Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sign of the times: an unemployed headhunter

Sign of the times: an unemployed headhunter

I used to see John Kennedy on Twitter, posting about employment opportunities for other people. Now he's looking for his own job.

As anyone who uses Twitter understands, you often follow people you don't know, and they follow you. It's like a group of strangers being on a site, and sometimes you get to know them, and sometimes you don't.

In any case, Kennedy was, as is known in the job recruitment industry, a headhunter. Giant companies, some small and many Fortune 500 types, pay people like him to find competent people for job openings. Every day, I noticed, he would mention some of the types of job openings that were available to qualified folks in the IT industry.

And then one day, he sent out a message on his own behalf: I am currently looking for new job opportunities for myself...

Kennedy, who worked for a job recruiting company in Cincinnati, Ohio, is part of what seems to be an ongoing trend. Google, of course, made news recently when it laid-off most of its own job recruiters. With fewer jobs available, there seem to be fewer opportunities for headhunters. In any case, I dropped Kennedy an email and asked him about his situation, thinking it might be interesting to get his take on the economy, given that he has recently been on both sides of the employment fence. Kennedy, 40 years old, has been out of a job for a little over two weeks now and is now looking for something else, possibly as a headhunter and maybe in "computer support -- but that market has been severely contracted, to say the least."

So how did it happen?
The numbers had been down and were pretty bad for the two last two years, but there was something of an implication there, that I would have the chance to recruit for the engineering side of the business. The formal news came down when I was taken into a conference room by my immediate supervisor and told that it was my last day.

You work with unemployed people a lot -- did that help you at all, in how you were able to react to being let go?
There's really nothing that can brace you for the absolutely overwhelming shock that comes with the knowledge that the source of your ability to feed and house yourself has just been cut off. In this economic environment, it's doubly frightening as the path forward isn't clear at all.

Obviously, it's bad out there, but have you seen the job market worse?
In my 13 years doing this, this is the worst that it has been, with the possible exception of the very first few weeks after 9/11.

So what should any newly unemployed people be mentally prepared for?
At the larger companies, the process is very computer-centric. Thirteen years ago, you would drop off resumes and stop into company lobbies to fill out applications, and you would sometimes even get to talk to HR and hiring managers on the spot, but above a certain size, pretty much everything is done online now.

Are there any good signs that you've been seeing?
That there is any activity at all is encouraging. There's CareerBuilder, Monster and newspaper ads; people are returning some calls. Hopefully, the new administration will also be able to provide some help. I truly believe there will be good days again, but the question is whether or not they will come in time before many, many people suffer irreparable career harm.

And do you have any tips on getting a job? You, of all people, should.
Network, network, network. Even in more "normal" times, it seems the most rewarding and successful placements come through connections.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale). He can be found on Twitter at

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