Monday, June 15, 2009

Where the Jobs Are: Insights from Recruiters

For my most recent Boston Globe column, I spoke with recruiters to ask them where they're seeing demand these days. But I also wanted to provide some bonus material here that couldn't fit in the column.

The premise:

    To gather some information that might be useful to those of you in the job market - or who worry you may be soon - I've been talking to local recruiters who focus on the innovation economy, specializing in sectors like technology, life sciences, and energy. I asked them about specific jobs and industry clusters where they've been seeing demand lately - as well as jobs and industry clusters where demand has died off. I also asked about what differentiates candidates who get snapped up quickly from those who spend months mailing off resumes.

A few recruiters sent along their thoughts via e-mail, and I wanted to share that with you here.

Jim Sullivan, chief executive of JCSI, wrote:

    ...Based on our client base I can tell you very quickly that the biotech, medical, defense/aerospace, and energy related sectors are stable in terms of recruiting and that finance, insurance, and associated fields are down. That’s to be expected since the financial industry is going through a lot of change right now. We have numerous candidates from the financial sector that are having a harder time landing positions, especially if they were in upper management before. There are also fewer top level HR positions going around.

    Based on our research into different industries, we’ve noticed a lot of new positions opening up in the areas related to social media and Web 2.0, telemedicine, risk management, electronic medical records, and C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) for defense. Of course, if you visit sites like you’ll see that there are a lot of “Green” jobs posted out there as well. We’ll probably see quite a few of those coming to MA because of federal funding...

David Hayes, CEO of HireMinds, wrote:

    ...As is often the case in a down market, those who are the "do-ers" vs. the managers or the entry level talent are in highest demand. Companies have trimmed the fat, and in many cases have laid off some of the more highly compensated management level talent in favor of hiring folks who can execute. On the technology side, developers (specifically mid level Java and C# developers) are still in super high demand. In addition, people with expertise in open source technologies like LAMP continue to be highly sought after. Two skill sets that have seen a particularly high drop in demand are project management and business analysis. Companies are looking to hire people with really technical, hands-on skills, and are finding other creative ways to deal with project management and analysis needs.

    Demand for marketing skills such as search marketing and other sorts of "demand/lead generation" expertise have continued to rise. The more you can help a company to increase their sales lead pipeline, the more likely your skill set is sought after. We are not seeing nearly as much need for the traditional software marketing communications generalist. On the creative side, demand remains very soft - especially for "off-line" creatives. The largest demand we are seeing these days is for creatives who can move easily between offline and digital projects - essentially "Swiss army knife" creatives. Demand for certain creative skills that were white hot a year or more ago, like FLASH designers, have cooled off considerably, as firms increasingly use the more search engine friendly Javascript technology.

    From an industry perspective, healthcare is hot while financial services is not. Highly compensated executive assistants from financial services firms are having a hard time finding work, while more moderately priced administrative assistants with healthcare expertise are highly sought after.

    The biotech/pharmaceutical industry has also seen a seismic shift with regard to the in-demand skill sets. When VC money was flowing, it was early stage R&D talent that was in highest demand. These days, with VC dollars in short supply, companies are looking more to bring their lead products to market than to develop new products. Thus, skill sets such as quality, regulatory, clinical, process development, process chemistry, and manufacturing are hottest. R&D talent is still needed, but typically supply exceeds demand.

    More generally, we have definitely seen the job market for marketing, technology, science, and administrative personnel stabilize. Based upon demand for our services, we are headed out of the recession rather than into it. While the job market remains less robust than at this time last year, there are many rays of sunshine poking through the grey clouds of economic gloom...

    The people who are getting jobs in today's market are those who are approaching every step of the search process mindfully. Just because you may have gotten every job you applied for previously doesn't mean that you should take for granted that it will continue to happen. Rather than simply tracking how many resumes you send out, send out fewer resumes and focus instead on how many touch points you can make into the firm you are interested in joining. Social media is an absolute essential in today's market. If your LinkedIN profile isn't at least as robust as your resume, you risk being overlooked by top recruiters.

    Hiring managers have many choices today, and competition is fierce for the best jobs. Those who actually get the jobs are those who manage to convince the hiring authority that they are truly passionate about the job. They do this by sending well written resumes and cover letters, leveraging social media like facebook and LinkedIN to get multiple touch points into a firm, preparing for interviews and practicing interview responses (especially to behavioral interview questions), and by demonstrating a level of energy and passion that says "I can do it, and I WANT to do it"

    Bottom line: you must sell yourself like never before, and not rest on past accomplishments.

    Other generalizations: Those who are focused on things like pay, benefits, title, and the like generally don't make it to final rounds. Those who are focused on selling themselves and why an organization should hire them do.

    I can generally spot someone who is sure to land a job vs. one who is not. The one who lands a job is crisp in all things that s/he says and does, and has a plan. The one who doesn't is generally "shell shocked" by his/her situation, and not sure how to proceed...

Pearl Freier of Cambridge BioPartners wrote:

    I think we’re looking at 2010, maybe even early 2011, before we see substantial increases in hiring across the board in life sciences.

    Here’s a somewhat long explanation of why 2010 or 2011, in case it’s helpful:

    It doesn’t look like there will be another large pharma moving to Boston area in 2009 (Novartis in 2002/2003 made a huge difference here during the last downtown), and instead there are acquisitions like GSK/Sirtris and Bristol Myers Squibb/Adnexus from last year (and we may see more of these this year in Boston biotech)- and what’s great it’s that they keep the acquired biotech going as a separate biotech divison and they continue to invest in the growth of that company- but they keep those companies small, and will continue to do so- Sirtris- has a little over 60 employees- maybe they will grow to 70 or 75 by end of year. Not sure about Adnexus.

    For larger biotech companies, it’s depending on the public markets and the FDA- then it would be “OK” for companies to budget more (and the recruitment budget that goes with it) for increased hiring in 2010. In most of these companies, except for maybe Merck in Boston, the budget isn’t there to increase positions from the amount of positions that had been allocated in 2008. Cubist may be another one.

    It’s such a risky industry-regardless of the economy- Alkermes and CombinatoRx failures in the clinic were not related to the economy.

    The amount of hiring was overhyped in 2007 and 2008, when in New England the bulk of the hiring was happening at a handful of larger companies, and with the smaller companies there was a public perception or assumption that they must be hiring aggressively if they raised $40 or $50 million. A lot of recruitment advertising was done, job fairs etc, but most of these companies didn’t exceed 30 employees, more likely 10 to 20 employees.

    A year ago at this time, The Mass Biotech Council would have 800 to 900 openings on their website at a given time (representing membership of 500 to 600 companies). Today it’s 500 listings.

    ...On the early stage side, I suspect for the rest of the year there is going to be more “cleaning house” to cut costs and conserve cash, and there will be VC funds that aren’t going to be able to raise new funds, essentially going under by 2010 , while more companies will run out of money and close. It takes a while for these companies to close- they tend to linger on, slow death.

    It exciting to see deals and company financings continue through funds like Third Rock, Polaris Ventures, and MPM Capital- exciting companies they are starting/investing in- significant job creation if companies can advance is 4 to 10 yrs out- and small number of jobs created in the interim.

One data point that didn't make it into the column is that when jobs disappear, the recruiters' workload drops. Most said their activity levels were down 20 to 30 percent. And that's what they're willing to tell a reporter!

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