Watson Wyatt Worldwide reports that as of December 2008, 47% of US companies have frozen hiring, up from 30% in October. Another 18% plan to freeze hiring in 2009.

The situation is a little brighter for seasonal workers. 28% of companies froze hiring in December, up from 17% in October. 16% plan to freeze hiring in 2009.

Anecdotally, I am hearing from non-profit colleagues that there are formal and informal hiring freezes throughout the NYC industry. Several large non-profits have laid people off, including the ACLU and 92nd Street Y.

So the hiring situation stinks right now. And yet…

There continue to be job postings and interviewing for what we call “mission-critical positions.” Those are the jobs without which the company or organization cannot function. Right now, I know of three people who have had interviews in the past week: one for an HR job, another for a marketing job, and another for a senior management position. All at relatively large NYC non-profits. A fourth person is considering COO positions at a couple of for-profit technology companies with about 200 employees. One would pay her less than she needs to meet her basic expenses, however.

High level and high skill jobs will continue to open up, as people’s life circumstances change in unexpected ways and they leave their current positions. Some companies are growing and maturing, so they need different and new positions filled. Clearly, however, there will be much more competition for those positions than before.

The greatest slowdown is obviously in the financial services sector. And I see on job boards and hear from colleagues that low-level, less-skilled jobs are being eliminated and not filled when they become vacant.

Understanding some of the dynamics of the market can help us shift our expectations about job searches. Here are some implications:

  • Searches will take AT LEAST twice as long. If you hoped to have a job in three months, lengthen your time horizon to six or nine months.
  • This is the time to engage in what I call the “leave no stone unturned school of job search.” Do EVERYTHING that occurs to you and is suggested by others. This is not the time to say “oh, I don’t think that will work” or “I don’t think I’ll like that job.” How do you know, until you get the interview? And you don’t know where an opportunity or idea will lead you.

Today’s economy is relatively uncharted territory for most job-seekers, so abandon the idea that your road map is sufficient. It is NOT. So get off the beaten path, venture into the unknown, try something a little beyond your comfort zone. My philosophy is that if something comes up in your path – whether someone suggests doing something or a wacky idea floats through your brain – it is there for a reason. So take a couple of steps to follow up on it. You’ll know soon enough if it’s right or not for you – either because you get a big fat “no” or because the path turns too rocky and difficult (a sure sign it’s not a road to keep following), or because you gather enough information to see that your minimum “must haves” won’t be met.

I learned about this job search mode during the last historical period of high, high, high unemployment – the early 1980’s. I left graduate school in June of 1981, and found my first real job in October 1981. Looking back, I see that it happened pretty quickly – just four months. But it felt like it took forever, because I was temping in some very odd places (like the company that published all the UN reports and books). Just out of school, I needed an entry level job. I went on interview after interview, and nothing really worked out. Finally, I took my father’s advice and help, and networked with his colleagues and friends. Ultimately, this led me to landing a three day a week, $10,000 a year job as the all-in-one fundraiser/PR/events/planning person for a community development organization in the South Bronx.

  • Lower expectations. Maybe you can do part-time work for a while, take consulting gigs, take a pay cut. This situation is temporary – how long that is, who knows. It usually takes about three years for the employment situation to really pick up out of a recession, and this is far worse than what we’ve seen since 1980-82.
  • Avail yourself of all the advice out there, much of it really good. There are good strategies for positioning yourself, networking, getting yourself out there and noticed, and getting interviews. I’ll write more on this tomorrow.