Go to Menu The Truth About Speeding Trains
By Nick Corcodilos

Please take this multiple-choice, single-question Job Search Quiz. It will help you understand something important about why some companies are like speeding trains.

My career could suffer great damage if I:

(a.) limit myself to pursuing jobs in the want ads;
(b.) pay too much attention to news about the economy;
(c.) believe rumors about companies;
(d.) join a company that's headed for a train wreck.

Any job hunter can score 100% by choosing one of the first three answers. But a smart job hunter acknowledges all four of the answers, including the last one, because a smart job hunter knows the first rule of effective job hunting is to make no assumptions.

When it comes to the common assumptions about career development, all bets are off. Never assume anything. When you're job hunting, you should stop, think, and use your common sense. Because almost everything you've been taught about job hunting is wrong.

While any of a great variety of wrong assumptions can derail your job search, there is one that I think is among the most subtle but most deadly when you encounter it on your career track:

The company I want to work for is in trouble. I'll wait until they're hiring again before I approach them.

A downsizing isn't a crash
When I started working as a headhunter back in 1979, the electronics industry was chugging along at breakneck speed. For years, I placed engineers and managers in companies that did nothing but hire, hire, hire. I had no idea what a layoff or a downsizing was.

One morning I walked into my office, put up my feet and unfolded the San Jose Mercury News. When I saw the headline my eyes bugged out so far, they pulled my jaw shut: MEMOREX LAYS OFF HUNDREDS. My life was over. A leading manufacturer of IBM-compatible storage systems, Memorex was one of my top clients. And they were crashing! Hell, all of Silicon Valley was crashing! This was the beginning of the end.

I feverishly dialed the top executive I worked with at Memorex. "Uh, you're still there? You didn't get laid off? What's going on?" I asked.

"Oh, we're just seeing some changes in the business," he said.

"Sheesh. I guess you want me to cancel the three job candidates I lined up for you to meet this week," I mumbled, trying to figure out how soon I'd be flipping burgers or driving one of those floor waxing machines I'd seen 15-year-old kids using at the Safeway.

"Don't cancel anything," said the exec. "I need to fill those jobs. They're critical."

"But what about the downsizing?" I asked.

"What about it?" said the manager. "We're not going out of business. We've got important projects going on. Get those candidates in here. Look, I've gotta go. Customers are coming in to review new product specs with my team in 10 minutes. Call me later this afternoon. I've got two more positions I want you to get cracking on."

That was my first lesson in "the myth of downsizing." I was about to experience my first industry downturn since I'd started headhunting. As companies around the Valley announced layoffs, I learned that a slowdown wasn't a crash. While companies were letting some people go, they were hiring others.

How is this possible?

The train chugs along
A downsizing or a hiring freeze doesn't turn a basically sound company into a disaster area. It doesn't mean the company is going out of business. It's not shutting its doors. It's not even ceasing to hire. What it is doing is shifting its position to ensure its health and survival. If you assume there are no opportunities at such a company, you may miss one of the best opportunities of your life.

During tough times, good companies don't kill promising, profit-producing projects. They feed them more resources. Such projects bring on more good people, and they help ensure the success of the company through times of change. In fact, it is during downsizings that companies will hire some of their most talented new people to help with the most daring and forward-looking projects. In tough times, smart companies take more chances because they need big new wins. At the same time, they might need to hire to protect their healthiest operations. This is often the best time to approach a good company about a new job: there may be great opportunities, and your competition has likely been scared off.

All aboard!
Consider a manager I wanted to recruit during a downturn. A few months earlier, he had been canned along with the rest of his team when his company was sold. He was on the tail end of a lenthy, self-imposed, well-deserved vacation. I knew that as soon as he started job hunting he'd be snapped up quickly. When I mentioned the name of my client, he said, "I was thinking about appoaching them, but they've had a hiring freeze for months. I was waiting to see when things might open up there. If they've got a hiring freeze, how could they be hiring?" he asked.

This guy had made an assumption that could have proved deadly to his career. In two months he could pick up the newspaper to read that my client had launched a huge new project that they'd hired someone else to run. Instead, he became the first candidate scheduled to go in and meet with the top brass about that job -- new position that was opened in the middle of a hiring freeze.

Never follow the conventional wisdom. Never follow your competition's lead. When others see nothing but disaster, it's time to look for opportunity. Never assume that a train that's humming along at 85 miles an hour is going to stop because it slowed to take a curve. If you can maneuver deftly, it may be the perfect time to hitch your own career to that engine.

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What should you do if you get downsized? Stand Up To Downsizing.

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