Blog Archives

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.

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.