Chicago, IL--Take a look at the engineer who works next to you; he or she may not be there tomorrow--and it's not because of downsizing. At last, employees are once again in the driver's seat, as companies scramble to find enough good talent in the tightest job market since the early '80s.
A recent survey of 4,900 executives by Management Recruiters International, a global search firm, found that 52.5% planned to increase hiring of managers and professional staff in the second half of 1997, the highest figure in the 16 years that the company has conducted the survey.
"Opportunities have never been greater for managers and professionals," notes Alan R. Schonberg, MRI president, "and in my opinion there are not yet any signs of diminishment out there."
That's certainly evident in the visits Design News makes to OEM companies, where managers complain that they cannot properly implement their product development and marketing plans for lack of the right people. One company president asked me to take along a job notice listing the requirements for a national sales manager. In another instance, I watched a manager from an aerospace company not only offer a freshman engineering student a summer internship but also a guaranteed job upon graduation.
By now, you've probably seen the reports of engineering schools turning away companies that want to recruit on campus. The students don't have enough time to see them all. Many 1997 engineering grads started their new jobs with salaries of $40,000 or more. Charles Dunagan, vice president of marketing and sales for Shell Chemical Company, told me that the competition is even brisker for engineering grads who also have an MBA. "We have to pay $60,000 or more." Yet, even at that, Shell gets outbid by consulting firms, such as McKenzie, that will pay as much as $80,000 for such people.
Are these newly-minted engineer-business managers worth the money. "You bet," says Dunagan, who himself started out as a process engineer. "The people we are hiring are 50% better in both the depth and breadth of their knowledge than was the case 10 or 15 years ago." Not only are today's engineering grads stronger in computer skills, but he also sees a marked improvement in their "people skills," a precious commodity in an international company where an engineer may need to interface with colleagues and customers from many cultures.
So how does an engineer make the most of the rosy job market? What qualities do you need to display either to catch the eye of a new employer or your existing one? Jack O'Brien CSAM, an Elgin, IL-based recruiter for MRI, gives this advice--
Stay on top of your game with continuous improvement of your skills, not just in technical areas but in communications skills.
Add value by showing how your specialty relates to a company's "big picture"--its most important goals and strategies.
Project the image of being a team player. In your contacts with managers at your current company or in job interviews with potential employers, avoid excessive use of 'I language.' Instead, talk about how your achievements helped the team meet its objectives. O'Brien cites a recent example of a job applicant who survived four interviews with a prospective employer, only to lose out in large part because his language was too self-centered.
If you do decide to take a new job, be prepared for a counter offer from your current employer, adds O'Brien. But beware: Does that counter offer really address the core problems and issues that made you want to jump ship in the first place?