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Commentary & Analysis

Tales from the Hunt: Looking for Work in the Digital Marketplace

By Carro Ford Weston May 23,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: June 23, 2006

By Carro Ford Weston May 23, 2006 -- In this third of a series on the current job market in the document arena, we talk to three men who have had successful job searches in various areas of the document industry. The names have been changed to protect the employed. Hopefully their stories will give encouragement along with a dose of reality to those who are planning a job change--or who have had one handed to them. Two of the subjects, James and Andy, landed jobs in executive management, one with an equipment vendor and the other with a printing business. The third, Bill, found a systems analyst position with a leading business services provider. One of the gentlemen began his search after a lay off ended an eleven-year stint with a printing equipment vendor. One chose to search while still employed. The third faced a job hunt after becoming an unwanted outsider in a family- and foreign-owned business. James landed in the Northeast. Andy stayed close to home in a major Midwest metropolitan area, while Bill found his job in southern Florida. One thing each had in common was a false impression of how long their job search would actually take. In most cases, they underestimated by at least half and as much as three times longer than they initially expected. A winter holiday layoff delayed Bill with the seasonal business slow down. What he thought would take 90 days stretched to 180. Instead of a three- to six-month search, Andy ended up going 18 months in his job hunt. “The market was full of talented and experienced people with excellent credentials vying for a limited number of senior opportunities,” he said. “As a result, the time line was much longer, but I must say I did enjoy the time and my first taste of retirement in some future year.” A Healthy Industry for Hunters “At first I wanted to stay in the document industry,” said Bill. “Then I thought it might be limiting, but the industry has grown so much. Pre- and post- opportunities are big.” Bill noted that several companies he spoke to were specifically looking for people with production experience because they saw big opportunities in that area. Companies are seeking people outside the print world with process engineering backgrounds and training them in digital printing. “It's a good market out there now, although selective,” James observed of the Northeast market. The really hot new jobs in the document management and digital print marketplace today involve database administration and automation workflow, according to Arnie Kahn, president of PrintLink, a staffing and recruiting firm specializing in print, pre-press, packaging, document management and e-media. “Process engineering, Six Sigma and Job Definition Format (JDF) are terms you will be hearing much more about in the near future,” noted Kahn. “As companies strive to be more competitive and profitable, lean manufacturing becomes more critical. Candidates with these skill sets and MIS or IT experience will have great job opportunities. There is a scarcity of candidates with these qualifications, and companies are seeking people outside the print world with process engineering backgrounds and training them in digital printing. Those candidates who have both are the cream of the crop.” James found potential employers most interested in interpersonal skills, knowledge of the industry, product management experience, backgrounds in hardware, software and services, in other words, well-balanced executive material. During his executive-level search, Andy said interviewers were turned on by turnaround experience and success. “The economy had not picked up much, and there were a lot of reclamation project companies,” he said. Reality Check Being on the hard end of a job search can be a scary thing. Bill struggled with the usual challenges of being out of work: frustrating holidays, a family illness, the whole emotional pile on. “There were days when I would have three or four good conversations and days when nothing would happen,” he recalled. “The wife would go off to work, the kids went off to school, and I didn’t have a life. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’ll sit by the pool today and look for a job tomorrow. Time goes by quick enough. One day it’s Monday and the next it’s Friday.” “When I first started looking, the outplacement service had a nice web site and other perks to get you started, but you would come away with so much stuff from the web. All that is nice, and it makes you feel good to know there are ‘500 jobs’ in your area, but I found you got almost no response from those things. I got two to three calls in a five-month period that were legit,” said Bill. “In reality, it just keeps you busy until your network gets going. The network is the only way to go.” The men made trade offs to close on the jobs they wanted. Andy chose a significant reduction in annual compensation in favor of a potential future equity position. James made concessions in location and scope of responsibility. Bill was prepared for the possibility that money might be a trade off, but as it turned out, his news salary was about the same as his old job, plus a bonus structure and car allowance. It’s All in the Network Bill started his search with all the usual suspects; “I talked to local Xerox and IBM folks, but ran out of those contacts pretty quickly.” He contacted former colleagues, and those were the sources that paid off. “The ones that led to actual conversations all involved knowing someone,” he said. “Unless you know someone, you can’t get past the first hurdle.” The best source is former business associates, noted Andy. “My winning lead actually came from a person I had previously fired,” he said. (Moral: Never burn your bridges, even when you’re chopping heads.) Networking with personal contacts and having exposure in the marketplace through conference speaking, columns, and other opportunities was the key for James. You just never know who might be watching. “I was contacted via a head hunter for this new job,” he declared. Bill’s outplacement company offered tips for what to do after you get the job, and it’s powerful advice for anyone at any point in their career. “They told us to maintain our network for life, because it’s likely we’ll need it again in five years,” he said. “I learned you should not get complacent. Even when you aren’t looking for a job, stay in touch. Once you have a network built, keep it up all the time, even after you get a job.” Challenge: Aggressive vs. Annoying “One of the bigger challenges that I had throughout the process was contacting people without being 'pushy'. It was a fine line between aggressive and annoying, but the bottom line is that the responsibility for keeping the communications active was definitely mine,” Bill said. “I tried to alternate emails with phone calls, and I also made it a point to not send any emails to groups of people. Even though it may have been the same message, I used individual emails and tried to include specific references to that relationship. I also tried to include questions that would encourage a response. You also need to know the buzz words for the job you’re seeking. Otherwise the resume won’t make the scan.” James also offers advice and encouragement for job seekers in the digital document biz. “It's a good market out there today. Search hard, but be patient. Wait for the right opportunity, and then go after it. Be creative in your approach and make yourself memorable in the interview. It's a great industry that is growing. Try to build a well-rounded background of skills. It's tough if you are too specialized because that limits your potential opportunities.”

 

 

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