideal” profile. On the wish list of criteria is always a “track record of success,” often defined by a clear progression of increasingly more responsible roles. Most hiring managers want to see some of that progression within the same organization because they usually want to build a bench of future leaders for their own company, and would prefer to do that with people they can trust will want to stay with them for a period of several years. Hence, hiring managers have historically looked askew at “job-hoppers.” One large pharma company I have worked with even has a policy against considering candidates if they have more than two different employers in the past five years.
That conventional thinking is being challenged in many circles, and labor market analysts like to contend that workers in younger generations, particularly Millennials, are far less “loyal” to their employer and much more likely than older works to change employers frequently. One LinkedIn study says Millennials job-hop more than their predecessors, however this only contains data LinkedIn members actually report. Gen X and Baby Boomer members of the site may be less likely to report their extended history of employment, but instead the few most recent jobs. It’s interesting to note, however, that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Baby Boomers job-hopped in their twenties just as frequently as Millennials do now. So it appears that frequent employment changes is not so much a generational phenomenon as it is a function of being young.
From a Recruiters perspective, job-hopping is more prevalent in certain functions than certain generations, for instance, I see far more employer changes among marketing personnel than I do among engineers or R&D personnel. On balance, a 50 year old marketing professional is more likely to have multiple, recent job changes on their resume than a 30 years old product development professional. A recent LinkedIn study inquiring about reasons for making a job change showed that 59% of respondents chose their new company because they saw a stronger path for career development at the new company than at their current company, regardless of their age. It’s not surprising that workers from all generations are seeking opportunity for growth and development, and it’s also not surprising that workers in their 20’s and early 30’s don’t necessarily believe that they were fortunate enough to stumble into a career path that will ultimately lead them to retirement.
Is there a continued stigma associated with job-hopping?
With corporate contractions, mergers and acquisitions affecting nearly all industries, and the resulting force reductions and lay-offs, it’s safe to say that frequent job changes on a resume are not unusual, and generally not perceived as negatively as they once were. Hiring managers are less likely to simply cast off a candidate without at least inquiring about the reasons for the job changes. But there remains a level of suspicion about candidates who have had many job changes because they are assumed to be a flight-risk. It’s extremely expensive and time consuming to hire and train new employees and if an interview team has to choose between someone who has demonstrated longevity in a given employer versus a job-hopper, they will demand that the job-hopper have significantly better skills for the job.
I think it’s fair to say that today’s hiring managers, who themselves have likely made several employer changes and / or lived through some downsizings, are far more open to considering candidates with a track record of multiple job changes. But they also have a high level of respect for employees who were able to earn multiple promotions within one organization over several years. It’s not necessarily a negative thing to have job hops, but it’s a very positive thing to show a track record of progression within one organization. And it’s so rare to see that in a Millennial candidate – for example, 5+ years at the same employer right out of college that included multiple promotions – that they are always viewed with favor in an interview process versus other younger candidates who don’t have that story to tell.
When I review resumes in my database of successful employees of mid-size and large companies who have risen to the VP level and above I see a similar pattern. Their first job out of college is usually with a high-profile, multinational organization that gave them training and access to resources that are not available at smaller companies. They generally stay there 5-10 years and earn at least two promotions, building a track record of accomplishments that make them very attractive to other organizations. In some instances those high risers will choose to remain with their initial employer for decades, rising through the ranks, but far more often I see them being recruited to smaller organizations where they can often accelerate their career advancement and have more fun doing it. It’s no secret that smaller companies are riskier and when they don’t get funding or their lead product fails, those A Players need to find another job. So in reality I see just as much job-changing (voluntary or not) among Baby Boomers and Gen X workers as I do among Millennials.
I don’t think job-hopping is a generational thing, I think it’s far more based on individual personalities and the functions that workers perform, regardless of their generation. As always I welcome your comments and questions.
