Don't be Out of Work in Wireless - Hold on to your job, if you can...

by Chuck Morris

I have always advocated remaining open to opportunities, and still feel that everyone's right to evaluate opportunities while working with an organization is a given. For more than 25 years, I have consulted with senior executives recruiting and placing them in the cable, competitive telephony, wireless and now the digital media industries. During this time I have experienced numerous growth spurts and then consolidations with cable TV operators, programming services, competitive telephone ventures, wireless operators and related technology and software ventures. The technology ventures serving each of these sectors tend to be impacted like the tail of the beast, but are also excellent indicators for future potential.

The state of the economy is not exactly healthy. Our leading companies are closing shop, going into bankruptcy, cutting back, closing down divisions and in some cases thousands of people are being tossed out on the streets.  Unemployment levels are at their highest point ever, in some states they can't afford to cover costs for benefits.  Some people are completely caught off-guard, and others may have seen it coming for weeks, months, or even longer in the case of an acquisition. The streets are crowded, and opportunities are not as prevalent as they have been in the past.

While this is happening, social media ventures are redefining the way we network and communicate allowing us to leverage the power of Web 2.0. Generation X, Y and beyond are gradually coming into the financial power base, and lead the way to mass market adoption of new ways to access information, to be entertained and to connect with each other. It's a wild and undefined frontier ahead. 

As part of this business realignment, talent acquisition processes have also changed for employers hiring, training and retaining their current workforce. The hundreds of companies that established these industries are now a few large organizations, with huge internal recruitment, staffing and support groups. They directly post positions on their websites, network internally and reach out to some of the employment websites (Monster, Career Builder, HotJobs by Yahoo!--see links below), and other narrowly focused industry support vehicles such as associations and publications. Many of these publications have broadened their traditional classified sections into interactive links so people can apply to postings. In some cases, they also use external resources such as search firms. 

It is my opinion that executive search firms will not go away. Internal talent acquisition groups and hiring officials still get bogged down with the selection of applicants who inundate them. Their time is spent screening or blocking, looking for faults and issues and to fend off the hordes of non-qualified applicants. Many times they lack the time and capacity to assess the true fit between an individual and the organization. That's where external search consultants add value. Search firms provide the expertise to source and recruit the candidates with the right leadership capacity to increase organizational effectiveness. 

Embracing the future seems to be the only hope; we must all embrace, enable and support the development of the restructuring of the industry. Over the past 25 years, I have witnessed the ebb and flow of success and downturns in these industries. These successes have been enabled by innovative thinkers and it is still feasible to capture funds for development, internally and externally.  Downturns are inevitable. We will all need to consider reinventing ourselves, and be willing to jump into the fire head first by taking risks, learning new ways of doing things to take advantage of the technological tsunami in the social media world. Career opportunities with large established ventures will always exist, but in a consolidating or contracting industry, leaders will need to evaluate starting up companies, pursuing new ventures with high risk, in order to capture the next wave of growth ahead for new applications, products, services, technologies and entertainment.

So now what?  I offer some advice, and some information, but for each group it is a bit different.

For Employees who seek positions in established companies:

1.  Be focused and target your applications. Embrace the fact that your audience in these companies will screen and block, so be smart and apply for those positions where your competency is a match. You will save yourself from frustrations by reaching beyond your capabilities and experience, and don't expect these organizations to take the leap of faith to hire you into a position you are not qualified to perform. In fact, as the competition exists, you should consider evaluating positions you are overqualified for... especially if there is growth potential, or other justification.

2.  Be willing to consider less compensation, and narrower responsibility, and be open to consider relocation, with no boundaries.  Reach as high as you can, but be willing to be flexible especially if you refrain from relocating, and narrow your options for personal reasons. Think long term, and evaluate decisions with the future in mind.

3.  Stay up on current resources, build your network, and participate in industry forums or association activities. Become aware of the new techniques used to find talent. Use the many tools and resources that are now available to pursue these opportunities such as; job boards, company websites, search firm websites, industry association and publication links. Be informed, stay up on what is out there and depending on your interest, reach out and apply.

4.  It will also be important and valuable for everyone to use social networks and applications to stay in touch. You should recognize that your personal contacts and relationships over the years will offer you the chance to become aware of opportunities, leads and just to keep those relations strong. In fact, roughly 80 percent of all career moves are initiated with or supported by personal contacts. There are a variety of these social networks including: bebo, Ecademy, Facebook,  Friendster, hi5,  LinkedIn, MyLife (formerly, Myspace Ning, plaxo, and ryze.

And there are plenty more coming... Be selective if you have a limited amount of time, and use those sites oriented to business relationships if you have to narrow this list down. On the other hand many of our friendships were developed through business relationships.

For Entrepreneurs creating new ventures:

1. This type of effort involves putting together business plans, pursuing funding, and/or starting up companies. One path is to jump in with personal resources "in your garage" to prove the model, positioning yourself be the first mover and pursuing organic growth. Or, of course one could pursue outside funding, working with external funding such as Angel Investors, and allowing investors to participate in the leadership. The potential to be successful and potentially be acquired in the future could pay off either way. The latter can be more complex, especially if you have never started up a venture, but there are a wide variety of investment brokers, consulting firms and advisors out there who can help navigate these uncharted waters. 

2. Deal makers exist in each industry; look to the board level executives, and other leading executives to build or reestablish relationships to network into this level. Over the years, we have helped introduce entrepreneurs to funding sources as a service to our venture contacts, and more than several times this has led to future search work. Other sources to network with should include companies and associations who facilitate introductions to funding sources in local communities, regional and industry forums.   

Hopefully these resources will begin to help provide a framework of information for people to begin to embrace the technology and step into the future. Brace yourselves and be patient. Hold on to that job if you have one, yet always be open to the next opportunity.  If you are on the streets, be aggressive and targeted with your efforts, and understand that the resilient will survive and succeed despite the environment and obstacles ahead.

Chuck Morris is a senior partner with Warren & Morris Ltd., Inc., an executive search firm.  [email protected]

For more information about layoffs in the wireless industry, check FierceWireless' updated Out of Work in Wireless report.