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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Is Your Job Recession Proof? A BtoB Perspective

By Jerry Bernhart
Published on BtoB Online, December 8, 2008

BtoB Editor Ellis Booker, in his article on November 10th, stated that "agencies are cutting digital marketing jobs left and right", and then he posed this question: "Is this an early warning sign of reductions to come on the client side?"

During the past month, I have spoken with top decision makers at more than 100 BtoB businesses, large and small, public and private, about their hiring plans for 2009. So far, employment in the BtoB sector has held up relatively well considering the financial carnage we've witnessed, and for now, most are planning no
major change in headcount for the rest of this year. But many of these business leaders worry that if consumers continue to slash spending, that would result in further contraction of the economy which, in turn, would almost certainly translate into layoffs in the BtoB sector in early 2009.

All of this uncertainty may be prompting BtoB marketers to ask themselves, "Just how insulated is my job from this shrinking economy? How safe am I?"

In my 18 years as a recruiter in the BtoB direct marketing industry, I have weathered numerous nasty economic downturns. While no two recessions are alike, here are some trends that have been typical of past slumps that might help you determine your unemployment "risk quotient" should economic conditions continue to deteriorate:

-If you work for a larger publicly held BtoB business, you are generally subject to higher layoff risk than the small player counterparts. After the agencies and service providers start to trim, these big caps are usually the next to start cutting payrolls, and many already have. While an argument can be made that job cuts can actually be detrimental to a company, reducing the work force becomes an almost automatic response in an
effort to satisfy investors who expect action when companies miss their numbers. Small to medium sized BtoB businesses, on the other hand, tend to hold out longer before they resort to job cuts, and this has more to do with their psychological makeup than it does with their balance sheets. Small business owners, by
their very nature, tend to be more optimistic compared with their Fortune 500 counterparts. A recent survey
by small business advisory firm Warrillow & Co, as reported in BtoB Magazine, bears this out. Even though small business owners are pessimistic about the economy, the Warrillow study also found that they are still feeling pretty good about their own prospects. Small business owners also tend to have closer ties to their employees. They don't want to issue pink slips unless they absolutely have to.

-Some industries will be much more vulnerable than others. If you are working for a company that sells products or services to retail, housing, autos or travel, you have a higher risk of losing your job than someone who is working for a company that markets to health care or the defense industry.

-Recent hires are often at higher risk than those with more tenure. While this does not always
hold true, companies faced with decisions about who to keep and who to furlough will often take the last-in first-out approach, other things being equal.

-When I get resumes from BtoB'ers, I tend to receive fewer in sales, customer service, accounting, ecommerce and circulation compared with other positions. Roles that are essential to the operation, create the most disruption when vacated, the most costly to recruit and train and positions that control sales and marketing channels to the customers are less likely to be eliminated.

-If your company cuts its training budget, it could be a precursor of bigger cuts to come.
They may be cutting training expenditures because they're not sure who may or may not be around to benefit from them.

-Finally, remember that your value is being measured by more than just your skills and experience. Your attitude, your energy and your enthusiasm count a lot, especially in times likes these when your company may need you more than ever. The higher your opportunity cost, the more difficult it will be for your employer to see you go. If you can wear multiple hats and if your company couldn't bear the thought of seeing you defect to a competitor, you are about as recession proof as anyone can get.

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