Exec job market remains tight
Senior managers must search harder and wait longer to get placed

Luigi Lo Basso would be an ideal catch for any company. He's bright and has a positive attitude coupled with 30 years of international financial management experience. But during his recent job search he's being asked an unusual question.

"People want to know if I have a (chartered accountancy designation)," said Lo Basso. "I've managed many CAs over the years. But people still think having those two letters is important."

Recruiters can afford to be picky. Despite the fact that the Canadian economy has created almost 300,000 jobs during the past twelve months, hiring at the upper levels of the country's largest companies remains tight. That means candidates for top executive positions have to search harder and wait longer for their next placement.

Those are the conclusions emerging from a round table held last week with five senior executives who are currently between assignments.

It adds up to bad news for managers like Lo Basso, who despite his MBA and financial management background from working on three continents, occasionally finds himself at the back of the line because someone typed the letters "CA" in the requirements section of a job ad.

But job seekers can't afford to be picky.

"It's tough out there," said Claude Demers, a certified management accountant with extensive experience in the food industry. People are not only looking at your qualifications, but also for industry specific knowledge."

Those increasingly specific specialists have hit specialists like Alain Roquet hard. Roquet an engineer, with 18 years of experience at Bell Helicopter, including ten as director of traditional helicopter programs, was a victim of the aerospace industry downturn, who recently applied for a position with a government organization.

The job involved helping small businesses set up their research and development plans, but unfortunately Roquet's name did not make it through the pre-selection process.

"I've worked in R&D before and thought I was perfect for the job," Roquest said. "But my experience was in big business, and I don't think they felt that translated down to the small business level."

As a result of increasing competition for top-level positions, applicants are also having to wait longer to get placed. One rule of thumb is that it takea job seekers one month for every $10,000 of salary they will eventually get paid. For example an executive who will earn $100,000 a year in his future job can expect to take about 10 months to find a placement.

The downturn in demand for top executives has also hit search firms hard.

"Companies are promoting more from within, and when they do go outside they find lots of applicants," said Denis Trudeau, a partner at the Montreal office of Caldwell Partners. "That means we have to work harder to give value to our customers."

Trudeau advises job searchers to view their quest as a full-time job, and to not limit themselves to answering help wanted ads.

"Our internal studies show that only 17 per cent of positions are filled through traditional channels," said Trudeau. "So if you are applying for published job openings or sending your cv to just a few search firms, you're probably not doing enough."

Trudeau advises executives to start milking their personal and professional networks by spreading the word of their availability.

That's what Pierre Gosselin has been doing. Gosselin was general manager in charge of retail operations at Canada Post, who left the organization in 2002 after his position was centralized in Ottawa.

To stay active, Gosselin joined the Montreal Marketing Association board of directors as vice-president in charge of sponsorships. His job is to round up corporate support for the organization's many educational and social events. It's an assignment that keeps his sales skills sharp.

"People think that just because you've worked in a particular industry, you can never sell anything else," Gosselin said. "But that's not true. Sales is sales. If you like people, and you know how to listen to them, you can sell almost anything."

Surprisingly, all of the job seekers were optimistic about their searches, although several indicated an increasing flexibility toward accepting salary cuts or slightly less glamorous roles.

"People are saying that small businesses do all the hiring," said Roquet. "If that's true, I guess I'll have to take a step down from working in a big company and will have to think small."



Side Bar: The consulting option

When XXXX  began looking for a new job after a long-time position as a payroll and benefits manager with Bell Canada International Inc., she didn't have to wait long for the phone to ring.

"I got a call from an executive that I had worked with who needed someone with my experience," said XXXX. "He asked me to come in as a consultant and I have a mandate that extends until the end of 2004."

XXXXX's consulting gig at a company that she used to work for is part of an increasingly common trend, said Denis Trudeau, a partner at Caldwell Partners, which has seen its interim executive practice grow in recent years.

"Many companies are reluctant to take on new staff, or they are limited by head-counts and so on," Trudeau said. "So they are increasingly turning to consultants."

Using consultants provides companies with numerous advantages, including flexibility coupled with reduced cost and overhead. A consultant can also generally be fired without severance costs, a big plus for managers who need to make their quarterly numbers.

So it's not surprising that consulting assignments are becoming increasingly frequent.

"I know one guy who has been doing temporary assignments for seven years," Trudeau said. "That's a long time."


Photo caption: Executive candidates XXXX, Luigi Lo Basso, Denis Trudeau (Caldwell Partners,) Claude Demers, Pierre Gosselin, Alain Roquet




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