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Top Five Candidate Regrets
As I talk with talented Marketing and Business Development professionals I’m in a unique position to observe career decisions that lead to positive outcomes and those that don’t. After many years of hearing these stories I’ve begun to notice some trends, and because happily employed people generally don’t call me back (as opposed to those who are ready for a change), many of these trends are related to regrets that candidates in interview processes express when things don’t turn out positively for them.
This list goes beyond the obvious situation where a candidate really wants a job but doesn’t get it, which is a very common occurrence given the competitive nature of the job market. Instead these are hindsight observations candidates made as they reflect on their experiences in an interview / job change process:
5. “I should have pushed for more money.”
Candidates have to balance their interest in maximizing the terms of a job offer with that of burning up political capital with the new employer before they even start working. We have seen a few instances where employers have retracted an offer because of a candidate’s “negotiating” tactics. One of the advantages of working with a competent recruiter is that he or she will be able to effectively communicate the reasons why a job offer should be enhanced, if appropriate. In that way a candidate can be assured that they are not leaving anything “on the table.”
4. “I took a job I don’t really like because I didn’t ask the right questions beforehand.”
The interview process is a two-way street where the candidate needs to gather as much information as the interview team does. If you find yourself in an interview process where you are not able to ask questions to the right people, then you probably need to see employment elsewhere. Although unforeseen leadership changes happen all the time, you can usually get a sense of a company’s culture by talking with peer level employees during an interview process, and it’s reasonable to request access to those people if they are not part of the normal interview team.
3. “I was too loyal.”
During an interview process a candidate often must evaluate whether the new opportunity is better than their current job. Sometimes they express regret about not making a job change due to feelings of loyalty / obligation / guilt with their current employer. They often have longstanding, personal relationships they don’t want to jeopardize. So they stay at a company for a long time waiting for promotions that never happen, losing valuable time during the building phase of their career. These are opportunity costs that are difficult to recover.
2. “I didn’t communicate openly about my motivation and needs.”
Candidates will often withhold or give misleading information about why they want to make a job change, or why they may be interested in a particular opportunity. Motivations vary, but most often they are related to opportunity for career growth, location, travel, money, company culture or supervisory mismanagement. If a candidate isn’t clear that, for example, he / she needs less overnight travel, a more empowering manager, or more money than a job offers, then they will often be disappointed in the new role. This regret is particularly common when a candidate is leaving a perceived poor culture and work environment – they don’t want to bash their current management because they fear being perceived as complainer or a whiner. But that’s the exact time when clear communication is vital in order to ensure a good “fit” with the new employer.
1. “On my deathbed I don’t think I’ll look back and say ‘Gee, I wish I would have played it safe.’”
Change is always difficult, whether it’s learning a new operating system, buying a house or taking a career-enhancing job. For those who have ambition and career aspirations they know they need to be open to the right kind of change, but sometimes fear overrules that knowledge. That’s a natural, common tendency, and one that can be overcome with thoughtful analysis about risk and return and self-introspection. We can also look at the examples of role models and other well-known professionals who have built successful careers: they recognized those times when it was important to take a chance, and they acted upon it.
As they say hindsight is always 20/20. We can never be absolutely sure we’re making the best decisions, but for every regretful experience in an interview process or job change there are just as many decisions made by candidates make that work out wonderfully. Hopefully this short list will help others avoid pitfalls and provide career enhancing direction. As always, I encourage your comments and questions.
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Upward Mobility – What Happened?
I’ve written before about the generational differences in the United States regarding upward mobility and relocation for career advancement. In the past Baby Boomers and their parents were routinely willing to uproot their families in order to advance their socioeconomic status. That is less likely to be the case with subsequent generations who are more interested in “work-life balance” and “working to live rather than living to work.” Of course, this in inherently tied to rising standards of living in the U.S. over the years and workers having enough resources to meet their needs. It’s fair to assume that the Oakies of the 1930’s Dust Bowl didn’t talk much about work-life balance.
This trend has given the shrinking pool of job candidates who are “upwardly mobile” a distinct advantage in the labor market versus those workers who can’t or won’t move. While it’s true there will always be a “home field” advantage for local candidates to fill local jobs, the relatively low number of out-of-town candidates for any given job means that relocating workers are now in a stronger competitive position than they were 20+ years ago.
