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New strategies for a tough job market.

A record number of executives are in the job market, and that's putting a critical strain on the relationships among job seekers, recruiters, and hiring organizations. A recent roundtable hosted by Heidrick & Struggles and outplacement firm Evans Duff brought together outplaced executives, CEOs, and human resource executives to open up the communication lines and discuss some ideas for creating a new system that will work.

If there's anything on which every one can agree, it's this: the environment for placing executives in jobs has changed irrevocably. The old jobs don't exist anymore, so outplaced executives who are trying to find "the job they used to have in an organization like the one they just left" are frustrated and discouraged.

One reason is because the organizations themselves have changed. They have shut down divisions, sold off subsidiaries, downsized, right-sized, re-engineered, entered global markets, and shifted their priorities to focus more on how they serve their customers both inside and outside the organization. While these actions have eliminated many jobs, they have also created new opportunities, one of them being the part-time or "project" executive who may work for two or more organizations at one time. Ten years ago, this would have been considered corporate 'bigamy'. Today, it's a sensible, cost-effective answer to an organization's specific short-term needs.

Expectations Are Out Of Sync

According to participants in the Heidrick & Struggles/Evans Duff roundtable, the expectations of people looking for jobs simply don't fit this new reality. Successful organizations want (and need) to hire really good, adaptable business people who have proven leadership skills and strategic and conceptual abilities. Too often, though, they are presented with executives who have superb technical capabilities in relatively narrow areas and a limited understanding of broad business issues.

"It's difficult to find people with good conceptual skills and strategic perspective", says Canada Colors & Chemicals CEO Lou Hollander. "This issue is probably more evident in Canada because the strategic decisions on product development, marketing, and finance for many companies have been coming from a U.S. parent. As a result, there haven't been enough executives in Canada groomed to understand and deal with overall business issues. Yet those are precisely the capabilities most companies need."

Many Of The "Old" Jobs No Longer Exist

It isn't just the outplaced executive who's finding the Job world has changed; in fact, everyone's job is changing. As Sussannah Kelly, Director of Human Resources for Amdahl Canada describes it, "Employees now have to be flexible, adaptable, communicative. To survive, they must take responsibility for their own careers, and they must demonstrate that they can make a difference to their organizations. Past notions about Jobs and salaries aren't as important as taking pride in the contribution you can make to the organization for which you work."

The ability to define "how you can help is" is probably the biggest hurdle for Job candidates, and for organizations, to overcome. Executives in the job market must be able to state in a clear and convincing way, the value they will add to an organization. That may mean taking an entirely different view of themselves in the workplace. "Recruiters, HR executives, and other senior managers don't want a history lesson when they're hiring," says Evans Duff's Bob Evans. "What they really want is a concrete proposal that states what the candidates believe they can contribute and how they can help the organization." And as early as possible in the process, they also need to be able to articulate their personal ethics, values, and aspirations as the basis for judging the degree of potential 'fit' with an organization.

Organizations Must Learn To Adapt As Well

As is the case with job candidates, organizations that are having the most difficulty with recruitment today are those that are hanging on to the old system. They're using recruitment processes that often overlook a candidate's non-technical and less evident talents such as growth potential, style, personality, and the value they can bring to the organization. These organizations may even be ambiguous about what they need to accomplish, and have difficulty defining the kind of person, skills, and talents they're really looking for.

Often, the search firms that represent these organizations don't fare much better. They're the job candidates' gateway to the employer, but they're viewed as a closed door that must be circumvented, not an open gate that reveals new opportunities and explores innovative linkages between jobs and candidates.

"Some candidates have an unrealistic view of our role, says Heidrick & Struggles' Marcelo Mackinlay. "We represent our client's interests. We're not here to find candidates a job. We're here to help our clients clarify the kind of executive they need, then identify that exceptional individual who will help them achieve their goals.

"To help themselves, the best thing candidates -- and their outplacement counsellors -- can do is to articulate the kind of job they want and the reasons why. That way, a potential employer can understand and assess the contribution these candidates believe they're capable of making".

But according to Mackinlay, many candidates have an unrealistic view of the value they can add to an organization. They talk about having transferable skills and the desire for a general manager's position when they've never had general management responsibilities in their life. "Frommy perspective," he says, "they'll do a service to themselves and my clients if they define their capabilities more narrowly and realistically. They need to have clarity about themselves and know why they're on my doorstep and my client's".

A Prescription For Improvement

The roundtable participants concluded that better communication among everyone involved in the recruitment process is the key to making it more effective. Here are their suggestions for making the relationships work better for everyone's benefit:

* Candidates need a realistic view of their capabilities and the value they can add to an organization. They should zero in on what they want to do, and what they're capable of accomplishing.

* If candidates' skills are transferable, they should define the kinds of situations, industries, and jobs where their skills can be applied. They should start by finding out how their experience and skills fit in other industries and identify those that would benefit from their skills. They should tell the recruiter where they fit, not expect the recruiter to tell them.

* Organizations and the search consultants who represent them need to expand their horizons. They want to hear what an individual thinks s/he can contribute to their organization, and they should open up their thinking to consider new, less traditional possibilities. They need the ability to assess a variety of skills, attitudes, behaviour, etc. in order to recognize a candidate's abilities -- not simply how they present themselves in an interview or how closely they match a job specification.

* Candidates should be given candid feedback from search consultants and senior managers in organizations. It's a mistake to assume a job candidate's ego is too fragile to handle straight feedback. The most beneficial thing recruiters and organizations can do for candidates is to tell them honestly why they don't believe there is a fit and, when possible, provide some constructive suggestions.

* Recruiters and senior managers in organizations should have the courtesy to respond to all candidates, not evade or mislead them, and look beyond the resume at what an individual can contribute to the organization.

* Outplacement counsellors need to help candidates be realistic about their capabilities and the value they can bring to an organization's current needs as opposed to the conventional functional skills/experience assessment which maybe dated. As with recruiters, this requires giving their clients the 'straight goods'.

Participants in the Heidrick & Struggles/Evans Duff roundtable included: Bill Cheshire (Vice President, Human Resources -- National Trust); Heather Duff and Bob Evans (Evans Duff); Ian Glenn; Bill Hamilton; Lou Hollander (CEO - Canada Colours & Chemicals); Sussannah Kelly (Vice President, Human Resources - Amdahl Canada); Marcelo Mackinlay (Heidrick & Struggles); and Don Wood (The Osborne Group). The session was moderated by Tom Tavares and documented by Margot Gibb-Clark of The Globe and Mail Report on Business.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mackinlay, Marcelo
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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