Recession Proof Jobs

Crain’s New York Business (July  26 – August 1, 2010 issue) just published a story highlighting the fact that there are more IT jobs in metro-New York than qualified candidates.  IT is a great example of a recession proof job.  Why?

Let’s begin with a definition of “recession proof.”  Don’t worry, I am not going to have a relapse into my former life as an academic and produce a good theoretical definition.  I never was keen on theory!  Here’s my practical definition:  If it’s in demand, it’s recession proof.

So how do we know what’s in demand?  Here’s my test:  If you can’t live without it, it’s in demand and therefore, by definition, recession proof.

Imagine the follow scenario:  The electricity at work goes off at 2 in the afternoon.  For sake of argument, it’s a comfortable weather day outside.  No humidity.  Not very warm.  So no need for the AC.  You open the window, a nice breeze comes in, and plenty of light.  You can see, but that’s about it.  No one is complaining that the phones aren’t ringing.  If it’s really important everyone has a cell.  But there are no computers.  You can’t work.  What’s worse, you didn’t get a chance to save what you were working on before the power went off, so you lost your work.  You’re angry!  And you are frustrated because you can’t send e-mails, can’t shop, and can’t play a game because the Internet is down.  You simply can’t function without your computer.  And that’s why IT is recession proof.

So what else can’t we live without?  No matter how bad the economy is we still need to get things fixed.  In fact, in a recession it’s better to fix than to buy new… thus the recession… So we need the mechanic, the plumber, the electrician.

We also need to just relax for a few hours.  So, as long as the product is good, we’ll go to our favorite restaurant for a nice meal once a week, maybe fortnightly (one of my favorite words!).  And, when push comes to shove, everyone needs to get away.  Granted, it may not be as far and as glamorous as a few years ago, but a short vacation close to home can sometimes suit a person’s needs just as well, if not better, than a long lavish trip.  So food services and the hospitality industries are, to a great extent, recession proof.

Of course, health care is also recession proof and it’s so recession proof that there’s no need to explain why!

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“None Are”

People are human.  They make mistakes.  They get tongue-tied.  Their brains sometimes get ahead of their mouths.  As we all know, given the choice, as Jerry Seinfeld once put it, between being in the box or giving the eulogy, most people would prefer to be in the box!

I once produced two television programs and hosted one of them.  The first time I was on live television I looked like a deer caught in headlights.  I was praying for death.  After a few weeks I was no longer nervous.  I was enjoying myself.

Not everyone is good at making speeches.  And even those who are sometimes say the wrong thing – Democrats and Republicans alike!  Sarah Palin says “refudiate” and Barak Obama pronounces “corps,” “corpse.”  Most shockingly of all, when I was interviewing a New York State senator about prescription medication costs for seniors, I asked about pharmaceutical company “copyrights” instead of “patents.”

My pet-peeve is the title of this posting.  “None” means “no one.”  It’s singular, not plural.  It’s “none is” not “none are.”

We all make mistakes.  Those who will never be on camera, those who will never be in the public eye, those who will always be followers and not leaders, and those who make their living criticizing others, will always be happy to point out the faults of others.  It says more about them than their targets.

When a candidate is on a job interview they can relax.  Most employers recognize the fact that interviewees are nervous.  A few grammatical errors will be forgiven – but only a few, and only during the interview.

I have had clients lose job offers because of the errors (spelling and grammatical) in their thank you letters.  I can only assume that some candidates never get called because of mistakes on their resumes and cover letters.   If you remember nothing else remember this: Prufreed!  Prufread!  Proofreed!

Oh, and remember one more thing:  We can’t all be Churchills!

“I Can’t Interview During Work. They’ll Have to See Me After Hours”

Interviewing for a job can be a scary thing.  First, you might have a guilty conscience that you are doing something behind your boss’s back.  You feel disloyal.  News Flash:  You’re Not!  It’s part of life.  Everyone does it.

The second problem, which is more real, is that you are worried you are going to “get caught,” the boss will get angry and fire you.  Maybe, but that’s the life of a job seeker.  You have to go on interviews.

This comes up frequently.  “I can’t take off from work.  They will have to meet me after hours.”  That is a common refrain amongst candidates.  My answer is always the same, “If you want a new job you are going to have to make time for interviews on the employer’s schedule.”  Of course, everyone tries to work something out.  Often the employer will be happy to meet after hours.   In any case, be prepared to take off from work.

Another issue that sometimes comes up is dress code.  Often a candidate will come to my office dressed casually.  He, or she, will immediately apologize and explain that if they had worn a suit, “they would know at the office I’m interviewing.”  But then they immediately add, “Don’t worry.  For an interview I’ll take the day off and dress appropriately.”

And that’s usually how it is done.  Candidates don’t want to feel rushed or stressed before an interview.  You never know what is going to happen at work.  An emergency could come up necessitating having to call me to cancel the appointment.  The solution, albeit not foolproof, is to take the day off.  If it’s an initial phone interview, schedule it around lunchtime and have the employer call you on your cell.  You can either close the door to your office or go outside.  In any case, you can honestly tell your colleagues that you have  personal matter to deal with.

