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Tough job market ahead

Bob Weinstein -- The job market ain't what it used to be. For now, cautious hiring will be the rule in most sectors. But there are bright spots ahead.

Only exceptional job candidates will have negotiating power next year. The job market will be fiercely competitive, says Amy O'Donnell, executive vice president of Contractors Resources, Inc., a staffing firm in Reston, VA. "It could take from six to nine months to capture a new job," she says. "Finding a job will take more work and creativity than it did two years ago. That means exploring all job avenues plus doing some aggressive networking."

Jobseekers will be scrutinized more carefully, and it will be harder to impress recruiters and employers. Headhunters will only send top candidates to their clients. "That means candidates must turn in an exceptional interview and have an impressive resume," stresses Mark Jaffe, principal and partner of Wyatt & Jaffe, an executive search firm in Minneapolis.

Jaffe advises rewriting your resume so that it demonstrates innovation and accomplishments on prior jobs. "It doesn't matter whether the company you worked for succeeded or failed, he says. "More important is proving you were a strong contributor and not just a cog in the wheel."

Key Compromises

Salaries offered will be about 15 percent lower (sometimes more) in 2002. Jobseekers will also be more willing to relocate than they were last year. "If it's a question of securing a job immediately or being unemployed for several months, jobseekers will be more likely to relocate," says O'Donnell. Similarly, employers will be reluctant to let a new hire telecommute. They will want their employees to be physically present and work a traditional workday.

Where are the jobs? "Companies won't be upgrading their technology every year like they did in the past," adds O'Donnell. "They'll maintain the technology they have in place as long as possible. Since most companies won't be investing in new technology, expect a modest demand for software developers, testers, and consultants."

Web developers will have a rough time finding work for the same reason. Why redesign your web site when you can make do with what you have? But, there will be steady demand for maintenance and IT systems people to update existing web technology and keep it running smoothly, O'Donnell adds. "There will also be a continuing demand for front-line help desk and customer support reps with good technical backgrounds."

Even though the software industry has taken a beating, tech companies will be hiring computer, electronics, material engineers, and technicians. Expect radical hardware innovations in mid- to late 2002, says Jaffe. "Unlike 2000, the emphasis will be on innovation rather than implementation," he says.


Although it's hard to imagine, Jaffe insists the telecommunications industry will make a strong comeback. "The next big wave in telecommunications hardware will include new optical devices and components and improvements in optical network integration, fiber optics and multiplexer technologies," he explains. "Data storage and warehousing will be taken to the next level."

The economic slump hasn't stopped the government from hiring. With the war efforts in Afghanistan, defense industry contractors (Lockheed, Booz Allen Hamilton, EDS, for example) have more work than they can handle.

The engineering market is still good, but you won't see "the frenzied pace of hiring we had last year," projects Kevin Hewerdine, director of Career Services at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, IN. A slow economy didn't stop recruiters from attending the Rose-Hulman Career Fair in October. In fact, "it was the second-largest turnout of recruiters to attend the event in our history," says Hewerdine.

"Large national companies like Microsoft, Texas Instruments, and Caterpillar Tractor attended as did many recruiters from the pharmaceutical and power industries, as well as defense contractors. There is still a big demand for computer science and electrical engineering majors," he added.

Finally, venture capitalists will still be investing in high-potential startups, according to John Doffing, founder of StartUpAgent, Inc., an Internet talent agency in San Francisco. That means opportunities for MBAs as well as business majors with a heavy concentration in entrepreneurship.

"VCs have learned their lesson and won't be recklessly investing in just any startup with potential," says Doffing. "Instead, they'll put money into existing companies and startups that will turn a profit within a year. They'll have to offer solid products or services with strong market potential." Economists differ, but a turnaround could be a year or more off. But all the pundits agree that the economy will come back stronger than ever minus the extravagant excesses of 2000.

Bob Weinstein writes the "Tech Watch" column, the first weekly career column to cover the exploding technology marketplace. He built a national reputation covering the career marketplace for more than 20 years and has written a number of books, including 140 High-Tech Careers, How To Get a Job in Hard Times, and I Hate My Boss! His articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, New York Daily News, Business Week's Career Guide, and Reader's Digest, just to name a few.


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