Printer Friendly

Writing new lyrics for the out-of-work blues: as corporate America continues to slim down, black managers develop innovative strategies to find new jobs.

A pessimist is an optimist who has all the facts, goes the saying. And for today's corporate worker, the facts are grim indeed.

Fact: Today, nearly a half a million managers and white-collar professionals are out of work and looking for jobs. Twenty percent of them have been out of work or underemployed for more than a year.

Fact: Over the past 10 years, the nation has been shocked by the laying off of approximately 400,000 workers in the manufacturing industry. However, in 1991 alone, the service industry laid off more than half that number.

Fact: Seniority, good performance and loyalty are no longer protection against job loss in corporate America. Men and women, nonwhites and whites of all age groups, salary levels, professions and backgrounds are all at risk.

Fact: Corporations are no longer interested in returning to the old ways. Half the Fortune 500 companies have restructured, shed businesses and laid off workers during the 1980s and will continue to streamline staffs, levels of management and budgets.

And with a surplus of highly qualified managers seeking to fill the fewer slots available, hiring standards have gotten tougher. So what can any one professional do to stand out from the crowd?

Face the music, say the experts, and start singing as loudly as you can. The more in tune you are with today's focus on profitability, the better your chances are of being heard above the clamor of highly qualified competitors.

An Unsettling Environment

Ten years ago, white-collar employees watched with detached interest as manufacturing began laying off tens of thousands of factory workers. But when the stock market crashed in 1987 and pushced 60,000 Wall Street workers on to the streets, the bell also began to toll for high-salaried employees in real estate, banking, retail, insurance, publishing, broadcasting, computer, airline and other service companies. In attempts to staunch the flow of red ink from over-rapid expansion, burdensome debt, poor sales and aggressive foreign competition, major industrial and service corporations began dumping workers left and right.

Look at the computer industry, for example. In two rounds of cuts, Unisys Corp. reduced its work force by 15,000. Digital Equipment Corp. cut 3,400 people last year and IBM, after coaxing 10,000 more out the door, announced plans to fire thousands who fail to meet new tougher performance stadards.

In banking, the numbers have been especially grim. Citicorp, facing huge profit losses after cutting 4,400 jobs earlier last year, plans further layoffs, and the marriage between Chemical Banking Corp. and Manufacturers Hanover Corp. has separated 6,000 employees from their jobs. In fact, industry experts predict that 500,000 jobs, nearly a third of all of the nation's banking jobs, will disappear over the next 10 years.

Today, corporate workers must be more wary about the fiscal health and future plans of their companies. And while mastering corporate politics and positioning yourself as a team player and leader with vision may be distasteful, it's more important than ever.

However, these strategies alone won't guarantee job security. "The truth of the matter is, job security is a thing of the past," says Charles Grevious, vice president of the Johnson Group, an executive search firm in New York City. "The only thing you can do now is work on employability security--building the right skills and learning to market yourself aggressively."

Two years ago, banking Vice President Kenneth D. Hedgebeth found himself in the unsettling position of having to scale down his own organization within Bankers Trust Co., a prestigious financial institution on Wall Street. In charge of the Clients Directed Products division, Hedgebeth knew he was at risk when he helped to sell off four of the businesses in his portfolio and downsize a fifth.

A 25-year veteran of the firm, Hedgebeth reasoned correctly that things would not get better on Wall Street, and that upcoming mergers would only put more bankers on the streets. Rather than wait for the ax, Hedgebeth opted to leave the company last January.

Hedgebeth wasted no time in looking for his next job. The day after leaving Bankers Trust, he went to the company-appointed outplacement agency in full suit and tie. He followed this routine every business day for nine months, arriving at 8:30 a.m. sharp, treating his job search as if it were a fulltime job. "I reported in, checked my calendar, made calls, wrote letters and thank-you notes, networked and went on interviews," he says. He also used an aggressive headhunter who helped keep his name on the market.

Once a week, Hedgebeth attended a church-sponsored support called Job-Seekers, a group in Princeton, near his home, where out-of-work professionals encourage one another and share leads.

Within nine months, his offensive strategy paid off. Following up on a lead from his headhunter, Hedgebeth landed a securities management group vice presidency at The Boston Co., in Boston, making the same salary he had earned at Bankers Trust.

