What's Going on in the Market ? Quarterly Update

February 3, 2009

Executives call us regularly to take the temperature of the employment landscape. Here’s a quick take….
1. Despite rumblings of Armageddon, companies are still hiring. Job seekers are reporting that their opportunity pipelines are about half-full and that they remain cautiously optimistic. We also are seeing a number of opportunities in the marketplace though shovels and a little sweat are required to dig them out. Firms are undeniably more tentative and slower to pull the hiring trigger. When they do extend offers, they are asking candidates to share the risk by accepting lower base salaries and higher performance-based incentives. ‘On-target’ compensation is holding steady though the mix is being modified. Candidates are resisting though there is a general sense of inevitability in the air.
2. Certain functions remain decidedly vulnerable and we continue to receive high volumes of senior marketing, engineering and human resources executives. CEOs are also being churned and as noted a few weeks ago, caretaker CEOs are on the rise. Also on the upswing are senior roles focused on operational efficiency, finance and sales (notably those able to transform ‘order-taking’ sales organization into strategic hunters). Operationally savvy board members are also in demand.
3. A number of job seekers are becoming contractors, consultants or project driven hired guns. The logic is reasonable. Though companies are battening down the hatches and paring headcounts, work still needs to get done. Unlike other times when job seekers accepted short term assignments until fulltime work came along, for many of those currently pursuing this consulting path, it is a purposeful medium term pursuit, and from what I hear it is being very well received in the marketplace.
4. Investors continue to triage their investment portfolios and companies are actually being closed. Start-ups are learning fast, or in some cases not, to adjust to the funding challenges. Certain consulting firms appear to be quite busy helping investors determine whether certain portfolio companies are victims of bad times, bad business models or bad management.
5. Companies, angel investors, and entrepreneurs smell opportunity and there is a lot of circling going around the vulnerable and weak. There are fascinating big money angels putting together syndicates with innovative plans and the wherewithal to execute on them. Talk of roll-ups, tuck-ins, technology buys and the like are all around. In fact there is a lot of positive buzz around about the opportunities these times might produce.
So what’s going on out there? Well, you could describe it as a veritable cacophony of buzz, joyous music and death drums. And depending on where you sit and the mood you are in, you are either all ears or hoping that the damn noise stops.