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Best career choices and moves in a tight economy.

ESPITE the doom and gloom of headlines that show increasing corporate cutbacks, recruitment specialists say job-seekers can still land on their feet as they take the leap of entering or even re-entering the job market. The key to that success is knowing the hot areas for potential career growth, and how to set your strategy--being flexible to economic changes, knowing how to pitch your skills to harmonize with trends, and always keeping your mind on career development.

These are encouraging things to consider in light of recent history. Within the past three years, we have seen a loss of nearly 4 million jobs. Even so, according to John Challenger of the international outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the concern among many employers is that there actually might be labor shortages. That is because of shifts in the economy. So, while news of cutbacks in particular industries--like the dot-come--might be distressing, it also might be misleading for those who are positioningthemselves to take advantage of opportunities that are still available in high-tech positions with other more established companies.

Recruiters advise job-seekers to look at their expertise, rather than particular industries. It is likely that skills are transferable. With that in mind, the core areas that are important in every industry are finance, sales and marketing, and operations. "Every company needs people with expertise in those areas," Challenger notes. "So, long term, those are some ofthe safest places to be with the most opportunity." Finance still is at the top of everyone's list. "I think the opportunities in financial services continue to be extremely strong," asserts Carla A. Harris, a Harvard MBA and one of only two Black women in the position of managing director at Morgan Stanley in New York. "We obviously are coming off a tough economic environment, but the deal business continued throughout that period. So I think it's a great time for someone to come into the financial services business." No wonder, then, that finance is the No. 1 area of recruitment among Black students at Howard University, where economics, accounting, marketing, management, computer science and engineering are among the hottest disciplines for recruitment.

Wall Street executive Carla A. Harris is bullish on opportunities in high finance. One of only two Black female managing directors at Morgan Stanley in New York she sees high returns for an investment in a career in finance, despite ups and downs in the economy.

In some ways, staying on top of the job market will be a lot like staying on top of the financial world. You have to look at related trends that can affect your livelihood as well as your investment portfolio. With increasing threats of war and terrorism, security is one of those areas, which is why technology is still important.

Even liberal arts should not be ruled out, advises Kim Wells, director of Howard's Career Services Office. He stresses that political science is still a popular discipline to prepare for government service, an important growth area. "Within the next 3 to 5 years, they're predicting that about 50 percent of the federal work-force will be retiring, particularly in the management ranks" in a number of federal departments and agencies, including the Congressional Budget Office, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Census Bureau, he says.

Surprisingly, a liberal arts degree can serve you well even in the specialized world of high finance, as long as you familiarize yourself with quantitative areas. "So, if you are a philosophy major, try to take an accounting course," Carla Harris suggests. "Try to take a corporate finance course. Try to take a financial analysis course so that you are familiar with the basic financial terms and understand balance sheets, income statements and cash-flow statements, to make sure you are generally comfortable with numbers."

Sales experience can be helpful. "People skills have helped me tremendously" notes Wayne Martin, owner of Vision Ford Lincoln-Mercury in Alamogordo, New Mexico. "We ignore sales, but I think there is a real opportunity there. If you get into sales and you're successful at it, you can actually get into any area." And the one thing you're always selling is yourself, advises Martin, who was able to establish his business because of the support of George J. Frame, executive director of Dealer Development at Ford Motor Company, and the Ford Minority Dealer Development Program. Part of the personal sales job is honing your pitch--making sure you show that your skills are transferable.

Also, Martin asserts, job-seekers have to be willing to take a look at some of the overlooked areas of the country. It's all about location. "There are opportunities in the small towns," says Martin who, with his wife Millie, built a successful business in New Mexico, before expanding to Florida. "There are windows of opportunities everywhere."

Beyond the core areas that always seem to be hot, there are other areas of job growth given the shifts in the population. The leading edge of the "Baby Boom" is now age 57, which means that in less than 10 years, there will be a huge retirement bubble--people with their own sets of needs that must be met. As a result, jobs in health care--including hospitals, HMOs, pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology, public health, medical equipment manufacturing and marketing--are on the increase.

Looking at global dynamics--with emerging business opportunities in Africa, Asia and South America--is always important. That is why international business is one of the growth areas, creating its own set of needs, including technology. In such a global economy, language skills will be important-foreign language skills. But communications skills generally will be helpful. Not only is public relations one of the high recruitment areas, given the heavy emphasis on marketing, but today careers can be made or broken in the flash of an e-mail keystroke.

As important as anything else is knowing how to time your moves. In today's economy, the one thing that is certain is change. Working for that 20-year watch is becoming an antique notion. According to the experts, a person these days might expect to change jobs every 5 to 8 years, working for 5 to 6 companies during the course of a career. And, they advise, you should always be looking--even when you're not looking.

Making a successful move is a matter of considering a number of factors, including whether you should sit out the economic shifts by working on an advanced degree. For example, experts say an MBA is still a good choice, but professional experience is still a requirement for many programs. Timing is everything, especially when times are tight.

"You should consider a move when you've exhausted all the possibilities internally, depending on what it is you've set as your goal," notes Lawrence Hollins, president of the Hollins Group, Inc., an executive recruitment firm with offices in Chicago, New York and Atlanta. "Young Black professionals really have to have a personal development plan," he advises. "I think it needs to be checked as frequently as you check your 401(k), or as frequently as you check your investments."
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Author:Benson, Christopher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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