So that’s good news for mobile employees – but what about employers, and the larger economic impact of this trend? This recent story in the New York Times depicts a potential problem emerging in the U.S. work force related to employees staying put in their current jobs. As author Patricia Cohen writes, “In recent years economists have become increasingly worried that a slide in job turnover and relocation rates is undermining the economy’s dynamism, dampening productivity and wages while making it more difficult for sidelined workers to find their way back into the labor force.”
Generalized fear of change also affects the issue. The University of Michigan’s Betsy Stevenson, a former member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisor’s, noted that “there is a possibility that people stay in jobs that aren’t as good for them because they’re terrified of changing, and that’s bad for the overall economy.” This means that skill jobs are being performed by less qualified, less productive workers, and the lack of job changes and relocations suppresses promotions and pay raises, further dampening the economy.
The problem is particularly acute in metropolitan areas in the U.S. where high-growth industries, including Biotech Med Tech and High Tech, have become concentrated, regions like the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and West Coast. The need for skilled workers in those areas has driven up wages and cost of living rates, making it more difficult for out-of-towners to be willing to move there since the wage inflation doesn’t keep up with the increase in housing costs. That limits the injection of “new blood” and new thinking in those areas and creates a perpetual game of musical chairs among existing workers who already reside in any given expensive city.
Into that void has stepped a highly mobile, highly educated class of immigrants from places like Europe, China and India. Having already moved half-way around the world to seek great career opportunities, they are far more likely to consider further relocation within the U.S. as compared to their native counterparts. If economists and elected officials are concerned about this void in the labor market they would support policies that enhance more immigration of skilled workers rather than less of it.
This trend has created lasting impacts on the cultures of U.S. companies – they are changing in ways we’ve never seen before. We all know that change is constant and inevitable, and those individuals and organizations who embrace it and lead the way will be far better positioned for success in the new economy.
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Cost of Living Adjustments?
I fill a lot of jobs in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, Boston and New York. As compared to other locations in the U.S. it is rather expensive to live in those cities. People who are considering moving to expensive locations in order to take a new job will often ask if the employer will adjust their salary upward to account for the higher cost of living. The answer? It depends, but generally no.
There are a few select organizations – typically large, well-capitalized multinationals – that will include a modest Cost of Living Adjustment in the job offer, and most often it appears as a one-time lump sum built into the relocation package. But in the vast majority of cases the employer doesn’t provide a COLA, and it’s often surprising for many to learn that the wages for Med Tech marketing jobs in expensive cities are only marginally higher than those in less expensive places.
The best evidence of this is the case of relatively large corporations that have offices and employees doing nearly identical jobs in different cities (think places like J&J, Medtronic, Abbott, Roche, Novartis). To be sure, there are some differences in salaries paid to employees working in different locations, but generally speaking a Marketing Manager at a given organization who is based in San Francisco is earning no more than 5-10% more doing the same job as his/her counterpart in, say, Minneapolis. That “COLA” comes nowhere close to off-setting the difference in cost of housing in most cases.
This explains why employers located in pricey cities try their hardest to fill job openings with candidates who are already living in the local area and who don’t have to relocate. Employers are fully aware of the difficulty in convincing someone to relocate and take a financial hit in the process – even though they are almost always getting some sort of increase in their pay. As in taxes, it’s not what you earn that is important – it’s what you keep.
All employers in expensive locations have been burned multiple times by courting candidates who need to relocate only to find out at offer time that they will not move. Or they will move only if they are made “an offer they can’t refuse.” Often the candidate will not do the math and actually research the rent or home prices in the new area until the end of the process, wasting everyone’s time and burning bridges along the way. We also frequently see the situation where the candidate doesn’t engage the spouse or partner in the arithmetic of the move until after an offer has been extended, which is a recipe for disaster. Finally there’s the worst case scenario where a candidate accepts a job, begins employment and then decides after six months or so that they’re not going through with the relocation. Now the employer is faced with an “effective” vacancy of a year or more because they have to re-start the search from scratch.
