How to change jobs when the economy slows down?

March 28, 2016 5 mins read
How to change jobs when the economy slows down?

Recently the question most frequently asked by candidates is “how is the job market”? Their tone shows clear concerns and worries, especially when the recruitment season has come and they haven’t received a call from headhunters – I know that anxiety and disappointment. So today, I will talk about how to find a job in an economic downturn.

First, let us look at the economic situation. Should we look for new opportunities in the economic downturn? My answer is “Yes”. But this is a controversial topic. Many people believe that in an economic slowdown, it is best not to quit your current job to ensure stability. I partially agree with this view, especially if you are in a company with a stable business or a relatively conservative corporate culture, because the broad environment has no obvious impact on the microenvironment. On the whole, the macroeconomic slowdown will cause a downturn in many industries, which is the reality of most industries, although for different reasons. Hesitant investment, difficult financing, unclear market demand and business growth lagged behind budget are all expectable. Under such circumstances, companies will consider restructuring, leadership reshuffling and personnel cost cuts. Therefore, it is self-deceptive for you not to consider changing job due to some force majeure factors.

Weighing and examining your environment is an important step. First, if you are working at the headquarters, you will consider the importance of your department to the corporate business and the voice of your boss in the company. Some head quarter positions are rigid in demand, such as CFO and CHO.  Some are elastic, such as Strategy Director, M&A Director, Project Director and the like. If you are in elastic-demand positions, you need to be more forward-looking to see the demand of the department for the business. For example, a few years ago, there were many M&A-related jobs in the market, because at that time, the economy was good and cash flow was abundant. Many companies wanted to accelerate their growth through M&A. Things are different now. In the domestic market, M&A-related jobs are not as popular as they were in the past. The reason is very simple: companies halted many M&A projects, and shifted to organic growth with existing resources, which dampened the demand for M&A talents. If you are working in a division, you need to consider the ratio of the business of this division to that of the entire company, in terms of both income and profit, as well as its room for growth in the future. During an economic downturn, division mergers are common. Departments with similar functions are most likely to have redundant personnel. Such a situation poses major risks to career development.

In addition to considering the company's business and structure, communication with your boss can also help you get a clear picture of the situation. Except for those “Hollywood actor-like bosses”, many employers are willing to speak out their views on the development of their department and of the company in a practical and measured way. Sometimes you can get useful information from casual conversations with your boss.

When headhunters give you a call and recommend jobs to you, what should you consider in the end?

First, you may want to know why there is a vacancy. In today's economy, you may be conservative in accepting new positions. You may have second thoughts about why this job is created, especially  under the present circumstances. Replacement employment is the reason for most vacancies in this economic environment. It’s difficult to get the real reason for labour turnover through official channels. A good way to learn the truth is to ask questions during the interview, and compare answers of different interviewers to draw a conclusion. Professional headhunting companies are capable of explaining the true reasons for a vacancy based on their knowledge of the company. However, not every headhunter can do this, so we encourage candidates to expand their network and try to find leads. You have to spend time and energy! Many people tell us that they change jobs too frequently, often less than six months, which will put them in an unfavorable position in front of their potential employers.

Secondly, you have to know the expectations of your future boss, performance measurement of this position, as well as possible challenges, especially in the first 6-12 months. These questions are even more important in an economic downturn. We could only imagine that all employers have more expectations for the new hires and less patience with poor performance during probation period that they are in good economy. Many candidates believe that they are experts in a certain area, and more qualified than other candidates for similar positions. They are confident. However, different companies and different bosses have completely different expectations for a same job. Many people can do the job technically, but only a few of them can do it well under specific circumstances.

Thirdly, you have to consider your future boss. The boss is always a vital factor in your next job. What’s more important is the state of the boss - faced with increasing pressure on the business, how he thinks and executes. I believe that no boss will tell his or her future subordinates in the interview, “I don’t have much confidence in our company”; “I am also very concerned about our department”. I would like to see in the interview an optimistic and sincere boss, who openly talks about the challenges and confidently proposes potential improvements. In many of our cases, the boss left the company less than two weeks after the employee we recruited joined the company. Was there any clue in the interview? Or have we missed something in the process? You have to believe your instinct.

Finally, don’t forget us. As your career advisor, we have valuable information about the market, about companies (publicly accessible), as well as some “inside information”. Experienced and trustworthy consultants will become your good career partners. Unlike lawyers and accountants, there is no quality certification for headhunters, so you have to choose from a large number of job consultants with careful thought. You can use LinkedIn to learn the background of various headhunting companies and consultants, and choose those with rich experience, excellent background and consistent career record – they are your true partner.

The 2016 recruiting season has begun. Wishing everyone the best career advancement!

Marlon Mai's picture
Managing Director, Greater China
mmai@morganmckinley.com