“Low Man On The Totem Pole Syndrome” – Don’t Be A Victim!

February 25, 2009 at 10:18 pm 1 comment

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

Unless you have moved into an underground cave in a far off country, you cannot avoid the mounds and mounds of bad news out there on the streets. There may be some hope with the stimulus package; however, construction is going to take off first and it likely won’t be until the end of this year, in my opinion, that the funds will finally have trickled down and begin to make a positive impact on engineering. The mortgage and housing crisis seems to get worse each month, creating a longer expected recovery in land development. Every week we hear of another A/E firm that is laying off staff. The psychology behind all of this would lead you to believe that your best bet is to hang on to your existing job, if you still have one, and continue to hold on tight… right? I say, not necessarily.

Even during these tumultuous times, companies are hiring. And many of these companies that you hear about laying people off are also hiring. Speaking to prospective candidates on a daily basis, they are fearful that if they make a move right now, no matter how great the opportunity may be,  they will be the first one let go as “low man on the totem pole” should new rounds of layoffs occur.

NOTE: No joke, I kid you not, as I was just in the midst of typing this entry I received the following email from a candidate I was attempting to recruit:

 “Also, given the current economic conditions, I am hesitant to be the last person joining a new firm, just to be the first person out.”

And, this was from a candidate where our services were actually retained. Ummmm, I am pretty sure that if a consulting civil engineering firm has retained the services of a search firm, then they are pretty serious about the position that they are looking to fill.

I digress.  Back to the “low man on the totem pole theory;” this theory may hold true; but believe it not, this is mainly if you make a move during prosperous times, NOT recessionary times.  I’ve recently spoken to a number of senior civil engineering executives about this particular issue. Each one of them felt that in order to fulfill your career goals and to elevate to new levels,  you are going to have to take some of these “perceived” risks.  Companies are heavily evaluating their current staff and business plans. As a result, they are now hiring strategically, making tactical investments in great candidates who will be ready to lead when things begin to turn the corner…and they will begin to turn.

I understand that this concept may sound counter-intuitive and is hard to fully get a grasp on when you are getting beaten down everywhere you turn with bad news. But, realize that there are a lot of good opportunities out there that you should not be afraid to consider; opportunities that have been well thought out by the hiring company and that should be well thought out by you as well.

Keep your head up and keep your door open; there very well may be some good news out there for you if you are willing to listen and think about things from a different perspective.


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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Do You Work For A Communicative Leader? Is No News Worse Than Bad News? Corporate Recruiters & Headhunters Caught In Downturn

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Stephen Tomicki  |  March 19, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Matt is right. In this economy, even the most talented are not job secure AND we should not limit our next step in our career path. I was recently a victim of A/E layoffs and have found the job market booming for me! Where one door closes, MANY open if you take the time to network, network and network. Hiring a professional to write your resume (in many forms I may add) will help tremendously to present you in the greatest light to fit a new position.

    My feelings in this market are two fold: You are either ahead of the wave or behind it. Some firms/companies choose to cut overhead, reduce marketing/sales/branding (budgets slashed 60-80%) and try to “cherry pick” and not expand their horizons. Just because there are not jobs in the “hopper” is not reason to lay off critical staff, especially in marketing, sales, and your branding team. If you want to survive this AND come out strong ahead of your competition, you must be in front of the wave, be out in force in the market place, be seen and not have them think ” geesh, I guess it hit them too” or “where did they go?” or, the worst “yes, they no longer have the staff to support the work, but company B does, I just talked to them last week and they are still around, alot. They must be okay”.

    By the way, if anyone had read this far and is looking for a senior executive Sales and Marketing/Business Development Manager with over 20 years of experience, please respond to me at stomicki@optonline.net

    Stephen Tomicki
    VU ME’81
    EIT, MBA’10
    CEM, CPO


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