As the economy emerges from its long, dark recessionary winter, companies are beginning to hire. According to today’s Wall Street Journal (@WSJ), nearly two-thirds of U.S. private industries are hiring. The other third should at least be thinking about it or they’ll get left behind when the economy warms up even more. The question to ask is, what positions are being filled?
Marketing, particularly in the high-tech companies where I spent my career, is a vulnerable outlier. Our jobs are not only staff positions; we spend a lot of the corporation’s highly visible money, usually with no guaranteed return on the investment. This is not popular with high-tech CEOs and CFOs. When recession looms, therefore, the Marketing ranks get pruned almost immediately, positions are consolidated, and whole departments can disappear overnight.
I know the turnaround is real when companies begin filling (and re-filling) these jobs and the job boards list ads for marketing people. Right now that’s happening with the sunny promise of daffodils blooming. Even more important, recruiters are reaching out to fill positions. Yesterday, I received one of those outreach emails—about a job I actually applied for on May 2 of last year. The position was advertised all through 2012 and Q1 of 2013—a period in which many good candidates were actively looking—so why hasn’t the company hired anyone?
There are often several reasons for this, as qualified candidates frequently discover, and a few of them raise Big Red Flags:
- The job isn’t real. HR is just collecting resumes or testing the waters.
- The headcount requisition was pulled months ago but the job continues to bounce around the job boards.
- The hiring manager's expectations are too high or unrealistic. They think, “I’ll wait until I find the perfect person,” and don’t worry about the opportunities that pass them by in the meantime.
- The level of experience desired does not match the salary being offered. That’s business speak for the company wanting to pay less, sometimes much less, than an experienced candidate commands. This “bargain hunter” mindset is particularly prevalent in a down economy.
- The candidates have not met some unspecified, but critical, requirement tucked in an executive’s head. The VP, the CEO, or the COO may have an idea of what the ideal candidate will look/talk/sound like, or insist on a graduate of his alma mater.
- The hiring process includes too many people who have veto power over the candidates interviewed. I once worked for such a company and lost a couple of good candidates because of it.
- The CEO, or another executive, is involved in the marketing process at a detailed level. Translation: the person who fills this position has to use the CEO’s favorite PR agency, design shop, web development firm, etc., even though you know they are turkeys and you have experience with a much better vendor.
- The level of decision-making authority for this position is too low for the level of responsibility demanded. The employee will have big goals to meet and a lot to answer for but almost no authority to make it happen.
- The hiring manger—or his/her boss—is a head case. If you work in high-tech, you know what I mean.
After such a long period when opportunities were as scarce as roses in January, it’s tempting to jump at the first opportunity. After all, it’s a paycheck, right?
My friend and former co-worker, Phil, used to talk about the career he planned in high-tech training departments. He was (and still is) highly qualified, well educated, hard-working and creative. But Training is another vulnerable outlier and he got hit with layoff after layoff in several companies. Phil stopped talking about a career and focused on having a job. After a while, he just looked for another “chunk of work.”
Getting that chunk of work is important—one does need to pay the bills—but it may not last long or lead to better things.
Although the number of marketing positions being advertised now is a very good sign, candidates still need to do their homework. Find out everything you can about the company. Check LinkedIn, Glass Door, their website, and your own contact network. Go to professional meetings and ask questions. Talk to people at that company, people who used to work there, the company’s competitors and/or the vendors they use. In Marketing, that includes public relations agencies, web site developers, trade show companies, graphics firms, and advertising agencies. Look hard at the company's financials (if they’re public) and what Wall Street analysts are saying about them. Listen during your interviews for more red flags.
Another friend and former co-worker just went on a round of interviews at a company where every interviewer—including HR—warned her about a “difficult person,” who happened to be the VP of the department in which she would be working. Yes, the company offered an opportunity that went well beyond a chunk of work but that Big Red Flag was raised high and waving. She passed on the job.
You ignore those flags at your own risk. If marketing jobs are thawing out, as they appear to be, another good one will come along soon. Hang in there and keep seeding your network. Summer is coming.