Despite assurances from the Bush administration that recovery is here, many business people remain unconvinced. Borden Inc.'s CEO R.J. Ventures told a meeting of financial analysts in September, "There is no sign yet of an end to the chilling effects of recession on our businesses."

That's why today's professional must be much more strategic in his or her career-planning agenda. Starting a business or a consultant practice isn't always a wise option, especially for employees who enjoy the corporate limelight. Therefore, every move, every assignment must be questioned: How will a particular job or project further define, take advantage of or strengthn your skills? How will it make you more visibile, increase your credibility, move you closer to profit center responsibilities? Most importantly, how will it make you a more attractive sell?

Playing To Win

Today's corporate workers have an advantage over their counterparts in the mid-'80s. The majority of those in the vanguard of change had no idea what was coming. They weren't prepared for the harsh new reality that loyalty, hard work and previously favored status were no match for their company's pressing need to trim expenses as quickly as possible. "After all, people who keep their noses to the grindstone, doing their jobs, simply aren't in the right position to watch their back," says Grevious.

"Paying attention to what is often considered petty details or rumors is difficult for African-Americans who have been raised to believe that merit is all that should matter $(when it comes to career stability$)," says Karen Lucas, vice president and director of Jannotta Bray, Henderson & Associates, a large Chicago-based outplacement firm.

Although in today's economic climate there is much less of a stigma attached to being outplaced, "the person often feels hurt and betrayed and says, 'I did everything right and you turned your back on me,'" adds Lucas. "Unfortunately, too many black professionals still don't know there is a game going on, or choose not to play it."

Three years ago, no one was more uninterested in corporate politics than Virginia Lee. As a district manager for Bell Atlantic in the Washington, D.C., metro area, Lee had responsibility for 400 employees and a $13 million budget.

A true team player, the 44-year-old manager kept her nose the the grindstone, minding her "little island," and holding herself above the pettiness of office politics.

Although she knew about Bell's plans to streamline the company, Lee continued to believe she was in good hands, and that her job was safe. Then during an announcement meeting about district consolidations in December 1988, she learned that she was out of a job.

Recalls Lee: "I was crused. All I could think of was, why didn't they have the decency to tell me beforehand, one on one?"

Although Lee was placed on special assignment, she says she was "too jaundiced to make the best of it." Twelve months later, she took a severance package equaling one year's salary and left the company in 1989.

"Everything had lost its meaning," she says. "My struggle was that I had always defined myself by my job. Without it, I felt I had no definition or purpose. I'd lost my zeal."

Although she started circulating her resume right away, Lee didn't actively job hunt for months--a luxury few outplaced professionals can afford. "I always wanted to do more in the community, so I took time to work with eight-graders in a volunteer program called the Economics of Staying in School."

The combination of her corporate experience and new teaching skills proved to be an irresistible combination for the Senndelane Leadership Consulting Group, a California-based management consulting firm. Lee got the lead for her new job as director of consulting services from a vendor she'd known while at Bell Atlanta.

"What I've learned from all this is that I have choices, that there are many things I can do with my life," says Lee, who now works from her home, coaching and counseling the firm's East Coast clients on managing change. Lee also spends one week a month in the Long Beach, Calif., headquarters of the company. "I earn a third less than I did before, but I'm enyoying it more," she adds.

Says outplacement executive Karen Lucas, "We tell people who leave that they're not wearing a big scarlet 'F for fired' on their forehead, that what happened was not their fault. We try to get them to see if as an opportunity to move into something better. Many of them really weren't that happy at their job anyway, but lacked the motivation to go." She adds: "Many outplaced people also harbor the uneasy knowledge that at the gut level they knew it was going to happen and didn't do enough to save themselves."

Faye Tippy understands that feeling all too well. Armed with an MBA from Indian University, Tipply left her job as product manager of Amoco Oil's Motor Club division in 1986 to handle the marketing of Time Inc.'s Chicago-based telemarketing operation. She was soon promoted to marketing director of an operation where the staff and budget had just come under the corporate cost-cutting knife--a warning sign she didn't heed.

When the corporate office (now Time Warner Inc.) sent word that she was not to accept a new multimillion-dollar client, Tippy finally accepted the fact that her days were numbered.

"I just sat, waiting for the ax to fall," she recalls, which it did--a week before Christmas of 199--leaving 1,000 workers, mostly black, out of work.

