Note: This article was originally published in 2012.
Some quick insights into what the job search is like for meeting professionals today—
Pointless: Submitting your resume for an online job posting.
Priceless: Using LinkedIn to find the person who knows the person who helps you find a job.
Helpful: Keeping an open mind.
Hopeful: In January, Dawn Penfold, CMP, received a record number of job listings at her Web site, Meetingjobs.com
National numbers look good, too: January was the best single month for job gains in the past two years, with 257,000 jobs created in the private sector. And, Penfold adds, “last year, those who applied for positions were mainly those who were unemployed. Those who were employed did not want to move, in fear of being on the low rung of the ladder. Now that the economy is getting better, I am seeing more employed people become comfortable with moving. This is a good sign because it will open up more positions.”
Still, she says, top-level vice president positions remain elusive, as do entry-level jobs. “The positions seem to be middle management, with middle management salaries.” As for the companies doing the hiring, she sees third parties and financial services firms with the most jobs currently. “Hiring officials are looking for niche experience—financial is seeking financial, pharma is seeking pharma,” she notes. “And we are seeing 500 to 600 resumes sent for each job posted—not to say that they are qualified resumes.”
So What Are Companies Thinking?
In a phrase: Wait and see. In the National Association for Business Economics quarterly Industry Survey released in late January, only 29 percent of respondents said they expect hiring to increase at their firms or industry sectors in the next six months. (Survey respondents are NABE members who work for private-sector firms and industry trade associations.)
One meeting executive sees that same reluctance to hire in the meetings field: “Everyone is handling the same amount of work, if not more, than in 2011. However, they are being cautious about moving too quickly to increase staff. I think everyone is doing their due diligence, and looking at all the ways an increase in work can be handled (i.e., contractor, temporary employee, using other internal resources). No one wants to move too quickly, only to be in a position down the road where staff reductions must occur. Also, with a continued focus on expense management, all possible avenues must be explored when workloads increase.”
On the other hand, the most recent quarterly Meeting Professionals International Business Barometer report, released in January, showed a big upswing in the outlook for meetings industry employment. Nearly one-third of respondents said full-time jobs are increasing; 31 percent said part-time jobs are increasing, and 39 percent saidjobs are increasing. “I won’t call this a trend, because it’s only happened once, but if we see it again in [the next Barometer], we’ll be able to say there is a more accelerated increase in employment,” said Bill Voegeli, president, Association Insights, who discussed the results during MPI’s European Meetings & Events Conference January 31 in Budapest, Hungary.
The Time Is Now
Trend or not, this is clearly the best time in the past two years to be looking for a meetings job, say those with experience. Joann Chmura, CMP, CMM, senior meeting planner at General Reinsurance Corp. in Stamford, Conn., was part of a workforce reduction at the end of 2009. “I was laid off at the worst time for the insurance industry and the worst time for the meetings industry,” says Chmura, who had been relationship marketing manager, meetings and events, at ConnectiCare in Farmington, Conn. “I looked for a job for 18 months. Psychologically, emotionally, financially—everything takes a hit when you lose your job. I had to start over.”
That included launching a small event-planning business, working with some nonprofits on things like galas and golf tournaments, and creating a business travel program for the Connecticut Chambers of Commerce. “You have to keep working,” she says. “You can get paralyzed with fear in a bad economy. When I was first laid off, reports said there were eight applicants for every job. Now we’re at four to one; normal is two to one.”
That partially explains how long it took her to find her new position despite sending out 1,200 resumes. Chmura sees another reason as well: “A lot of jobs are posted but the postings are not ‘real’ openings. The company always intends to promote or hire from within, but they are obligated to post the job.”
How To Show Your Value
Promoting from within is a particular challenge for meeting executives who are laid off at the VP or director level. Bill Brownson was AVP, meeting and event management, at John Hancock Financial Services when he was part of a workforce reduction last November. Finding an equivalent position is proving to be tough. “When there is an open position, there’s usually a succession plan,” he says. “Unless you know the president you’re probably not going to just come in and lead a meeting department. I responded to a posting for the level of job I had eight years ago because I thought it might lead to another opportunity.” It didn’t.
“If I could write my own script, I would be leading a team and working strategically,” he continues. “But for the right position I would consider something different. There are definitely more mid-level positions out there. When looking at senior or even junior management, that’s where you’re not finding as many.”
Another job seeker, who had been running the global meetings program for a major multinational company, is having a similar experience. “Put a plug in for all of us out there looking,” says this executive, who frankly expected to land another job within six weeks. “If a company would understand theof hiring one of us; if they invested the salary and benefits then looked at the return of bringing on somebody who really gets it, who saves money on hotels, saves money on internal resources to get the job done, who will get their arms around the total meeting spend… Pay me X, and I’ll give it back to you tenfold.”
Chmura makes the same case. “You know you add value, you know all the money you’ve saved over the years, but they just see your higher salary and benefits. And companies are still afraid to spend.”