• Addressing Career Management in Uncertain Economic Times

3/25/2009

Larry Stybel is executive in residence at the Sawyer Business School and owner of Stybel Peabody and Associates, a Lincolnshire International company (of which Stybel was a founder). With offices in 40 US cities and 25 countries, Stybel Peabody is retained by companies seeking to help valued employees manage their careers. These days, that means executive level outplacement.

Stybel’s been doing this work for three decades, and with the recent bump in clients seeking career help due to layoffs, we figured he would be the perfect guy to speak with about the current job market and where we go from here.

Are you having a difficult time giving clients new career opportunities?
The job market is very difficult, and people are making very painful choices. Part of our role is advice and counseling, but we also help clients think through the trade-offs they may need to make. An example: A client was making $75,000 in middle management. What she really wanted to do was get into development, and we helped her find a job with a non-profit where she could start at an entry-level position and get credibility in her new career. She’s had to take a salary cut from $75,000 to $50,000, but this is the price she’s paying to learn and get into a new industry that has more potential for her long-term.

Are you seeing a lot of people who want to change direction entirely?
No. I’m finding that Americans aren’t very adaptable to this new economic climate. This is a shocking period of time, because most of us have never gone through something like this before. And Americans always feel like next year will be better than the year before, and our children will do better than we did, and we all have the right to retire at age 65. All of those assumptions are now up in the air.

Are there any signs that the worst may be behind us?
I can’t say that. Right now we are in the middle of dark times. And people are so depressed and so demoralized that they may overlook signs that say that we’re beginning to see better times. It’s really hard to imagine in February that the snow will ever go away, and we’re at the beginning of February right now. I would describe the mood of the CEOS I work with as moving from hopeless-helpless to confused. This is a positive sign. We are nowhere near the end of this recession, but people are now convinced it will end.

What are some of the signs we should watch for?
The first will be a sustained rally in the stock market, which we’re starting to see now. The second will be an uptick in overtime. When business starts picking up, employers won’t believe that it will last, so they’re not going to want to hire new employees, and they’re not going to want to hire interim people. Instead, they’re going to ask their current employees to work overtime. The third sign will come in the plastics industry. So many products that we make and use plastic, so when the plastics industry starts doing well, that is a leading indicator that we’re starting to buy.

Do you have any advice for somebody who finds himself unemployed?
There are two things we try to do with our clients. We try to teach them, what to do and how to think. The “what to do” part is about technique—resumes, interview questions, networking. That’s the easy part. The really tough part is “how to think” about what's going on, because most of us have been trained to think in a linear fashion—I do this. Then I do this. And then I do this. And that just doesn’t work anymore. Not in this environment.

If you’re career is like a target, and you’re thinking straight ahead dead center, you’re looking in the wrong place. The opportunities will not be in the bull’s eye, they’ll be in the periphery. And you’ve got to be prepared to move to the periphery.

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