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Published: Sunday, 9/21/2003

Job hunts in unstable times

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Craig Palmer knew that he had a good job with Harris Health Trends in Sylvania, overseeing 30 health-care facilities in seven states as one of the company's division directors.

But, although he liked the job and the company where he had worked for 13 years, Mr. Palmer acknowledged that three to four days of traveling every week started to take its toll, especially after the birth of his second child two years ago.

“I started to do some reflection and said, ‘Although this job is professionally rewarding, is this really in our family's best interest?' I made a determination that it wasn't and started the process of a real selective job search,” said Mr. Palmer, 36.

Despite a sluggish economy, he said, he found his current position as executive director of the Summit YMCA, which had been known as the Riverside Center for Health Promotion.

The decision to seek a new job in a period of low economic growth is faced by thousands of people daily. More people have thought about it, as a career and income safeguard, as many companies lay off workers or shut down operations.

What should employees do if they are unhappy with their jobs or want to change careers? Should they proceed with caution, as Mr. Palmer did, or be thankful they have a job and stay put?

Local job placement agencies and business executives say people wanting out of a position should look for something else, because some openings do exist. But, the experts said, the job seeker likely won't be able to drive a hard bargain on pay, as was possible just a few years ago in a better economy.

“If you are really, really desperate and really want to get out of there, be a little more flexible with your demands in this economy,” said Karen Eckel, owner of Adecco Employment Services in Perrysburg. “It's not 1999 when it was an employees' market. It's definitely an employers' market today.”

Because there have been so many layoffs in different industries, most white-collar workers are not actively looking for new jobs unless their posts have been eliminated, said Jessica Collison, author of a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management and CareerJournal.com. The survey involved 450 human resource professionals and 300 managerial and executive employees nationwide.

“If they're looking at all, they're just doing it casually,” she said. “They're saying, ‘If it improves, I'll ramp up my job search.' ”

The survey found that 83 percent of management employees said it was at least somewhat likely they would actively seek a new job once the economy improves, which they thought would happen in the next year.

Toledo area companies, job recruiters, and recent hires said someone looking for a change shouldn't automatically sit tight until the economy rebounds.

Sandy Blehm had spent more than four years in the airline industry in Houston, most recently as an instructor for flight attendants, before deciding she needed a new career and a new city.

“The airline industry was very unstable and I had some things happen in the airplane that I knew I needed to be on the ground,” she said. She quit her job and decided to move to Toledo where an aunt lives, even though she had no job prospects here.

Ms. Blehm, 28, said she talked with people her aunt told her about, went to an employment agency and got a temporary job, and finally landed a full-time job last month at Adecco as a service supervisor, interviewing job candidates and placing them in jobs.

“My theory is: Don't stay anywhere where you're not happy,” she said.

Job searchers should be realistic, however, especially on salary demands, experts advised.

Jim Sigler, a counselor with Eagle Executive Employment in Sylvania, said many employed white-collar professionals in the Toledo area “are not looking that heavy and they're being cautious” because of the economy. Salary offers have tightened too, so some looking to make a switch might be offered less than or not much more than they are making now and decide to stay put, Mr. Sigler said.

Ron Fry, author of the new book 101 Smart Questions to Ask On Your Interview, said would-be job seekers must assess their situations.

“The first question to ask yourself is: Are you moving too fast?,” said Mr. Fry. “Is there anything you can possibly do to make [your current job] more like you want? Can you get a different job or a different boss without leaving the company? It's quite possible the company is great but your boss stinks.”

To land a new job, a worker should ask a lot of questions of the prospective employer and in turn expect to have to answer many from the interviewer, Mr. Fry said.

It's not all gloom and doom, however, on the local employment front.

“There are always opportunity out there, because there's always turnover from retirements or companies expanding,” said Karen Fraker, senior vice president of Fifth Third Bank (Northwest Ohio).

“You're always looking for good people and, if someone has the skills that a company's looking for, there are opportunities out there.”

That was the case for 36-year-old Evie Johnson, who recently started an accounting job at Rexam Beverage Can Co. in Fremont.

“I knew the economy was bad, but there was no room for advancement at my old job,” she said. “I was just hoping I would be in the right place at the right time.”

Mike Hartman, president of Precision Staffing Solutions Inc. in downtown Toledo, said he doesn't think today's economy is the best time to be job hunting. But, he added, if a worker is really dissatisfied, he or she should search discreetly.

“You must be very careful looking right now because there are more candidates who are available than there are jobs,” he said. “That's an employer's dream, of course.”

He cautioned to be careful not to do anything that might upset the current employer, such as seeking work at a direct competitor.

Jackie Barnes, vice president of business development at Renhill Staffing Services in downtown Toledo, said there are signs the economy is improving.

She said she believes potential employees are in as good a position to ask questions as are employers. “You don't need to compromise. You compromise by staying where you are.”



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