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Giving Thanks in the Job Market

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Giving Thanks in the Job Market

On Thanksgiving I took some time to ponder those things for which I’m thankful and it got me thinking about comments I’ve been hearing from hiring managers as they try to find people to fill openings on their team. For many employers it’s becoming less about finding specific technical skills or accomplishments in a resume and more about finding people with integrity, character and – most of all – humility. The matrixed based management structure prevalent in most organizations today requires that employees collaborate closely with their team members, and that they take time to thank and praise colleagues when appropriate as well as acknowledge their own faults and mistakes. The ability to be genuinely humble in this type of environment is a trait that is becoming harder to find.

As a candidate in a job interview it can be very tricky to express humility while also proving that you’re good at your job. An interview is a time to proactively communicate your attributes and positive qualities, which can be perceived as “bragging.” Hiring managers want to know that, although an individual has been working as part of a team, he or she can demonstrate individual contributions that have made a difference in the team achieving its goals. So candidates have to provide that evidence, but in a way that makes it clear that they value their colleagues and don’t take all of the credit for a team’s success. Team leaders don’t want to hire “Lone Wolves”, no matter how talented they may appear. Hiring managers want people who are genuinely thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a high-performing group of professionals. So as a candidate it’s important to balance “bragging” statements with humility and acknowledgement of other’s contributions.

A frequently asked question of candidates in the interview process is about perceived weaknesses or “areas for development.” Most interviewers will point out that we all have them, and will sometimes frame the question by asking what a candidate’s supervisor would say about their areas for improvement. This is another measurement of one’s humility and it is important to be truthful and genuine in your response. Hiring managers are generally not impressed when they hear something like, “sometimes I work too hard and have to take a break to achieve work-life balance.” That may be true but it’s a very predictable response and doesn’t get to the issue of whether or not you’re able to be self-critical and willing to acknowledge your faults. One candidate told me that his boss pointed out that he had a tendency to talk too much in meetings, so he deliberately set out to spend more time in active listening in order to help make the team more effective, at the expense of his own self-promotion.

Sometimes I’m asked if the trend toward individual attainment and away from humility and thanksgiving in the workplace is a by-product of our mas-and-social-media fueled culture. I think that’s true to some extent but it doesn’t automatically mean that younger Millennials are necessarily going to be less humble than Baby Boomers. I think that everyone, regardless of age and experience, must recognize the forces at work here and take steps to self-regulate themselves, whether working on cross-functional teams or answering interview questions.

Hiring managers are seeking that magic balance of skill and will. When they talk about a candidate’s lack of “personal chemistry” or “cultural fit,” they are most often referring to their perception of the candidate’s will: not just the willingness to work hard, but also the willingness to be humble and grateful for the opportunity to be part of a team. It is an increasingly important trait in the workforce and one we should all work on improving. As always I welcome your questions and comments.

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The Dysfunctional Product Launch Blues

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: The Dysfunctional Product Launch Blues

The old adage says “you better be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.” In many ways that captures the spirit of the new product approval process in the BioPharma and Med Tech industries. A company works for years to develop a breakthrough therapy or diagnostic test and when it finally gets approved, then what? The inventors and product developers have completed their job and now all eyes turn to the marketing department – and you better have your plan in place. Nothing is more stressful – and more rewarding – in the career of a marketing professional than the opportunity to launch a truly innovative product. After citing the opportunity for growth and advancement, it is the most common reason that marketing professionals share with me when describing their motivation to make a job change. For most people it only happens a few times in their career, and of course it’s important to make the most of it.

When everything goes smoothly and according to plan everyone celebrates a successful launch and thanks the marketers for doing a nice job. They had leading-edge technology, put together a reasonable plan, and didn’t screw things up. But what about those occasions where things don’t go so well? Sometimes launches don’t meet expectations, or they are so stressful when they are successful that the culture of the organization suffers dramatically. In those instances a marketing team can end up with the Dysfunctional Product Launch Blues.
Similar to a doctor routinely hearing complaints and bad news from patients, when I’m speaking with people about their interest in making a job change it’s often a bad experience in their current situation that has them talking with me. The negative experience can be driven by many things, but a common malady is DPLB. I’ve heard it said that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and that the first six months of a launch will usually set the trajectory of the product forever. So there’s a great deal of pressure to get it right, which means long hours, frayed emotions, and the potential for dysfunction in a marketing department.