For these and other reasons hiring managers always prefer a local candidate who is already used to paying the cost of admission in the expensive but very lucrative job market. They can fill a job faster, cheaper, and easier, and the “flight risk” factor is reduced.
Why does this matter?
Why would a sane person consider relocating to take a new job in a significantly more expensive area, assuming there are no personal or family reasons driving the decision?
As it turns out, there are several reasons.
The most common is the opportunity for growth and development within an employee’s own company. By moving to the headquarters location from a regional office, a sales position, or a manufacturing plant, an employee can generally improve their career development options significantly. The other frequently cited justification for an expensive relo is based on the fact that the employee’s industry is likely concentrated in that new area, so that if there is a layoff or something goes wrong with the new job or employer, there are many other viable options nearby and the employee will not have to keep relocating to build their career.
There are valid reasons why those cities are so expensive – the best jobs are often based there, in a concentrated geographic area, limiting career risk for people in those industries. And the situation is self-perpetuating: an employee with a great idea leaves his or her company to go across the street and build a start-up in the same industry. They’re unlikely to build that new company in a remote, inexpensive place because the most important resource – human capital – is right there nearby.
So some bold, adventurous souls are willing to pay the cost and move to Cambridge, Manhattan or Palo Alto so they can be either in – or at least near – “the game.” They want to be in places where career opportunities abound and make the risk-return tradeoff that we often have to make in managing our careers, and in living our lives for that matter. Maybe someday geographic COLA’s will be a staple of the American workforce, but until then we’ll have to do the analyses and the make the tradeoffs about relocation, knowing that the immediate take home pay may not go as far as we hope.
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Turning down retainers – Just say “no”
Many of my long-standing clients will ask me to help them fill executive positions on a retained search basis. In most cases those projects work out extremely well for both parties including the placed employee. These are well-run companies that I can represent effectively in the job market, and attract prospective candidates to consider a new career opportunity. These positions are critical to the success of the organization so the retained search approach makes perfect sense. They pay me for the process of being extremely thorough and accurate so that all targeted candidates and prospects will be contacted at least twice. In those situations it’s a win-win for all parties involved because the hiring manager is getting complete reach and frequency of their message to targeted individuals, the prospects are getting consistent, accurate information about the opportunity, and I’m assured of a well-run process that will result in a placement of a high-quality employee in a top-tier organization.
I wish all retained search projects had such ideal outcomes, but unfortunately they don’t. From time to time I’ll speak with prospective clients about their staffing needs and they will request a retained search despite a lack of key elements in place that are required for such a project to be successful. For instance, they may be seeking a person that doesn’t exist: such an extensive combination of qualifications that it will be extremely difficult to even find such a person much less convince them to quit their job and take the new one. Another common problem occurs when the company has such a negative reputation that few qualified, talented people will consider working for them. In many other cases, the job has been open for so long that nearly all qualified prospects for it have already been made aware of it and have passed. And of course there is the problem of non-competitive wages and the inability to financially incent a prospect to make a job change.
Each of these problems, or a combination of them, lead to the low likelihood of filling the job in a timely manner with the “A Player” that all companies are seeking. And although the retainers pay the bills, as a professional Search Consultant I could and should be working on other projects that will yield success and happy clients in a much more timely manner. A recruiter can burn up months of unproductive time working on bad searches that do not justify a retainer. The recruiter can also develop a reputation of poor performance because they accepted a retainer and then could not fill the job. Sometimes they foolishly accept a retainer to fill a job that is well outside their area of specialization, knowing in advance that they are unlikely to fill the job quickly. But more often the reason for failing on the search is something completely out of their control.
Sometimes I don’t know that the project is unlikely to succeed until I get into it and begin speaking with prospects in the marketplace. There have been occasions where I’ve returned the initial retainer or not cashed the check until I know there is a likelihood of success. If I’m doing my job correctly I can avoid those situations by asking the tough questions in the initial discussion about how I might be able to help them fill the job. Those include questions about the hiring manager’s timeline and urgency to fill the job, the history of their prior attempts to fill the job, the financial package, as well as their insistence of finding the perfect combination of qualifications.