Where Should You Be Looking for Work?

If you are not acquainted with the University of Toronto’s Richard Florida I advise your learning about him.  He’s an economist that regular people, me for instance, can actually understand.  In his new book, The Great Reset: How New Way of Living and Working Drive Post- Crash Prosperity, he writes the following:

The United States will add 15.3 million new jobs between 2008 and 2018, according to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Nearly all of that growth – 13.8 million new jobs – will occur in creative and professional jobs on the one hand, and service, administrative, and clerical jobs on the other, which are projected to add 6.9 million new jobs each.  Working-class jobs will grow by 1.5 million overall, but most of that growth will be concentrated in construction and transportation.  The U.S. economy will shed another 349,000 production jobs, the blue-collar factory jobs that were the mainstay of the industrial economy.  And employment in manufacturing industries broadly will decline by 1.2 million jobs, as the so-called goods-producing sector of the economy continues to fall from 17.3 percent in 1998 to 14.2 percent in 2008 and 23.9 percent by 2018.

He also quotes Mort Zuckerman, the editor in chief of US News and World Report as writing, “If there is any growth in jobs, it will come mostly from healthcare, education, restaurants and hospitality services…. Healthcare alone made up all the net jobs created in the last decade… Such service jobs cannot, however, support growth and innovation.”

So if you are looking for a new career, keep this in mind:  Sometimes statistics don’t lie!

Why Do People Lie and Think They Can Get Away With It?

We were working on a search for an assistant controller.  We found a CPA.  He was hired.  For whatever reason the controller, his boss, decided to check his CPA license.  Turns out, he didn’t have one.  He was immediately fired.  Funny story:  He didn’t need to be a CPA to get the job.  He lied for no reason.  His excuse:  He had taken all the courses but had yet to pass the exams.

Of course our CPA-Want-To-Be is not unique.  One president, who eventually was able to repair his image to some degree, will always be remembered for “I am not a crook!”  Another, who has yet to repair his image, will forever be known for “It all depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is,” and, of course, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky!”

Why do people lie?  Let’s face it, we all do it on occasion.  Usually it is to avoid confrontation.  We don’t want to be blamed when something goes wrong.  We are embarrassed.  Only once since I became an executive recruiter did I really screw up.  Long story short, I sent an e-mail to the accounting department of a client announcing a new position I was looking to fill.  It was for their department!  I got a call from the fellow who was being replaced.  Although the e-mail was very generic, he recognized the position and new it was his job.

This happened late in the afternoon and I was physically ill over it.  The next day I called the HR director.  It was our first conversation.  When she was finished telling me what I needed to know about the search, I told her that I had something to tell her.  I confessed my stupidity, said I would understand if she wanted another recruiter to work on the search, apologized profusely and shut up!  She was silent and then said, “I appreciate your telling me.  I don’t like to be blindsided.  I’m glad you know that it’s never the crime that get’s you, it’s the cover up!

I’m not singing my own praises.  This was a lesson I learned from my first boss.  He always said, “I won’t fire anyone who doesn’t lie to me.  I want to hear the problem from the guy whose responsible, not from the angry customer.”

We all make mistakes.  Why hide them?  As long as you learn from them they are real assets.  My favorite story is from IBM.  They gave someone $1.5 million to start a new business.  A year later the money was gone and the business was a failure.  He went to his supervisor and offered him his resignation.  “Why would we accept your resignation?  We just spent a million and a half dollars educating you!”

One mistake you cannot afford to make is lying during the employment process.  As with the non-CPA, even if it is irrelevant to the job you have been hired to do, if  you lie on your resume you may be fired.  What constitutes a lie?  That’s a tough one.  Here’s my answer:  If you are basically an honest person and would be embarrassed if the employer were to verify statements on your resume, don’t put those statements in your resume.  Said differently, If you don’t want it reported in tomorrow’s newspaper, don’t do it!

You will almost always be caught.  Over time, with all due modesty, I have gotten pretty good at spotting lies and embellishments.  People talk about increasing sales by a certain percentage.  I always ask for the real numbers.  Or, during a face-to-face interview, they stop looking me in the eye or start speaking in a low voice.  Degrees from unaccredited universities now pop off the page when I see them.  And my all time favorite, when someone sends me an updated resume – even though they know I have the old one – which is totally different from the previous one.  I’m not that stupid!

How to Research a Company or Non-Profit

Congratulations!  You have an interview.  You wrote a great cover letter and an even better resume.  The HR Department called and has invited you in for an interview.  Now the work really begins.

Every person who interviews at that company or non-profit goes to their website to learn all they can.  Some may memorize what is written there.  Some may devour their annual reports.  Everything on that website is information you must have.  But that is not enough.  You need more.  The website is the minimum.  You have to differentiate yourself from the competition by knowing the maximum.