I recently placed a Marketing Manager in a company that is in the middle of launching it’s first major innovation in about 15 years. It’s a first-in-class product and expectations are running high. While colleagues in Engineering, Project Management, Accounting / Finance and other departments are going home at 5:00, the marketing team is still there at 9:00 or later each time, working frantically to resolve details about things like sales meetings, tiered-discounts, and Med Ed slide decks. Meetings are tense, Directors are yelling at each other, and senior executives are micro-managing. The stress flows down from the top and as the Marketing Manager told me, “it’s hard to find an executive who can display grace under pressure during this launch.”

Marketers choose this type of career path, of course, along with the risk / return that accompanies it. But some organizations and team leaders are more prone than others to foster disorganization and stress in their product launches. The put the FUN in dysfunction. I’ve heard stories about Chief level commercial officers in large organizations overruling decisions about the type of candy given out at trade show booths. One medical device company I work with elected to launch their product in the U.S. – including deploying a sales team – after getting CE mark approval in the EU but before getting FDA approval (it took another 18 months to get FDA clearance). Stories abound about pricing decisions that have derailed product launches, particularly in oncology and other markets that frequently introduce innovations where valid pricing models are difficult to find.

Pitfalls like these are common, of course, but how does this impact staffing and recruitment?

High-profile product launches are terrific for the recruiting process because the best way to attract great people is to offer clear opportunities for growth and development. As we know, nothing drives organizational growth like innovation and a robust product pipeline. But high-profile product launches can be very bad for long-term retention of talented employees. The build-up to a big launch often creates unreasonable expectations and if results over the first year fail to meet those expectations then the marketing team is often the first to be blamed. Depending on their personal resilience and the availability of opportunities elsewhere, these marketers may elect to jump ship rather than wait for a turn-around. The overall morale of the team drops and many people begin to believe that the grass is greener somewhere else, particularly if continued underperformance of the product is likely to result in a downsizing in the future.

Even successful launches can often breed attrition and turnover. Many marketing professionals join companies in order to get a high-profile launch on their resume. After a year or two post-launch they expect to be able to earn a promotion since they helped launch a successful product. The problem is that the company probably hired a large number of talented individuals in the run-up to the launch and people often feel resentment when they lose out to a peer on a promotional opportunity – so they leave.

The other issue that leads to high turnover rates shortly after a successful launch is good old fashioned burn-out. If the stress, frenetic pace and dysfunction of a big launch doesn’t abate within 6-12 months post-launch the marketing team is most likely going to experience turnover, even if the product is booming. Whether it’s excessive overnight travel, long hours at the office, or toxic team chemistry the talented people I know are only willing to put up with it for a limited amount of time. Most marketers understand and agree to the need for short-term pain in exchange for longer-term gain, but the pain will result in burn-out if it persists for more than a year.

In summary, big product launches are great for marketing professionals – except when they’re not. If you find yourself with a case of the Dysfunctional Product Launch Blues give me a call and we can discuss what to do about it.

Seasonality in the Job Market?

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Seasonality in the Job Market?

It’s the 4th of July week and I’m camping in an RV park, “on holiday” in a good old fashioned family vacation. I generally schedule my time off to coincide with the vacation and travel schedules of my clients. It’s tough to have meetings, schedule interviews and do business when nobody is around. Just like planting season, tax season and football season, there is a seasonality in the job market that impacts the way employers and potential employees make decisions. Hiring managers and job seekers would be well served to recognize the trends so they can best invest time and money to meet their goals as efficiently as possible.

In addition to PTO schedules the timing of staffing decisions is also driven by an employer’s budgeting cycle. In the Med Tech and BioPharma industries, unless your primary customer is the U.S. government or you work for Medtronic, you probably run on a fiscal year that matches the calendar. In that case we generally see new headcount put in place in January of each year and a significant spike in hiring during the first five months of the calendar year. There are many large medical conferences held in May and June and things begin to slow down, and by July and August they can sometimes grind to a standstill. In the U.S. most employees are back on the job in late August and there is a burst of hiring activity between Labor Day and early December. The second half of December is typically dormant due to the holidays.

