Being an executive search consultant brings with it a variety of occupational hazards.
When people discover my profession, they immediately work the word 'headhunter' into the conversation and then apologize to me in case I'm insulted by it (I'm not, but I don't embrace it). Or they send me copies of resumes from friends and family members who are out of work so I can find them jobs (not what we do). Or they tell me they have been thinking about 'making a move' and ask if I will meet with them to help.
But the biggest occupational hazard in my profession is having a snappy, relevant, current answer to a question I get many times each week:
"How's the job market?"
People ask this question with the expectation that there is one discrete answer. It turns out there is one answer, but it isn't the answer people want to hear. Because the real answer is this: "It depends."
First of all, it depends on where you want to live and how much money you want to make. Secondly, it depends on your skills and the demand for those skills. It also depends on how up-to-date those skills are. Could you write an article for a business publication about where your profession is going in the next five years - or would you be more likely to write about how your profession has lost its way and will never be as good as it used to be?
How do you feel about e-mail, handling your own correspondence and travel reservations and working remotely? How about Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook? Are you still angry about that boss who eliminated your job five years ago but still got a big year-end bonus?
If you're a CFO, do you know the difference between keeping score and actually being in the game? If you work in human resources, do the leaders of your business seek out your opinions on strategy and business challenges or do they just ask if they have filled out all the forms correctly for the dental plan? Does your sales strategy include lots of cocktails, golf and bad jokes? Are you the kind of CEO who gets invited to your employees' kids' bar mitzvahs? Do you take the time to meet with executives in transition who are looking for advice and help in networking?
So, back to the question - How is the job market?
Well, it depends.
If you have up-to-date skills that matter to corporations, it's pretty good. If you have hard-to-find skills and an engaging personality, it's excellent. If you believe in your heart of hearts that the world was a much better, easier, happier, simpler place 15 years ago and you are resentful that you have to even pay attention to how the job market is in 2012, then the job market is very, very bad. If you think the way to get a job is to send out thousands of resumes to people you don't know, then the job market is downright awful.
If you don't know what it is you bring to an employer that is really valuable to them, the market is not so good. If you can easily make a list of ten people who you have helped find their way in the world of work, your prospects in the job market just got better.
And if you are open-minded, interested in learning and growing, willing to work hard and ask for (and give) help, the job market is dynamic, challenging and full of opportunities.
But what do I know? I'm just a headhunter who can't find you a job.
By John Salveson, Salveson Stetson Group Inc, Philadelphia. Reproduced from Salveson Stetson Group's blog, which can be found here: