Unemployed executives finally catch a break

Businessman Getting Interviewed
Photo by Neustockimages—Getty Images

The so-called jobless recovery has been especially tough on people who lost senior management positions in the wake of the downturn and who then, in a classic Catch-22, found that employers wouldn’t interview them because they were unemployed.

“For the past five years, companies only wanted to meet with candidates who were already working,” notes Sally Stetson, a principal at executive recruiters Salveson Stetson Group. “Now, we’re seeing the stigma of unemployment disappear. Employers are looking for the best talent they can find, even if someone has been ‘in transition,’ often through no fault of their own.”

What’s more, companies are offering out-of-work executives the same pay packages as their already employed peers, according to Salveson Stetson’s latest study of the executive job market.

Although the recession technically ended in 2009, the bump in compensation that executives used to get when they changed jobs has been slow to return, the study says. Consider: The average senior manager who switched jobs in 2006 and 2007 saw his or her pay increase by an average of 25%. During the worst of the downturn, in 2008 and 2009, that plummeted to 11%. Now, the average increase has crept up to about 16%, still well below pre-recession levels.

There are two exceptions. Executives with experience managing global manufacturing operations command, on average, a 25% “open-market premium” when they jump to a different company. And senior human resources managers generally get offered compensation that is 20% higher than their current pay.

It’s a straightforward case of supply and demand. International manufacturing expertise is scarce, the study notes, with lots of employers chasing a small pool of candidates. At the same time, HR has become a more complicated field that “demands a higher level of talent-management experience than in the past,” says Stetson. “Candidates need to be able to manage across cultures, develop a Millennial workforce, and act as a strategic advisor to the CEO.”

The job market for experienced senior managers overall is looking livelier than it has in years, she says. “When hiring was slow, everyone was hunkered down in their current jobs. But it’s not unusual now for a strong candidate to get several offers, and people are restless,” Stetson observes. “They’re looking harder at their current role and wondering, ‘Is this where I should be in my career? Am I learning? Is there something out there that might be better?’

“These are always good questions to ask,” she adds. “But for a long time, no one was asking them.”

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