Why is this important for employers?

Hiring managers with urgent staffing needs recognize that the supply of qualified candidates who are interested in considering their job is nearing an all-time low. The U.S. unemployment rate is approaching the “transitional” level and in the medical industry in particular it’s extremely difficult to find “A Players” to key openings. Even unemployed candidates are able to be choosy and selective in this job market because they’re more confident they will have multiple offers to consider. We’ve seen a steep rise in the rate of counteroffers being extended and accepted, and candidates who accept job offers and then don’t show up on the start date because they continue to interview with another organization and accept another offer.

All of this means that that hiring managers must consider seasonality in planning for job creation and work force expansions. And even in adapting to unexpected backfills an employer must plan their interview process more thoughtfully in this labor market. You have to be ready and eager to interview qualified, interested candidates before you post a job or ask a recruiter to begin selling your opportunity in the marketplace. If you start too early and can’t move them along through the process at a reasonable pace you will build resentment among candidates and lose them to other, more nimble employers.

Check with the members of your interview team to get agreement on the decision-making process (including the need for consensus) and their travel schedule (work or personal) that will impact their ability to interview candidates. Candidates who are currently employed will generally be more available for calls and interviews between February–June and September–November, just like the interview team. It’s also a good idea to use Facetime or Skype more aggressively in other months to maintain candidate interest.

Why is this important for candidates?

For candidates who are currently employed and not in an “active” job search the issue of job market seasonality is not a significant problem. If you’re not planning to make a job change and are simply being opportunistic you can manage you schedule with or without employers and interview teams. What I generally see, however, is that when a candidate agrees to consider a particular opportunity and enter into an interview process he or she will become more inclined to consider other openings at the same time because they have gone through the process of updating their resume, brushing up on interview tips, and mentally preparing to make a job change. When you have multiple interview processes underway at the same time it’s very important to communicate that information to each of the employers, particularly in peak season, and be transparent about projected interview dates and your travel schedule and availability. You’re not being “pushy” when you tell an employer that you are moving along in another interview process and they may need to expedite their own process.

For active job seekers it’s more important to consider seasonal differences: your research, phone calls and emails should occur during those weeks and months of peak interview times so you can catch hiring managers when they are most available. For instance, if you decide to contact a GM of a business unit only two times because you don’t want to be a pest, make sure it’s during peak season rather than “off season.” In the interest of managing your own expectations, it’s important to understand that most employers post jobs online without considering the timing issues of the interview team, including their own. So you may apply to a posting for which you are highly qualified and get limited response, if any. It doesn’t mean that they are not interested in your qualifications – it may mean that they have not timed their process appropriately.

When a new job comes “open” I will often encourage employers to postpone the initiation of a search for candidates until the timing is right. It seems counter-intuitive in a candidate driven job market, but for best results all members of the hiring process – including the candidate – need to be ready to talk and make decisions in an expedited manner. Of course, there is a distinct difference between a job “opening” and a true business need that requires hiring a talented employee – but that is the subject of a different blog. As always, I encourage your comments and questions.

Talk to your recruiter about RBF

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Talk to your recruiter about RBF

Resting Bitch Face. It’s a real thing – a scourge upon the land that ruins people’s perception of each other. Google it sometime to see some examples. Male or female, all ethnicities and ages – this is a global epidemic that Wikipedia defines as follows:

“Resting bitch face, also known as RBF or bitchy resting face, is a term for a facial expression (or lack thereof) which unintentionally appears angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous. The concept has been studied by psychologists and may have psychological implications related to facial biases, gender stereotypes, human judgment, and decision making. The concept has also been studied by computer experts, utilizing a type of facial recognition system; they found that the condition is as common in males as in females, despite the gendered word “bitch” that is used to name this concept.”