Tippy, age 37 and the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, now consults with small businesses--many of whom are clients she serviced for Time Warner--on the selection of telemarketing vendors. She also (plans to teach black teens about business "so they'll be better prepared to deal with reality than I was," she says.

Negotiating A Good Severance Package

For job-seeking, self-employed consultants like Tippy, a good severance package is crucial to survival until your business takes off or you find a permanent position.

When Tippy was given the ax, she was told there was to be no special severance package for her, although other senior managers affected by the consolidation had received one. Having already talked to specialists, Tippy knew what she was supposed to get one and threatened to sue. "The company got a deal together real quick, including eight months of salary and 100% of my bonus for making my objectives for the year," she says.

According to Boardroom Reports, the average severance is 12 to 24 months of base pay for top executives and six to 12 months for middle managers. Bonuses are usually paid if the employee is laid off at the end of the bonus period. If dismissal comes in the middle of the period, some employers will pay a prorated bonus, based on what you would have received at the end of the year.

A good severance package, is very important if you are to have any sense of security and peace of mind during your job search. Negotiate with your former employer to continue any medical and dental benefits for the term of the severance pay period, and executive-level outplacement assistance for three to six months. Some companies also let you purchase your company car at a discount, and provide office and secretarial support for a few weeks.

So What's The Strategy?

Just as companies are focusing on defining their core businesses, individuals must do the same for themselves. "Ask what is it that you do well. Forget about your job title or profession. Focus on the skills that you're competent at and enjoy doing," says Mallory Sanford, president of Execu-Search, an executive search firm in Philadelphia. Instead of viewing yourself as an accountant, break what you do well into specific chunks--then determine how well you perform each aspect of that job. You'll come up with a portfolio of marketable skills."

Sanford suggests writing a brochure about yourself. "What selling points would you highlight? Remember, the buyer--or employer--is interested in the specific benefits of hiring you. Can you help the employer be more profitable? That's really the bottom line today."

Once your skills portfolio is pulled together, focus on specific problems you've solved in the past. "Employers are not interested in how hard you've worked--they're interested in how effectively you've worked. They're results-oriented," adds Charles Grevious. "Don't just list your job activities, describe the results of that activity. The best results show either significant savings for the company or revenue enhancement."

Whenever possible, work to enhance your skills base. Each career move should be evaluated in light of how it will increase your marketability. The object is to move closer and closer to profit responsibility. Try to diversify as much as possible. For example, you may be a savvy brand manager, but you'll go further if you're also known for your outstanding presentations. If the brand-management job goes away, someone may think of you for the slot in management training--even though that may not be your "line" of work. Your speaking ability would be the transferable skill in this case--the skill that keeps you on board. "Identifying your skills is one thing," warns Grevious. "Being able to explain how they apply to a specific job is another."

"If you have a knack for seeing the big picture or getting to the bottom of things quickly, consider that a skill or talent that can be transferred to any number of jobs," advises Sanford. "If you're an engineer who's also a persuasive communicator, don't just limit your scope to engineering jobs. There could be a marketing position at an engineering firm that's perfect for someone with your ability."

"Update your resume each time you move into another job or position or achieve another outstanding result," says Willie Carrington of W. Carrington & Associates, an executive search firm in Chicago. "Send it to people you can trust who might have leads on better positions, both within your company and outside." The person to start with is a reliable headhunter. "A good headhunter is as important as your doctor or lawyer," he says. "They watch over your health and legal affairs, we watch over your career."

Many people who ended up suddenly unemployed received [and probably ignored] at least one call from a headhunter months before they reached the end of the road. Says Carrington: "Even if you're happy at your job, take time to talk to us. Maybe the position we're calling you about isn't right for you--but we'll keep you in mind, and keep calling. Eventually something may hit--perhaps just as you're about to get the ax or sidelined out of the mainstream. The point is, don't expect your company to look out for your career or your best interests. That job now belongs solely to you."

Network, Network, Network

Talk to everyone, in sight, say the experts. You can't do it by yourself. Says Carrington: "You got where you are by being the brightest of the brightest, by achieving in college by yourself, by distinguishing yourself early in your career through individual achievement. But the further you go, the more you have to rely on others for help."

Start calling relatives and friends, their relatives and friends, the names on the back and front of every business card you've ever collected, people you went to school with, former employers, association buddies. Follow up on every interesting lead they give you.

