Keep A Cool Head
In A Hot Job Market
By Nick Corcodilos
By the government's accounts, unemployment is at a record
low. By a count of significant downsizings, lots of talented people are on the street. By
The Headhunter's account, there's lots of opportunity out there and even more
opportunity to make a fatal career error.
In a hot job market which is arguably what we're
seeing it's easy to get swept up by the hiring frenzy that many companies are
supposedly engaging in. With the weekly unemployment rates dipping dramatically, many
companies are scrambling to hire and smart workers can benefit from such a strong demand.
But keeping a cool head is more important now than ever.
Opportunities with Choices
High demand doesn't do away with the need to be selective and to consider the
consequences of a job choice, any more than a lack of good jobs does.
Remember when over-leveraged stock brokers, insurance
executives and other high-flying types suddenly found themselves losing their homes? That
wasnt very long ago. It was awfully easy for those people to take the wrong job or
to negotiate the wrong kind of deal when the chips were down.
So, if youre an MBA, an engineer, a computer
programmer, or in some other "hot" field, go ahead and make hay while the sun
shines. But, no matter what line of work youre in, if you're looking at an
opportunity in today's good times, make sure you consider not only your options, but your
long-term goals. When an opportunity presents itself, make sure its also a viable
choice thats right for you. That's not so easy when employers are throwing both jobs
and money at you. Here are some sobering tips that can help you maximize your win and
possibly avoid disaster.
Avoid an inflated
salary -- you might pay for it later.
If you're making $65K now and you accept an offer for $90K, consider whether that's what
you're really worth or whether it's an act of desperation on the part of the employer. Be
brutally honest with yourself. If an employer "buys" you, will you be able to
maintain the salary on the next job change? An inflated salary might scare off the next
good employer altogether. Worse, once youve got that high-paying job, would you
survive a downsizing? Jobs with inflated salaries are often the first to be cut.
If you receive an aggressive offer, consider structuring
your compensation like executives do. Keep the salary realistic but maximize the perks: a
signing bonus, stock options or a stock grant, extra vacation time, flexible hours, a
partial telecommuting option, a PC or other equipment to use at home, a car allowance,
special tools, an expense account for travel and conferences, a generous education
allowance. Don't leave yourself holding the "salary bag."
Finally, remember that some of the best job opportunties
may require an unusual and unexpected investment from you: a
salary cut. Situations that offer unusual long-term growth may seem hard to swallow,
but they may be worth investigating.
Find and pursue the job
you want; don't settle for what comes along, no matter how it's presented.
First, an offer from the wrong employer or for the wrong job is wrong whether it's high or
low. Evaluate the offer critically. Stop and ask yourself
whether you'd take the job if it was a lateral dollar offer.
Second, when recruiters come
calling, remember that flattery comes with them. Keep your head and choose wisely,
especially when you're being wined and dined. In a nutshell, there are many more wrong
jobs out there than right ones. You'll stumble onto lots of the former if you let flattery
control your career.
So, don't make the mistake of picking from what's
offered. Instead, define the array of choices yourself. Don't take a job just because
"it's there." Make sure you're leading the decision process rather than
succumbing to it.
Renegotiate your job
and compensation with your current employer.
This is a great time to ask for more money, assuming you're
worth it. Investigate your value by studying other jobs and companies, but don't dangle
another company's job offer in front of your boss in the hope of getting a counter offer.
I've seen this backfire explosively. Make it a win-win proposition and keep the attitude
Don't just ask for more money. Show how you contribute
more to the bottom line than your company realizes and frame your negotiation as a request
for a larger slice of the profit you produce -- not as a bigger part of the budget. (This
takes careful homework!)
You can also renegotiate your title, your responsibility
and your authority. You might even be able to negotiate a long-term contract. (Some
companies are paying "retention bonuses", with payments made over time while the
employee is still on board.) Just remember: If you want more, be ready to prove the value
of what you do or what youre proposing to do. You should also be ready to shift into
a different kind of work to justify an increase in compensation.
Are desirable, better-paying positions open in your
company? Now is the time to use inside channels to pursue them intelligently.
This is the time to
renegotiate your entire career. Start with yourself.
If you've been considering a shift in function or responsibility, now is the time to plan
and execute changes, when the job market will help support it. If you've been considering
a new career track, put together a business plan for a new life. Review it critically and
carefully. If you can sell yourself on the idea, test it on others you trust, then start
pursuing employers who can help you make it happen. They represent your potential new
business partners. Now you've got to sell them.
Let's say a company needs your sales skills but you want
to move into project management. Leverage. Don't just negotiate compensation, negotiate
your future. Give them what they need now in exchange for a written commitment to teach
you project skills and promote you later. If the agreement includes objective performance
criteria you must meet, they're more likely to go for it.
While most people are wringing their hands, worried about
the next downsizing, take it upon yourself to deliver to management what it needs most.
Remember: You've got to prove you can deliver profitability to the employer and to
yourself. That makes you a powerful job candidate and employee.
Don't pick a job; pick
I always advocate pursuing specific employers rather than chasing jobs, and the business
climate is perfect for approaching only the best employers. Don't take what comes along;
pursue the companies you've always wanted to work for. If they're not hiring, they will be
soon. Get on their agendas now. Develop your knowledge about their business; test your
acumen with inside contacts; prepare a compelling presentation. This is also the time to
tell a headhunter where you want to work and let him come back with the opportunity you
The job market may be hot, but when many companies are
downsizing and a lot of people are on the move, competition is still stiff. Will you stand
Finally! A chance to
pitch your great business ideas.
Have you wanted more creative input in your work? The New Interview
is the place to bring it up. In Ask the Headhunter: Reinventing
the Interview to Win the Job I discuss how to use your meeting with an employer to
demonstrate new ways you can contribute to the bottom line.
Don't just sit and answer questions; roll up your sleeves
and demonstrate your value! In other words, satisfy the employer's needs first. This gives
you a powerful negotiating edge to get what you want.
The next step is to gently build the employer's level of
commitment to you by involving others. If youre in sales but your interest is in
marketing, now is the time to ask to meet the marketing manager. Want the opportunity to
improve operations, not just handle financial functions? Ask to meet the product and
operations managers. Employers who are impressed with you are more likely to acceed to
your requests to explore other parts of their companies. You can take advantage of that,
but you wont be able to explore these opportunities unless you ask.
A hot job market is much more than an opportunity to
boost your salary. It's a chance to take stock of yourself and pursue goals that in a
tighter job market might not be attainable. Keep a cool head, create your own choices, and
pursue opportunities that will pay off not just today, but for years to come.
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