What has this got to do with staffing decisions and career planning? Plenty. All day long I hear things like “not a fit,” “bad chemistry,” “didn’t click with him/her,” “don’t think I’d fit well in their culture.” It’s certainly true that behavioral traits like work ethic, prior performance results, and the words people use to ask or answer interview questions do matter. But there is a reason why we insist on live interviews rather than simply matching job descriptions to resumes, sending emails, or holding phone calls or Skype conferences. We want to see people, shake their hand and – often unknowingly – evaluate body language. And nothing drives body language more than facial expressions, so we must get educated about RBF and it’s ramifications throughout the job market and global economy. Let’s look at this plague in two ways: why candidate’s often don’t get job offers, and why they often don’t want to accept them.

First, on the candidate side of the equation: interviewees know they only have somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours of “face time” to make a good impression, and they can’t blow it. Successful candidates understand that the most important thing they need to communicate, in whatever way possible, is trust. “Trust me, Ms. Hiring Manager, that I will get the job done and exceed your expectations. I will view the problems that need solving through your eyes and take accountability to solve them, freeing you up for other things.” It’s very hard for an interviewer to trust someone who, when they are not speaking, has a facial expression that communicates that they are “angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous.” Live interviews typically begin with the interviewer providing some background about the company, the job or themselves, giving the candidate the opportunity to listen and communicate with non-verbal cues. If the message being sent back is coming from a RBF then there’s going to be a problem.

Regarding the interviewer who suffers from RBF – the problem is more insidious. The reality is that many hiring managers WANT to project resting bitch face because their interview style is to screen out “unworthy” candidates. They believe they hold all the cards and that the candidates have to do all the selling in order to prove they deserve the opportunity to take the job, forgetting that the best candidates have many, many great opportunities in front of them to consider. The interrogation-style interviewer rarely gets the A Player on their team, but they generally don’t care because the company culture is fine with that. But what about the sincere manager striving to build and lead a world-class team? The most important thing they need to communicate is that they care about people on a personal level. The old leadership adage is that “nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.” Since the majority of time in a live, face-to-face interview is spent with the candidate answering questions and the interviewer listening, there is ample opportunity for RBF to creep out and cause the candidate to lose the sense that the person sitting there could possibly care about their personal goals, dreams and ambitions.

So what can be done?
Like any good 12-step program the first and most important action is to recognize and accept that there is problem. The first phase after RBF diagnosis is always the toughest. It usually includes shock, anger, denial, introspection, research and grudging acceptance. Then comes the hard work of prescriptive action, including many hours logged in front of the mirror conditioning those facial muscles so they can unconsciously communicate Resting Happy Face. On the other hand, you can simply forget about allowing the face to rest at all in an interview. Experts agree that the easiest technique is eyebrow control – if you want to convey a sense of trust or caring you may want to furrow the brow when you hear a particularly sensitive comment. Of course, high eyebrows along with an easy smile will endear the other person to you, provided it is not overdone. The bottom line is that those who suffer from RBF must work during the interview to keep that face moving!

There are countless remedies and techniques for treating RBF available online. Given the huge market potential I can foresee the day where a new wonder-drug is approved for the condition – perhaps a next-gen Botox or something similar. My own prediction is that RBF will become much more apparent and recognized as the scourge that it is, particularly when our very own President suffers from it. Perhaps Patient Advocacy Groups will be formed. I’m optimistic that the higher profile of the disease will increase research and funding for treatment options, and those of us suffering quietly will no longer live in the shadows. As always I welcome your comments and questions.

2016 Salary Analysis – Marketing Professionals in the Medical industry

Each year I analyze the results of self-reported salary information to get a current understanding of average compensation levels across the Biopharmaceutical and Medical Technology industry. I have the data broken out by four different levels of marketing positions and by company size. The intent is to provide select clients with real-time bench-marking information that can help their organization stay current as they attempt to attract and retain key employees. This is information provided by real marketing personnel working in the Drug and Med Tech industry in 2016, in contrast to syndicated data gathered from surveys of job-band salary ranges, which are not based on individual’s salaries and are typically published 6-12 months after they are reported.