There is an old adage in the recruiting industry about not getting “married” to a bad search. When it’s clear that the project is not set up for success, I feel obligated to “just say no” to a retainer and explain why I can’t take the money and commit to the project. I will often recommend a contingency search approach in those cases (where I don’t get paid until I fill the opening), which is nothing short of heresy to many recruiting firms. The reality is that I would rather be “dating” a bad search and spending the majority of my time on other projects that have a high likelihood of success. Along the way there is a good chance I’ll be able to match a candidate with that company, since I work in a highly specialized niche (marketing professionals in the medical technology industry), but I can’t guarantee that will happen.
My goal in turning down a retainer is to have an honest conversation about how to improve the situation and help the would-be client fix their problems. Those problems are not easily fixed in the short term, however, so we end up either running a contingency search or re-visiting the prospect of working together in the future. In the search profession we have the opportunity to build long-term success by turning down potential business that doesn’t make sense. And although my profession can seem at times to be focused on short-term transactions, it’s the long-term relationships and personal reputations that matter most.
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Blind dating in the workforce
I know it’s weird, but the analogy is accurate. Debriefing with candidates after their job interview is similar to asking them about their first date with someone they just met. “How did the call (meeting) go?” “What did you talk about?” “Did he/she say they will call you again?” The candidates nearly always begin by saying “I think it went pretty well.” But then, upon further probing, they open up and begin to describe all kinds of things about their encounter with the interviewer. I believe the word “candid”ate derives from this phenomenon – some people are very candid and honest with me about their experience. And to carry the analogy further, sometimes I get the intimate details about how well the interviewer prepared, their amount of listening and eye contact, and how long it lasted. From all this debriefing with candidates over the years it’s pretty clear that some interviewers need Cialis for Daily Use.
In 2015 great employees are rare and hard to attract. They need attention, a feeling of connection, and maybe even some romance. In 2009, slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am was the rule of the day for interviews. For every job opening there were 10-20 qualified, interested candidates, many of whom were laid-off and in active job searches, and employers could “select” from a list of A Players. Anyone paying attention has recognized that the job market has turned 180 degrees and if employers really want to attract a targeted, rock star candidate they need to compete for them. Once a candidates determines that they are open to making a job change, frequently because I called them and broached the idea, they don’t just purse one opening – they pursue many. They think “If I go through the effort of updating my resume and preparing for interviews I might as well consider a range of opportunities.”
All of this is great news for employees – we’re in a fantastic job market. However, it creates some challenges for hiring managers and those responsible for “recruiting” talented employees. Many studies have been conducted over the years asking job-seekers about their motivation to change employers. Sometimes it’s based on relocation, more money, travel or lack of opportunity for growth and advancement. Very often, however, it’s based on management style, corporate culture, and “personal chemistry.” This last variable presents an opportunity for a new employer, who is ostensibly “recruiting” to fill an opening, to win in the so-called War for Talent. Like anyone on a blind date, a candidate wants to feel respected and engaged in the interview. They appreciate recognition for their prior accomplishments, and while they understand that they need to make a positive impression on the interviewer, they expect the same in return.
I used to think it was only interviewers at Fortune 50 companies who refuse to prepare adequately for telephone or live interviews – showing up late, reading the resume for the first time as they walk in the room or get on the phone, interrogating candidates rather than asking insightful, probing questions, and wrapping it up after 20 minutes. Now, however, I see it at all types of organizations including those candidates have never heard of before, which is even more unfortunate. It’s very hard for a B company to get an A player, and it takes a fair amount of effort.
Other downers for candidates on the blind date: when the interview calls them for the first time on their cell phone while driving. Yes, sometimes that has to happen unexpectedly but good form would be to reschedule and provide complete attention. Candidates also complain when they don’t have the chance to ask any questions of their own during the conversation, particularly in later stage interviews as they’re trying to gather information to determine if the opportunity is good enough to make a job change.
