Saturday, November 03, 2007

The schizophrenic job market -- it's partly up to employers to say what they want

Having “retired” at the end of 2001, played around with interim jobs and a lot of writing, I’ve received a lot of calls from headhunters. From the end of 2006 through the spring of 2007 they seemed heavier, and then they seemed to drop off. As I indicated in the last posting, one issue that came up, especially with someone out of the market for a while, is that they prefer a reverse chronological resume, rather than a functional one (or “functionable” one), which they see as hiding things (or at least clients see it that way).

Most staffing companies offer W-2 and corp-to-corp arrangements, and expect the employee to pay his own way in a temporary relocation within the hourly rate (it must be 364 days a year or less to meet IRS requirements, I am told). A few offer tax-free per diem.

In this era of “reputation management” staffing companies are likely to become more concerned about an online presence, as well as resume, that represents some specific area of technical expertise (MMIS, state welfare applications, Case tools, DB2, IMS, Oracle, MQ series, all kinds of things even in the “just mainframe” areas). For one thing, I wouldn't want to invest in the background that would justify a "professional social networking" profile that presented me as the god of DB2 tablespace design if that kind of work was going to be jerked overseas at corporate whims.

But, of course, it was the short-term behavior of the employment market that started in the late 80s with the hostile takeovers and leveraged buyouts, continued in the 90s (where many people in the job market had substandard experience with older technology that would die with mergers – and many of these people were “bailed out” by the Y2K crunch, even if they missed out on the “war for talent” in the dot com craze), took the 9/11 hit in 2001 and continued. The market, after Y2K, fragmented into many small niches, and it was not easy for professionals to predict what would remain viable. I can look back to 1991, when I may have had a change to get into Vantage (the mainframe life insurance and annuities platform, with all of its link deck idiosyncrasies that help Vantage “rule the world”) but was stuck in slow motion in another homemade system that had to be babysat, and trying to get VLN (which went under) going.

The market for various skill sets would wax and wane, somewhat depending on whether the job could be offshored and performed more efficiency overseas (India) – then sometimes the savings did not come about and the domestic demand would come back. (A lot of this started in the late 90s as companies had to offshore some of the Y2K coding changes – there simply wasn’t the manpower available in the states to do it all in the last 24 months or so; then after 2000, why not continue? I can remember one programmer saying in 1996, “we are all set until the year 2000.” Indeed.)

Conventional wisdom was to become flexible, move around, not get too attached to any one skill set. But then, as the new century developed, one didn’t have the job-ready specific knowledge that was needed. After 2000 passed, some people, like me, fell for the shallow “jump to client-server” argument, without getting the experience in completing a complex project that would give them the depth that they needed.

Client requirements have often been very specific, particularly with state government clients (for welfare, social services and MMIS contracts) that believe that having rigid skills requirements lists protects them from discrimination complaints, but that tend to keep the same cadre of people rotating among the contracts.

Perhaps, though, it’s a good time to be in college or graduate school, if the school and professors can help students figure out what employers really need. But employers – both staffing companies and their clients – ought – out of longer term self interest -- to behave in a much more forthcoming manner than they have.

I might as well give the links: My certification summary page, and my Brainbench certification page. My official resume page is here.

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