The first thing you should do is to make certain that the company/non-profit is duly registered in the State where you are going to interview.  In New York, visit the New York State Secretary of State’s website and do a search.  It’s very easy.  If it is not there, try Delaware.  If nothing comes up you may have a problem.  You definitely have something to ask them about.

There are a few websites you can go to to get information on corporations.  The most known is Hoovers which is a Dunn and Bradstreet company.   You may also want to try Workstreamer.  With Workstreamer you can set up an account, for free (you have to pay for Hoovers) and track the web presence of whatever company you are searching for.  Which brings me to the obvious: Google the company, the key leadership and, if you have them, the names of all the people with whom you will be meeting.  At a minimum use LinkedIn.   Do a company search so you can see who works at the company.  Learn what you can about them.  It will reveal to you a great deal about the corporate culture.

If you are applying for a position at a non-profit you will have an added tool, Guidestar.  Guidestar is a database of all the non-profits in the country.  Most importantly, you can download, in most cases, the organization’s 990.  The 990 is the tax form that all non-profits with annual revenue of over $25,000 must file.  From the 990 you will learn how much the organization raises in private contributions, from the government, and in programming fees.  You’ll also be able to see their budget and find out who their leadership is and what they earn.  That will obviously be very helpful to you in your salary negotiations.  You may also want to visit the Better Business Bureau for both charities and non-profits, and Charity Navigator for an analysis of business practices specifically, what percentage of donations actually goes for services.   A non-profit that spends too much (over 25%) on administrative costs, may not be well-run – although there are exceptions to every rule.

One word of caution: Think twice before you pull out photocopies of the information you have downloaded.  You may actually know more than the person interviewing you about the company.  Wait until you are being interviewed by a decision maker before asking the tough questions.

Good luck!

How to Quit

If you are three and no doubt imitating what you see at home, you might get away with it.  But you’re not three and the way that you quit will be how you will be remembered.  So as much as you would like to act like a three year old, you can’t.

First, you must keep your job search confidential otherwise your employer will start looking for your replacement and if the employer finds the replacement before you secure a new job, you will be unemployed.  Granted, there are rare occasions when an employee can confide in an employer, but they are very rare.

Once you have secured the new job, it all comes down to leaving without burning bridges:

The most asked question concerns how much notice to give.  Acceptable notice is the number of days equal to your annual vacation.  All new employers realize that new employees have to give notice.  They have no problem with that.  No one wants to hire someone who would leave with only a day or two notice.

Write a positive letter of resignation to your immediate supervisor.  Thank her for all she has done for you.  Recollect any successes.  Everything needs to be positive.  Make certain to emphasize that you will be available by phone to provide any assistance and state what you final day will be.

The importance of the letter of resignation is that it will go in your personnel file.  No matter what anyone ever writes about you, the letter will constitute your side of the story, so to speak.  If someone wants to attack you in your absence, your letter will provide the balance.  Basically, let them know what they are losing!

In all likelihood there will be an exit interview.  In an exit interview the key is to be professional and not to criticize.  The HR interviewer is going to be taking notes that the soon-to-be former employee will never see.  Even the slightest criticism can be magnified and taken out of context.  The interviewee is under no obligation to help his or her soon-to-be former employer improve policies and procedures.  Focus on the positive.  Smile.  Be humorous.  Say nothing negative.  Be complimentary and appreciative.  Keep to the high road.  Reminisce about the good times.

That is the best way not to burn bridges on the spot.  However, once you leave, you can (within reason) say whatever you want.  What you do not want to do is to bad-mouth a former employer around the new/present employer because he or she will know you will do it to them.  So, if you must, vent to friends and relatives not to colleagues and associates.  And make certain that your friends and relatives will not repeat what you said.  So, in the end, it may be better to say nothing to anyone.  It comes down to this:  It’s over.  Move on!

Then there is the issue of work finished and yet to be finished.  Work areas must be clean and well-organized.  Most importantly, files have to be filed logically.  Someone has to know where everything is.  Leave a phone number with colleagues (they won’t see the letter of resignation) so that if any problem arises, if there are any questions (and there will be), they can contact you.  You never want to be accused of sabotage.  Explain in detail to whomever is chosen to finish on-going or uncompleted projects what you have done and what needs to be done.  Leave a written report explaining everything.  It makes life easy for those following you, shows you are a team player, and makes it very difficult for the old employer to bad-mouth you – since you will have a copy of the report and the (old) boss will know it!  Burning bridges is a two-way street; the employer can burn them with the employee as well!  Don’t give him, or her, ammunition.

The worst example I can give of someone leaving a job was a past associate who left his desk in a shambles.  He took files with him.  We could not find anything and he rarely returned our calls – and never during regular office hours.   Another individual left, seemingly, the right way.  He offered to finish a project.  The boss agreed and granted him remote access to our computer system.  One afternoon, despite the fact that he had to have known that we were all in the office, he logged on to the system and went into files not related to his work.  He destroyed his reputation in a few mouse clicks.   Learn from their mistakes!