On the other hand, I’m happy to report that many of these blind dates are very positive experiences for those A Player candidates. They call me right after the call or meeting to debrief and report that the interviewer was well prepared, engaged, and provided a lot of information about the company, the function, and their management style. If candidates express interest in moving forward, I always ask them why, and by far the most common response is because they really like the interviewer and felt a good connection. So the good news is that you don’t have to be a “Rocket Surgeon” to figure out how to attract good people, and you don’t need that Cialis after all.
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Consolidation & Contraction
Usually these blogs provide commentary on the different elements of the recruiting and staffing process, but this one focuses on changes in the Med Tech and BioPharma business. I first got into the industry in 1985 with a small, family owned drug company called Carter-Wallace. Back then there were over 100 different commercial stage, branded pharma companies including at least 25 that we would refer to as Big Pharma (I later went to work for Merck which at the time was the biggest of the Big Pharmas). Little did we know at the time what “Big” really means.
Now, the top 10 drug companies account for over one-third of industry sales. Those super-companies represent the sum total over 50 other organizations that were merged / acquired / aligned into each other. Consider the case of a friend of mine who began his career at Marion Labs. They became part of Hoechst Marion Roussel, which was merged into Rhone Poulenc Rorer to become Aventis, which became Sanofi-Aventis, and recently acquired Genzyme. The rate of contraction in the industry is accelerating at a rate we’ve never seen before, and a similar trend can be seen in the Medical Device space as well. Organizations seek to optimize efficiency and economies of scale – particularly those that have invested in building huge commercial teams and are constantly in need of new products to sell. In our industry it’s often much easier to buy intellectual property than develop it organically, and that trend is not likely to change.
So what does this mean for employment and career development opportunities? For those among us in Corporate or Business Development activities, it’s a huge opportunity to push for M&A and licensing deals, and to create a secure employment path. And for risk-taking founders and early employees of start-up companies with unique IP this is a trend that will continue to provide significant wealth-building opportunities. For most marketing personnel (about 80% of the jobs I fill) there is real risk in the trend toward consolidation. While it’s true that HQ-based marketing teams that are acquired are needed in the short-term to maintain revenue growth and help build a bridge to the future, combined organization, more often than not we see duplicity in certain functions that usually results in jobs being eliminated. A combined company only needs so many mid-level managers and executives in functions like brand marketing, market research, sales operations, communications and other related areas.
Another source of post-acquisition layoffs in marketing functions is logistical: most organizations want to consolidate employees in the same location to reduce overhead and improve communication. That means relocation of employees, and the reality is that few Gen Xers and Millennials are willing to relocate for their employment. When M&A deals are struck the terms include analysis of the costs of severance packages that will be offered to employees who won’t relocate. While it’s true that the acquiring company generally has a few vacancies to backfill due to non-relocation of marketing staff, it’s rarely one-for-one. In the majority of cases we see that the post-acquisition “whole” is lesser than the sum of it’s parts as it relates to the workforce.
So how best to prepare for the new reality of permanent mergers and acquisitions? There are several strategies one can consider, and they each have advantages and disadvantages, of course. Some marketers choose to develop new skills in BD and deal-making in order to capitalize on the trend. My thought there is that it’s always best to make that shift early in your career when you can still afford it, and to do it with your current employer since a new employer will require established BD experience and an existing Deal Sheet to consider someone as a viable candidate.
Others anticipate the need to expect frequent job changes throughout their career, and they will sometimes move to a region or city where the industry is heavily concentrated in order to limit further relocation (PA, NJ/NY/CT, Boston/Cambridge, California, and – in Med Tech – the Twin Cities. And an extremely common strategy we see among Marketing VP’s and senior execs is to build a solo career in contract based consulting, forgoing so-called “job security” and benefits for lucrative contract work that is project based. That obviously requires a level or risk tolerance that’s not for everyone, but it has become a very viable long-term career option.
