Monday, February 9, 2009

2009 Trends

It’s Here

Those who have been following my blog regularly have read my observations about how the quantitative market has remained relatively unscathed by this current recession. I am unhappy to report that this is no longer the case. As the recession has deepened, our profession is beginning to feel its impact.

It’s not news that the impact has been broad based, with few industries or regions spared. Overall unemployment now stands at 7.6%, up significantly from 5% last summer. It appears that the college-educated are also feeling the pinch – with a current unemployment rate of 3.8% and projections from labor economists that say it will well exceed 4% before we see a recovery.

Any good news, you ask? Absolutely! In the last four weeks, I have had several candidates who have had multiple opportunities tendered, and their prospective employers even bid up their offers! This supports my belief that quantitative candidates will always have options, even in a depressed employment market like the current one.

These particular candidates had very strong quantitative skills, were proficient SAS users, projected solid business acumen and had a positive attitude. In most cases, the candidates were fortunate in that they either didn’t own homes or didn’t require home purchase assistance. They were also very flexible geographically. While some of the qualifications that made them attractive candidates were a matter of circumstance, many are attainable through hard work, dedication, continuing education and perseverance.

Here are a few general observations, as well as how the recession is specifically affecting the quantitative job market:

· Hiring freezes and layoffs are widespread. The good news for the hard-to-replace quantitative professional is that open positions are usually eliminated first, before any layoffs are implemented. Unfortunately, I am now seeing more staffers getting pink slips in second or third round layoffs. In terms of hiring, with the current level of economic uncertainty, very few organizations have the courage or ability to increase their headcount, even if they have a need.

· Raises and bonuses are infrequent. In the last several weeks, many companies have announced salary freezes and are drastically reducing or eliminating bonuses. Though bonuses may still abound on Wall Street, the rest of us will be holding tight for a while. I have heard that, in some cases, employees have even been asked to take pay cuts, usually from 5-10%, and I know of one situation that involved a 20% salary reduction.

· Relocation requiring home sales has become difficult. The bursting of the real estate bubble and the tightening mortgage market has significantly increased the lead-time required to sell homes in many areas of the country. Companies today are rarely willing to provide a house purchase parachute because they are already shouldering a heavy burden of unsold homes stemming from 2008 relocations. Individuals who must relocate for new jobs are often faced with the prospect of substantial losses, especially if they purchased their homes in the inflated years just prior to the real estate bust.

· The ability to negotiate with a prospective employer has been greatly reduced. Now is not the time to casually explore your options. Recognize that the recession is affecting everyone, individuals and corporations alike, and negotiate with respect for the current economic situation.

No one knows for sure how long the recession will last or what its ultimate fallout will be, but my sense is that we will see the market begin to strengthen at some point before this time next year. I have weathered many a recession in my career (but only because I started so young!), including those of ’82, ’87, ’91 and ’01. The single common thread through every downturn, large or small, is that they all came to an end, and it has been my experience that the faster the decline, the more vibrant the recovery.

We are here to help. Stay tuned for more information on how you can pump up your resume, boost your marketability and become an indispensible entity within the quantitative market. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. Helping you navigate the choppy waters of the marketplace is our job, in good times and bad.

Thanks for keeping in touch,

Linda Burtch
Burtch Works
Email: lburtch@burtchworks.com
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4 comments:

Brian Samar said...

What you have written has hit a bullseye from where I stand in todays market. As a recent graduate a few years back never would I imagine that I would be having any kinds of difficulty coming out of Graduate School with my Masters in Economics and feeling the pain from what we have recently unraveled. Just over two months of being out of school and only two phone interviews has been discouraging. But, that hasn't stopped me from jumping on the computer and applying everyday. I cannot even imagine how hard it can be for a individual with just a Bachelors or less.

On the other hand it is encouraging to hear that there are still chances for people to have "multiple options" and still being able to make their choice in their career.

Your employment freeze section has hit home as well. Even grocery chains have their employment looking bleak, with hiring to a minimal and cutting back on hours of most of their employees. Applying just for a part time job has even become difficult in that area.

Like you said we could only hope for the best and keep trying. Things will get better and it is only a matter of time.

Linda Burtch said...

This is a comment I received from William Hajjar...
"Great insight as usual. The one place where I might add a little commentary is around Wall Street bonuses. I have close friends working with various firms and they all are saying the same thing --- This years bonuses are not really bonuses! What companies have done is pay out bonuses in company stock and require 3 to 5 years for full maturity. As a result, many of my friends feel cheated out of the cash they wanted / needed for other expenses.
For your clients who are negotiating offers, they might keep this in mind. However, as you so correctly pointed out, candidates do not have the negotiating power they once had."

Jim said...

Given that companies are increasingly unwilling to increase headcount even if there is a need, I wonder if more opportunities arise for the freelancers.

Linda Burtch said...

Thanks for your comment, Jim. Yes, I believe that there is an opportunity for freelancing to fill the void during this time of uncertainty. I have encouraged my candidates that have been caught up in layoffs to stay open to a contract or project situation. That will get them that much closer to the end of this downturn.-Linda