In Today’s job market-we’re in a tight spot

This post was originally published in PE Magazine in May 2010, but the principles listed apply to more than just engineers.

I encourage you to continually improve your networking skills and also to pass along your thoughts that I have missed.

In the movie, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”, the character Everett Ulysses McGill, so ably played by George Clooney, continually uses the phrase, “We’re in a tight spot.”  That singular

expression sums up many factors in the current employment market, and it is especially true in the AEC world.  While numbers in the total unemployment market across the United States hover around the 10% level, the numbers in the design and construction world are at 27.1% according to the March 10, 2010 issue of ENR.  Other anecdotal conversations I have had with industry leaders have increased this number to 35% and higher.  One thing we all agree upon is that the market is slow and there is no tremendous savior in sight outside of the federal sector.

When the demand side is so low and the supply side is so high, it makes for a challenging time for many skilled architects, engineers, project managers and skilled trades people who were pushed to their limits just a few years ago.  My greatest fear is that a large number of this group will give up hope about the long-term promise in the design and construction market and they will abandon this career in hopes of finding something more stable in another market.

Much of my time is spent with clients assisting them in finding and developing talent.  Not so long ago it was almost impossible to find some types of engineers and there are still parts of the market, such as air quality, that seem pretty robust to me.  For those who are not fortunate to be in the few hot markets, there is a need to understand more about how to package, market and communicate just who you are and what you have done, and can do.  I make this distinction because I see a number of more experienced people setting up their own little consulting businesses where they serve a number of firms or owners versus working solely for one firm.  I could write an entire article about becoming your own business.

The methods of finding a job when I first graduated in 1981 were pretty specific.  You would try to find internships while in school and then make sure you stayed involved with professional societies such as NSPE and others when you entered the world of work.  These basics have not changed.  It is still essential to have a great resume that is current and it is

also very important to be involved in organizations that give back to your profession and your community.  Some of the best examples I have seen include getting involved in community organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

The part I see many job seekers overlooking or not emphasizing enough is their participation in networking activities.  I have to admit that many in the engineering profession would rather scratch their fingernails on a chalkboard than attend a networking event, but it is essential that all professionals, engineers included, keep an active network of both their peers and others.  It can be a real stretch for many of us, but you have to do it.  These networking events can be formal or informal.  For those who are unemployed, there are a number of organizations that are providing really useful assistance to many in transition and they provide not only job assistance, but also provide other valuable services such as counseling services.  I am personally involved with a large career transition group in Brentwood, TN that has attracted job seekers from as far away as Arkansas, Georgia and California.  The long tenure of this transition group gives it great credibility and the attendance ranges from 100 to 250 each Monday night.

The piece that many miss is the Social Network piece.  I find LinkedIn to be the most significant tool I use for networking, search and business development and I have seen many others find great value from this network once they understand how to build a presence and how to leverage and grow their network.  The most important factor that most job seekers learn is that they are not alone and they should be willing to help others in addition to asking for help.  This spirit of camaraderie can be a strong support mechanism for many I see in the transition market.

There is no doubt that we are in a tight spot.  While the results may not be as humorous as those in the “Oh Brother” movie, the end result for you and many you know can be a happy one if you realize that networking is a 24/7/365 activity; this means you never stop networking, even when you get that next job.   The other important learning is that Social Networks can be a very useful tool in helping to catalyze your personal networking.  You still will need to get out and meet others you don’t know, or don’t know well, and the online networks will never replace that one-on-one interaction.

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