It’s not just the Med Tech and BioPharma industries that are evolving in this way, of course. Employees in all sectors of the global economy have been pinched by consolidation and contraction, and it will continue to accelerate. In the end each of us has to manager our careers proactively, anticipating and embracing change, so that we can minimize the occasions where we have to react to adverse situations. Sometimes that means a job change ahead of looming trouble, sometimes not. The days of getting a gold watch after 30 years with a company may be gone, but there will always be a need for innovative, ambitious marketers in our industry in one form or another. I look forward to adapting as our industry changes, and continuing to serve as a resource for my client companies and marketing professionals.
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Ready to move up to the next level?
The most commonly cited reason people state for making a change to a new company is for an opportunity to move up – to grow and develop faster than in their current organization. It’s a common problem in the workforce: new employees begin a job with high energy and expectations to climb the ladder, but something unforeseen prevents them from doing so. Sometimes it’s caused by market forces working against the company, other times it’s a change in direction by senior management, and occasionally people are simply duped into taking a job under false pretenses. Regardless of the reason, I often have conversations with ambitious people who want to make a job change to get a higher title, more management responsibility, and more money.
That’s good news for me and the client companies I help fill important positions. We want to find ambitious, talented employees with lofty leadership goals. Those folks are commonly referred to as “A Players,” and all organizations want them (including the employers at B and C companies). But a significant challenge exists in trying to move up while moving over to a new company: that company has the option of moving an existing employee up (an internal promotion) and take a chance on a known quantity, rather than on a person brand new to them from another organization. Most reputable firms would prefer to promote a promising, junior level employee who is already on the team rather than promoting an external person who has not worked at the more senior level in the past.
For example, in filling first-line management positions (often referred to as “Director” at many organizations) nearly all of my client hiring companies will require prior first-line management experience to consider a candidate. Their order of preference would be to first find another Director at a competitor who wants to move laterally because the company offers a better path for long-term growth. The next best option is find an internal person that is ready for a promotion into a leadership role and give them a chance. And finally they may consider a Manager or Sr. Manger at another company who is stuck and is looking for a Director role.
There are some notable exceptions to this, in particular the situation where people at the hiring company already have a pre-existing relationship with the external, junior level candidate they are considering for promotion. If a VP of Marketing worked with a talented Marketing Manager at another company in the past he/she may be strongly inclined to hire that person as a Director at the new company based on direct familiarity with past performance. Another, less common, exception is the case where someone is moving from a large company with big budgets and lots of highly relevant experience, to a smaller company that needs that experience, and that is having trouble luring senior people to make a lateral move.
So what can be done to improve the situation if you’re a talented person with career advancement ambition? I always encourage people to try to get to the next level while they are still at their current employer. The vast majority of organizations are looking for opportunities to promote good people, except in those cases of merger and acquisition where new management teams want to bring in new people with whom they’ve worked in the past. And since decisions are so often made based on cultural fit and personal chemistry, it stands to reason that you will be able to leverage positive relationships in your current company much easier than in a place where you are unknown.
But what about the dire situation where there are few opportunities to get to the next level within the current organization? Sometimes we have to consider moving laterally in terms of title and responsibilities, with a modest bump in pay, in order to get to a company with clearly better opportunities for growth and development. Think of it like riding an elevator in a skyscraper – sometimes the elevator bank you’re in will only go so high, and you have to cross the hallway to another elevator bank that is going higher. In those situations we have to really vet the new organization, their technology and their leadership to feel confident that it’s worth the effort to make the change. Very often analyst reports about a company’s financial backing and pipeline prospects are helpful in making that determination.
Before I agree to represent a company as their agent in filling a position I try to make sure those reports are positive, the leadership is trustworthy, and the technology has positive long-term potential. It’s a terrible feeling for me as well as the new employee’s I place when a company does not deliver on promises – or they get acquired and install a new management regime. We all know there are no guarantees out there, but when it comes to career management often the best thing to do is be extremely practical about the realities of the job market and do your homework before making a change.