Post-Recession Workplace Insights

By Connie English-

Most economists are showing that the recession is over, and we know that job openings are on the rise.  Our own signals are promising – fewer alumni are calling with news of lay-offs, many long time unemployed are landing in desirable jobs, and job posting volume on the Darden Alumni Job Posting Board is back to 2007 levels! However, the state of the job market has certainly changed.

One of the biggest questions of the changed environment is the compensation picture. Salaries suffered during the downturn. Few organizations awarded raises, many managers took pay cuts, and still others settled for replacement jobs that pay far less than their previous jobs did. “Post-MBA salaries were lower in 2010 (down 6 percent from the 2008 average)” according to the recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek study. The mid-career salary situation is more difficult to gauge; the picture is still fuzzy. Anecdotally, we have heard from many alumni who took pay cuts to keep their jobs. Starting salaries seem to be stagnant, at best. With the increased availability of talent, employers were able to hire top candidates for less. A recent U.S. Labor Department study reported in The Wall Street Journal notes that between 2007 and 2009, 36 percent of full-time workers who lost their jobs and found new full-time work reported that the new job paid at least 20 percent less than the one they lost. The Christian Science Monitor reports that “as hiring has picked up on the Street, fat salaries are reappearing. Richard Stein, president of Global Sage, an executive search firm, tells the New York Times corporate clients have offered compensation packages of more than $1 million annually to a dozen candidates in just the last few weeks.” Without a large body of data to analyze, it is hard to understand what the trends really are.

When career counselors at The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the Darden School are asked for help in determining a fair salary to negotiate for that new job, we recommend a few sources.  Salary.com provides a useful “Salary Wizard” listing data on salaries to job title to match the position in question. It’s hard to say whether the data is current, though, as changes have occurred rapidly. A newer and lesser known source is Glassdoor.com, where users obtain access to unedited opinions about a company’s work environment as well as details on salaries, company reviews, job interview questions and reviews. With all the shifting and adapting in the last couple of years, employers are careful to balance internal equity and external market indicators. The picture remains fuzzy.

The last three years have also changed the way that companies source talent. With so many people looking for work, recruiters found that posting a job on a public board (like CareerBuilder.com for example) attracted sometimes thousands of resumes, many irrelevant to the opening. When online job postings took the place of newspaper classified ads, talent acquisition managers thought “Life is Good,” and before you knew it, Monster.com was advertising during the Super Bowl! Post-recession, talent seekers avoid job boards and instead depend on personal connections to source candidates. LinkedIn has also provided a way for employers to search for the perfect match. So now, by the time a job is posted publicly, it is likely an “A” candidate has already been identified and all other applicants will have to pop out of the pile to compete. Referrals have replaced job boards. LinkedIn has replaced resumes printed on Crane’s stationery. Connections/Reputation/Introductions will trump the best written resume in the box.

One other change we’ve noticed is the fact that employers are more likely than ever to have employees work from home rather than provide an office to attend. This may sound “dreamy” to some, but while these virtual work arrangements may allow pajama-wearing-managers new found freedom, that freedom comes with new challenges. First, the delineation between work time and private time is often hard to see. It’s no longer taboo to contact a colleague at home in a non-emergency, even if it is off-hours. Further, connection and trust are tough to develop without personal contact. Personal relationship-building through casual conversations in hallway meetings and impromptu brainstorming is tough to replicate virtually. Of course, for some, the advantages outweigh the negatives – people are able to work when they do their best work, wear what is comfortable, and avoid wasted commute time, energy and expense. New technology makes working virtually possible, but keeping up with all the latest communication and virtual devices can be time-consuming and challenging.

The second decade of the new millennium has brought a new look to the workplace from compensation to hiring techniques to work arrangements. Whether these changes were brought on by the long economic downturn, technological advances or the effect of social media is immaterial. What does matter is how you respond to the changes. Know that Darden is ready to help you with all your career management issues. Don’t hesitate to reach out for our help – AlumniCareerServices@darden.virginia.edu or +1-434-924-3029 to schedule an appointment.

Here’s a webinar “Salary Negotiation 2.0” provided by IvyExec.
This webinar will provide an overview of some strategic and tactical negotiating techniques that can be used – even in these difficult economic times – to ask for a raise or negotiate with a prospective employer.

Connie Dato English (MBA ’91)
Director of The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services