Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sit Tight

Sit Tight and Network, Network, Network

Despite the long, painful slide that has hit most of the American job market, many of us in the quantitative community were fortunate that our employment options remained relatively intact until early this year. I wish I had a pithy quote, wry comment or even a good joke to take the sting out of the current news, but I've got nothing. The sustained economic downturn has, unfortunately, caught up with quantitative business professionals and layoffs are now affecting our industry with force.

Beginning in January, waves of layoffs hit major corporations across almost every sector. The financial services and automotive industries, and those suppliers and consulting firms that support them have been hardest hit. Other industries under siege include technology, communications, traditional advertising agencies, and insurance companies. While I personally believe that the bulk of the layoffs are behind us in analytics, I am still hearing rumblings from many sources of additional trimming.

If you have a job, my advice to candidates is to sit tight, unless your situation is completely intolerable. The current market is steeply tipped in favor of hiring companies, so salary bumps, sign-on bonuses, or rich relocation packages are rare at best. Make yourself invaluable. While that may sound overstated, the fact is that many quantitative professionals are uniquely positioned to provide the skills, data and analysis that top management needs to make the best possible decisions in these difficult times.

If you are already in the job market, the key is to be adaptable and network aggressively. Be flexible about location, salary (but not overly so), relocation allowance, title and industry. Know going in that HR groups will be tough negotiators. Make sure you connect with other quantitative professionals – through association memberships (like ASA, AMA or Informs), alumni groups, technical conferences and, of course, LinkedIn. Update your profiles, participate actively and professionally in relevant forums, and be generous in sharing opportunities with others.

On the flip side of the job market coin, the few hiring managers who are looking for talent are frustrated. Top prospects are often hesitant to make any kind of move, as no one wants to be the new kid when layoffs are looming. Many candidates are unable to even consider changing jobs due to the relocation costs associated with sluggish home sales.

The employment outlook still looks pretty stormy from my window, with a very inactive summer job market on the horizon. By third quarter, I expect that corporate performance should show signs of improvement (compared to ’08). Because labor recovery is a lagging indicator of economic health, we probably won’t see a return to confidence or tentative steps toward hiring and rehiring until the end of this year.

Through all the gloomy news, quantitative business professionals should take heart in the fact that their near-term and long-term career prospects remain positive. The ability to glean actionable insights from the mountains of data emerging from our limitless knowledge pool will continue to be a critical skill. The current economic situation is a bump (or maybe a pothole) in the road, but in general, the quantitative expert will benefit from extremely high job security.

Thanks for staying in touch with me during this daunting time. Keep me posted when and if your situation changes. I would also love your take on the job marketplace from the trenches. Please feel free to share your comments!

Linda Burtch
Burtch Works
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