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Jauary 3, 2003


By Eric Wahlgren in New York

Hiring Outlook 2003, Part Two

“Our most forward-thinking clients realize that we’re in a ceasefire in the war for talent. They’re building up their bench”

Here’s the second part of BusinessWeek Online’s third annual utterly unscientific hiring-outlook survey of employment experts. Following are edited comments from several of them. 


David Nosal, co-head of the CEO practice for executive-search firm Korn/Ferry International in Silicon Valley

I think we’re seeing a pickup in activity in the industrial-products sector and continued strong growth in life sciences. That would include medical device, biotech, and other service providers. I’m also hopeful that we’ll see a little bit of an updraft in financial services and technology, but I think those are going to lag the other areas that I’ve mentioned.

The most active high-end recruitment activity is at both the board and CEO level. Many organizations continue to plan for succession at the CEO level. And many organizations continue to have problems, so they will be changing their CEOs. And many of the board participants aren’t the right board representation for these companies.

Sales positions will be in demand, especially for executive vice-presidents and senior vice-presidents.

Ted Martin headshot photo

Ted Martin, CEO of Martin Partners, an executive-search firm in Chicago

Biotech continues to grow. Construction related to defense and security continues to grow. You have to add new rooms for better safekeeping of databases, for instance. And you need to add more network security.

Engineers are in demand on the construction side. And you will have a need for programmers on the software-security side. You have insurance growing because of the increasing need for terrorism insurance. Energy is expected to grow, as we’re worried about global instability. Nanotechnology is going to create jobs.

There’s a need for more — or at the very least better — chief financial officers. You have to make sure your CFO is up to snuff because companies want to avoid WorldCom situations. More documentation is required now, and more minutiae to be considered.

The bottom line is a return to longer hours and more work. The candidate may be looking for lifestyle, while the employer, in search of profitability, is looking for longer hours and more work. The real question in 2003 is: Who wins the battle?

“To hire one head, you fire one head”

Joan Zimmerman, a partner at New York City-based financial-services and real-estate search firm Rhodes Associates

In the financial market, hiring will depend on the stock market itself and on the economy. If the market stabilizes and begins to rise, you will see growing confidence. As a result, you will see firms begin to hire. From an investment-banking standpoint, everything is dependent on the market. I think there’s a feeling that things will be somewhat better in the second half of 2003.

Some areas will continue to see hiring activity, including investment banking related to health care and financial institutions. If interest rates stay low and there are still questions about credit and bankruptcies, the credit-derivative area will remain in a growth mode. Restructurings and reorganizations will continue to grow.

You won’t see a lot of growth in the number of financial-services professionals in 2003. What you’ll see is an upgrading of quality — to hire one head, you fire one head.

Ken Keeley, executive director of the career-opportunities center at Carnegie Mellon University’s Graduate School of Industrial Administration in Pittsburgh

My best guess is that across the country, most second-year [MBA] students are facing a poor job market. What we hear from recruiters is that most of their companies are going to be pretty reluctant to open the purse strings.

Looking into my crystal ball, I think two of the first areas that will pop back — and it’s only because they’re so bad right now — are high-tech manufacturing and consulting. To go from zero to anything is a great improvement.

The consulting firms that recruited here [most recently] were Bain, Booz Allen, and McKinsey. The only other group was PricewaterhouseCoopers. This is a place where you would typically get a broader segment. We used to get a lot of niche firms like DiamondCluster and A.T. Kearney. Those firms aren’t recruiting right now.

The two groups of students we think are having the biggest challenges are career changers and international students. When supply exceeds demand, employers are less willing to train career changers and less willing to go to battle with the government to get an international student [a work visa].

Randy Neal headshot photo

“Clearly, the trend is for people who are more proven”

Randy Neal, managing partner at the Broadmoor Group, an executive-search firm in Dallas

We’ve seen a tremendous increase in executive-level search assignments in the last 45 days — at least a 100% increase over last year. I’m assuming that there’s more optimism out there. The industries that we’re seeing activity in include building supplies, certain segments of information technology, especially in the data-storage area. We’re also getting more board searches. Biotech is another hot area. In telecommunications, wireless is seeing some growth.

A lot of jobs are sales jobs. You’re going to have more sales and development positions as businesses upgrade their sales forces. A lot of the jobs are for the top executives in an organization. Companies are also upgrading management.

Clearly, the trend is for people who are more proven — people who have been there, done that. Salaries, meanwhile, are pretty flat. They’re not jumping ahead.

“Optimism is being mitigated by the possibility of war”

Bob Lambert, a managing partner in Irvine, Calif., with Christian & Timbers, an executive-search firm

What we’re seeing is a very minor uptick in requests for our services as we go into the first quarter. There’s still a very high level of uncertainty about where the economy is going. Optimism is being mitigated by the possibility of war in the Mideast. Our most forward-thinking clients realize that we’re in a ceasefire in the war for talent. They’re building up their bench.

A lot of our demand is for the been-there-done-that executives — those in their mid 40s to early 50s with 20-plus years of operational and execution-oriented experience. Right now, the demand is for people who can make things happen, not for people who can provide visions. What matters is what you can do for me in the next quarter.

I place a lot of senior-level human resources executives. Some potential candidates lose sight of the basics in HR. There’s a demand for people who have built a talent-acquisition and management process that gets their companies the best people and who have developed rewards systems that work.

The hot job right now is chairman of the audit committee for a board. I’m doing two of those searches. It’s basic. CEOs have to sign off on financial statements, so they want an audit-committee chairman they can trust.

Mary Albright-Smith, director of career management at UCLA’s Anderson School

For the kind of recruiters that tend to do hiring on campus for investment banking, consulting, and marketing, we’re seeing hiring pretty flat compared with last year. We’re not hearing them talk about it picking up, either.

Those [students] who weren’t recruited on campus are looking at biotech. I think that we’re also going to see an increase in hiring by entertainment companies. It isn’t explosive growth, but it’s increasing. Slowly but surely, the industry is paying more attention to MBAs. And as more MBAs get into the industry, it opens up to future MBAs simply because of networking.