2012, Year of the Next Level
by Mitch Arnold, CEO and president, Preferred Partners LLC
(see also 2011, Year fo
the Rolling Toolbox; 2010,
Year of the Survivor; and 2009,
Year of the Employer)
(hear Mitch Arnold discuss this article
on the Grow Omaha radio show)
Over the past four or five years, we've seen a remarkable evolution
in employment. Before the recession, the market was employee-driven,
with candidates securing high compensation from employers desperate
for talent. An almost complete reversal of that trend was one of
the effects of the recession, as employers trimmed payrolls , jobs
were scarce and applicants were plentiful. Recently, both sides
have come to terms with the employment market, and they have approached
the hiring process very cautiously.
As recruiters, we have a front row seat to this transition. We
have heard from shocked candidates who are astounded that companies
do not recognize and value their skill-sets, and we visit with employers
frustrated by their inability to attract the talent they need. The
reality that both sides are discovering is that employers have positions
for next-level candidates, and that too few available candidates
fit that billing.
"Next-level" is a common term in high school and college
sports. The top athletes at the high school and college levels are
evaluated according to their potential to play at the next level,
college for the high school athletes and professional for the college
athletes. To play at the next level, an athlete must have exceptional
natural assets and achieve remarkable success at their current level.
Many candidates actively seeking new opportunities are often not
"next-level" candidates. Just like a small-in-stature
bench player for a struggling high school basketball team won't
attract much attention from recruiters at the college level, a professional
who hasn't exhibited tremendous potential or accomplished notable
success in his career will have a very difficult time advancing
to the next level.
Fortunately for professionals, unlike student athletes, they don't
run out of eligibility. If they are not ready for the next level,
they can take steps to make sure that they will be. Unfortunately,
it's far too easy to procrastinate with professional self-improvement,
and any procrastination can set a professional's career back for
My recruiting company (Preferred Partners) works with a lot of
consulting engineering firms across the country, and almost all
of them require a professional engineering license for every position.
I am consistently amazed at otherwise talented engineers who have
not invested the time to prepare for and take the professional engineering
exam. Without that, they'll never get to the next level.
Every candidate needs to take a serious look at his or her profession
and at what professionals advancing in that profession are doing
to advance. If extra education is the key, enroll. If deeper involvement
in projects is key, roll up your sleeves. If performance is key,
create a performance enhancement plan. The beginning of a new year
is an ideal time to do this.
Like star athletes, next-level professionals are in high demand,
and because their employers know this, they are rewarded very well.
A savvy employer will protect his assets, including his top-level
talent, by ensuring that they are properly compensated and appreciated.
In 2010 and 2011, we saw many companies fail to properly compensate
and appreciate their top talent, and they paid the price. Their
top talent left them for better opportunities with more stable companies,
creating a void of next generation leaders.
I think that we are past that now. Companies who struggled the
past two years are either back on their feet or out of business.
Top talent who needed to move has already moved, and this has created
the stalemate we see now.
Next-level professionals know their value, and, more often than
not, bypass new opportunities if those opportunities are not compensated
at the high end of market value. Many times, for employers to get
these next-level employees, they must offer salary and benefits
at higher levels than they ever have before, and that's not easy
to do in an economy that is struggling to recover.
On one side, we have top talent professionals ready to go to the
next level, but hesitant to leave a well-compensated and stable
role. On the other side are employers with next-level positions
who occasionally struggle to afford the talent that they need. For
these two sides to come together, both sides must share some risk
for the possibility of future reward.
We see this a lot with our sales positions. When properly managed,
high-performing sales professionals easily justify their expenses;
however, when top-talent sales professionals move to another company,
their performance typically takes an initial step backward before
lunging forward. During that backward step, when their sales volume
doesn't cover their employer's investment in them, as typically
happens in the early stages, both sides must persevere through some
discomfort. How long and how much discomfort are the looming questions
when sales professionals look to make a move.
In these situations, a thorough, well-defined performance plan
can alleviate anxiety for both the professional and employer. If
both sides know what to expect and how performance will be measured,
there is a lot better chance that they will be successful in coming
together to maximize opportunities.
This is an exciting time with high stakes for both next-level talent
and next-level employers. Those who can be creative, focused and
willing to share risk will prosper, while those who want to participate
at this level must take steps to position themselves for that next
level. Everyone else risks being left behind.