The four levels of marketing positions I’ve analyzed are:
1. Product Managers, Associate Product Managers or other titles assigned to personnel with less than five years of upstream, pipeline planning or downstream marketing experience
2. Sr. Product Managers, Group Product Managers or other titles assigned to personnel with five or more years of marketing experience who are at the highest level of individual contributor and working in a role that is not intended to have direct reports.
3. First-line Marketing Managers, Associate Directors or Directors. These are people who have or will have direct reports assigned to them.
4. Senior Directors, Vice Presidents or other titles of personnel who lead the marketing function of an organization, and are most often managers of managers. These positions do not include Sales, Business Development, Managed Care or other functions that typically report into the C Suite or Sr. VP level.

Employers are defined as “Large” if they generate 1B or more in annual revenue and / or have more than 5000 employees. This base salary analysis does not consider bonuses or equity packages, which are generally more comprehensive in smaller and mid-sized organizations than in larger ones.

Results – Biopharmaceutical Industry

Marketing Level I
Associate Product Managers, Product Managers and other junior-level, individual contributors with fewer than five years of marketing experience: The average base salary for Level I marketers in 2016 was $115,200. Among large employers the average was $119,705, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $105,625.
Marketing Level II
Sr. Product Managers, Product Managers and personnel with five or more years of marketing experience who are senior-level, individual contributors and working in a role that is not intended to have direct reports. The average base salary for Level II marketers in 2016 was $143,163. Among large employers the average was $147,648, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $133,944.
Marketing Level III
First-line managers, including Group Marketing Managers, Associate Directors and Directors – these are marketing managers who have or will have direct reports assigned to them. The average base salary for Level III marketers in 2016 was $176,294. Among large employers the average was $185,304, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $168,892.
Marketing Level IV
Senior Directors, Vice Presidents or other personnel who lead the marketing function of an organization. They are not responsible for Sales, Business Development, Managed Care or other functions reporting into the Chief level. The average base salary for Level IV marketers in 2016 was $224,842. Among large employers the average was $258,833, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $209,153.

Results – Medical Technology Industry (Medical Device and Diagnostics)

Marketing Level I
Associate Product Managers, Product Managers and other junior-level, individual contributors with fewer than five years of marketing experience: The average base salary for Level I marketers in 2016 was $105,593. Among large employers the average was $114,861, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $98,920.
Marketing Level II
Sr. Product Managers, Product Managers and personnel with five or more years of marketing experience who are senior-level, individual contributors and working in a role that is not intended to have direct reports. The average base salary for Level II marketers in 2016 was $138,082. Among large employers the average was $145,794, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $132,405.
Marketing Level III
First-line managers, including Group Marketing Managers, Associate Directors and Directors – these are marketing managers who have or will have direct reports assigned to them. The average base salary for Level III marketers in 2016 was $169,147. Among large employers the average was $174,364, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $163,042.
Marketing Level IV
Senior Directors, Vice Presidents or other personnel who lead the marketing function of an organization. They are not responsible for Sales, Business Development, Managed Care or other functions reporting into the Chief or Sr. VP level. The average base salary for Level IV marketers in 2016 was $214,501. Among large employers the average was $233,555, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $204,412.

ANALYSIS
As in prior years there was a 30-40K gap in the average base salaries from one level to the next (the gap is wider at higher levels, as would be expected). Across all levels salaries have risen by 2-3% above 2015, which is a slightly lower growth rate than the prior year, and the lower level marketers enjoyed a greater increase than those at higher levels. There continues to be a gap between base salaries paid by large-cap companies versus their smaller counterparts. The percentage gap between large and small organizations is greater at the Director and VP levels than at lower levels (on the other hand, equity packages at those levels are much richer in smaller companies than in larger ones).

Despite ongoing contraction and layoffs, marketers in the Biopharma industry continued to earn a slightly higher base salary than their counterparts in the Med Tech space, with a 5-8% difference across the various levels.

Overall, base salaries continued to trend upward in the BioPharma and Medical Technology industries in 2016, which is consistent with the employment and new job creation rates reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Preparing for the Next Recession

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 dave@alpinesearch.net

The Cost of Bad Writing

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.

Job-hopping – a generational thing?

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.

Upward Mobility – What happened?

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Upward Mobility – What Happened?

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/05/25/business/economy/fewer-workers-choose-to-move-to-new-pastures.html?emc=edit_th_20160525&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=46713284&referer=

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.

Cost of Living Adjustments?

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.