In addition, check out openings listed in reputable business publications. Occasionally, these do pay off. Karen Lucas of Jannotta, Bray tells of a former marketing and sales director who lost his job in May. He answered a newspaper ad in July and was invited in for an interview. The company liked him, but said he didn't quite fit the opening they had. "The following Monday, he got a call from the company asking him to come back," says Lucas. "It seemed their marketing director had just won a multimillion-dollar state lottery and quit." Her client got the job.

Since such luck is 40% timing and 60% preparation, do whatever it takes to make yourself a more attractive candidate. For black professionals, it's smart to have a graduate degree in areas with transferable skills, such as business, law or journalism. Regardless of whether you have advanced degrees or specialized experience, concentrate on honing your communications skills. A recent survey, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Business School, found communications skills to be the number one criteria by which MBAs were selected. If you decided to return to school for additional training, focus on today's hottest B-School courses: global perspective, ethics, leadership and teamwork, consulting and quality.

Moving On, Maybe

Those who are willing to move, should consider such "second" cities as Orlando, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., Seattle, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Indianapolis, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Riverside, Calif. All are cities with low unemployment rates and a growing number of jobs.

While the sad fortunes of the defense industry and Wall Street have brought down the West and East coasts, other areas--the Midwest, the Southwest and Texas have begun recovering nicely. The Midwest is home to manufacturers of capital goods such as machine tools, building materials, communications systems and heavy construction equipment--products which are now in great demand overseas.

Mallory Sanford, president of Execu-Search, an executive search firm in Philadelphia, says African-Americans should also consider international opportunities. "Although it may be a totally different lifestyle, depending on where you go, there are often perks. Some companies pay for your housing or your children's schooling--and some climates are pleasant year-round, such as the Caribbean." One way to gauge how attractive a particular location might be for employment is to note how active--and successful--the state and city governments are in holding on to or bringing in business.

For example, Illinois encouraged Motorola Inc. to build its new manufacturing facility in the state, adding 3,000 new jobs by mid-1993. Sony Corp. of America was enticed to build two manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania, creating 2,200 new jobs. And a new office for Bristol-Myers Squibb in Plainsboro, N.J. will create 400 jobs. A new or relocated facility can spell opportunities for skilled (and local) middle managers, to replace those who refuse to transfer or who aren't asked to transfer for cost reasons.

Beverly Robertson is a case in point. When her function relocated to another city, she decided not to go. As recently as a month ago, Robertson, age 40, was director of public relations and internal communications for Holiday Inn, headquartered in Memphis. When the parent company, Holiday Corp., sold the hotel chain to Bass PLC, a British brewery giant, the new owner decided to move Holiday Inn's headquarters to Atlanta.

Of the 1,500 people affected by the move, only 160 were offered relocation packages. Another 600 were put on standby, effectively as out of work as all the others. Robertson, whose job was 60% travel, had always thought that when her career got on a steady track, she would cut back on the travel and spend more time with her three children. "Uprooting them and starting all over again in a new city would have defeated this purpose," she says.

She was also influenced by the fact that more than 30,000 Atlantans applied for the 700 jobs Holiday Inn advertised. The way she sees it, companies that are cutting back on full-time staffs will use more subcontractors for services, so she's planning to start her own business, perhaps a communications company that could complement the services offered by her husband's management-consulting firm, Brain Trust.

No matter how skillfully your headhunter packages your skills, there's got to be a spark, something that ignites the company's interest in you as an individual. "Most interviewers want to be sold," says Sanford of Execu-Search, "so try to stand out."

He cites the example of a young woman from Chicago who interviewed for a pharmaceutical marketing position in Washington, D.C., although her chances looked slim. The woman flew in several days early and talked to pharmacists in the area to determine what their concerns were. She so impressed her interviewers with her knowledge of the local market that she got the job, beating out far more seasoned competitors.

In the end it was the hustle that won her the job.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:includes related article on personal marketing
Author:Ayres-Williams, Roz
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:The widening fiscal gap.
Next Article:Achieving growth in a slowly reviving economy: the B.E. Economists focus on measures to create a broader economic base.

Related Articles
Power surge: corporate America's most influential black executives are still on the move.
Saying goodbye to corporate America.
Downsizing trounces diversity 1994.
When downsizing hits home.
Pounding the pavement after graduation.
Tough times tough choices: in a hard economic climate, what are you willing to do to work? (Career Overview).

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters