Note: I first started this post back at the beginning of September. Since that time, I've continued to see increased activity on the job boards, plus whispers from contacts that suggest things are starting to turn around again.
Starting around the beginning of September, postings on the job boards seemed to start ramping up. Economic confidence appears to be showing more signs of confidence. Of course, being on the front end of this wave can be a mixed blessing.
If you're unemployed, any fish on the line is a good thing -- sometimes it's just a question of how good. For job seekers, problems arise when tight markets and limited opportunities force you to deal with those companies that look at a struggling labor market as an opportunity to exploit. Some companies approach the labor market like the stock market -- buy low, sell high. These companies attempt to leverage employee (or potential employee) desperation to save some money on salary-based operating expenses. Carried to the extreme, some use economic events to cull their ranks of expensive talent, replacing them with new, 'more desperate' staff as the hiring market transitions -- think pro sports and the salary cap.
When times have been tough and you're at the front end of the ramp back up, companies may try to leverage your despair to undercut your salary negotiation position. The funny thing about this is that, while this approach may make sense on a by-the-numbers strategy, it overlooks the fact that 'human capital' is not equal to traditional corporate assets. A key factor in your performance is psychology. When was the last time an enterprise software or a manufacturing tool went through a period of reduced performance because it was sad, frustrated, or felt exploited?
This corporate strategy starts with the idea that anyone can be replaced with little overall difference in the operation of the business. Want to fall on your sword? Big deal, there are thousands of marketing pros out there, just waiting in line to take your underpaid, overworked place. It's the worker-turned-factory-production-equipment concept applied broadly across all parts of the business.
While it's easy to hate the 'exploiter' strategy, businesses can find a lot to like about it. The Exploiter mindset is often an institutionalized value. So even if you hate it, don't go in expecting it to change. Unless you're stepping into a senior executive role where you have the ability to shape culture, you're probably not going to be able to change it directly. For most exploited employees, change usually means finding work with a new, less exploitative employer. And for potential employees, that means that a focus of your new job will be looking for a new job.
So what's the take-away from all of this? Back in this post that I wrote in July, I noted an article talking about recruiters looking for "soft candidates", candidates who already had a job and were less interested in changing jobs. To that end, keep in mind that whenever you get into negotiations for a new job, no matter how desperate your current situation feels and how good the new job looks -- always approach the deal with the idea that you can walk away, that there is another opportunity waiting just around the corner. Ultimately, there is only one you and whatever you sign on for is going to eat a big chunk of your life.