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It's time to leave a loveless career

Up to a third of employees feel trapped in jobs, new poll shows, but experts say now is a perfect time to hunt for a better match.

Wallace Immen
The Globe & Mail
September 7, 2005

The workload piled up higher every day but there was no extra pay and little appreciation. Aubrey Stork was beginning to dread the thought of going in to work and realized it was time to escape to a new career.

The Internet merchandising company he worked for in Toronto was shrinking and, as other people left the company, he had to take on their responsibilities. Mr. Stork says he tried to no avail to discuss the burden with his bosses.

"It forced me to look at my long-term goals and I realized I had reached my limit and it was time to look for a new job," Mr. Stork says.

And he did. Now, four months into his new job as production specialist at ThinData Inc., a website marketing company in Toronto, Mr. Stork says that he loves to go to work every day because he's getting encouragement from management in the growing firm to expand his horizons and work toward his goal of becoming an account manager.

"I definitely feel more appreciated," he says.

Mr. Stork is not the only one who felt caught in a loveless career. A recent poll reveals that as many as a third of employees in Canada find themselves similarly trapped.

But they don't have to stay that way: Career experts say the next few months will offer a perfect time to hunt for a more perfect match.

"It was shocking to discover that 17 per cent of people say they dislike their job so much, they dread the thought of going to work every morning," says Patrick Sullivan, president of Workopolis.com, which ran the poll, developed by Environics Research, in July, and received about 10,000 responses from Canadians with full-time jobs.

Just as unsettling, Mr. Sullivan says, is that 32 per cent said they think of their job as only "a means to earn a living" and not a career with long-term potential.

"Too many Canadians are caught up in the daily routine of going to work and should be evaluating how to meet their career goals and needs," Mr. Sullivan says. "A job is like a relationship. Both sides -- employer and employee -- have to be thinking at all times about how they can understand each other's goals and needs."

The poll also found that 47 per cent of respondents said they realize they are in dead-end relationships and will have to eventually move to a new job to achieve their ultimate career goals.

As well, an overwhelming 64 per cent said they see little or no opportunity for advancement, and 35 per cent rated their job so routine that they get no exposure to new experiences.

"I understand we all have to make a paycheque. But if you are interested in developing a career, it's important not to waste your time and to get into work that will move you nearer to your long-term goal," Mr. Sullivan advises.

The good news: he and other recruiters say those who do decide to take up the hunt will find plenty of prospective suitors in virtually every sector of the economy this fall.

For instance, Workopolis -- a partnership of Bell Globemedia, Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. and Gesca Ltd., the newspaper publishing subsidiary of Power Corp. of Canada -- currently lists more than 40,000 jobs, Mr. Sullivan says.

There are three times as many listings in the energy industry than there were at this time last year and twice as many for the financial industry, in part because of the boom in the energy sector and the need for more accountants to deal with increased reporting requirements, Mr. Sullivan says.

In management ranks, the New York-based Association of Executive Search Consultants reports that recruiting in the financial and industrial sectors in North America is up 5 to 10 per cent from last year.

While the numbers aren't broken down between Canada and the United States, "what we hear informally from our offices and our competitors is that demand is up more in Canada than it is in the United States right now," says Peter Zukow, general manager of the Toronto office of national executive recruiting firm Lock & Associates.

"The fall is the traditional back-to-reality time for employers after the summer holidays and, this year, our phones have been lighting up more than ever," Mr. Zukow says.

Recruiting is surging in nearly every industry and the demand for employees is rising faster than the number of candidates in many areas

"We're seeing candidates who are getting multiple offers, and offers of signing bonuses. Companies are getting burned and losing out if they delay making an offer," Mr. Zukow says. "All indicators are that this should continue through November."

The trend has been building all year. The U.S. "job quit" rate, which approximates the opportunities for workers to switch jobs, rose every month this year from year-earlier levels, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And job searches in the second quarter took an average of 3.1 months, down from 3.8 months in the same quarter of 2004, according to Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas.

"If you've got good solid skills and credentials, now is the time to make yourself known," advises Kyle Mitchell, managing partner in the Vancouver office of national executive-search firm Ray & Berndtson.

Executive searches are at a level not seen since the late 1990s technology bubble, Mr. Mitchell says. "But now, it is not just the technology and financial services that are hiring. We are seeing solid and broad-based recruiting across nearly all the sectors in the economy."

He says factors behind the recruiting surge include a growing economy and companies that downsized now realizing they don't have enough "bench strength" in management.

Another increasing factor is demographics, Mr. Mitchell says. "The baby boomers who are 55 and older are eligible for retirement and employers realize a lot of them are going to be taking it."

Telecom, banks, utilities and manufacturing are sectors that are doing a particularly large amount of hiring, Mr. Mitchell says.

"If I was looking, I'd look at large organizations with a work force of long-term employees. They are all actively looking to replace talent."

A notable result of the demand is that age is becoming is much less a factor , Mr. Mitchell notes.

"If you're 58 with great skills and credentials and want to work for another seven years, most organizations are very open to bringing in executives with that kind of experience," he says.

And companies are aware that, with changes in work rules in most provinces, the standard of retiring at 65 is disappearing.

None of this means moving to a new career is easy, Mr. Mitchell warns.

"I emphasize with anyone looking for a job, it always requires having the competence the employer is looking for and the skills and persistence to land the job," Mr. Mitchell says.

"But there are things going on in the market that are making this the prime time to get into a career your really want."

Making a decision

Recruiters say there's no time like now to assess whether your job meets your current goals -- and make a move if it doesn't.

Review. Start with a look at your past year, suggests Workopolis.com president Patrick Sullivan.

Has your skill set improved?

Have you been exposed to new experiences and opportunities?

Have you met or are moving closer to your career goals?

Are you being challenged enough or reached a plateau?

Look before you leap. Workopolis advises moving carefully.

Dissatisfaction doesn't always mean it's time to move to a new job. You may just need a new challenge and should exhaust the opportunities for learning and growth in your current job first.

"People seem to be so afraid of talking with their manager when they feel something is missing," Mr. Sullivan says.

For example, can your range of responsibilities be changed? Are there courses to learn new skills? Can reaching benchmarks put you in line for a promotion?

Decide what's important. Take time to decide your priorities for job satisfaction.

In its July poll, Workopolis found that 35 per cent of 10,000 respondents named opportunities for learning and growth their top concern. Another 26 per cent cited personal satisfaction, and 18 per cent more balance between work and personal life.

Find the right match. There are plenty of jobs available this fall so, "if you decide to change jobs, you should take your time and don't jump at the first job that comes along" on the rebound, Mr. Sullivan says.

Many people apparently don't take that advice. The Workopolis poll found 61 per cent of Canadians confess to having taken a job knowing it wasn't right for them because they needed the money. And 35 per cent have changed jobs at least three times in the past five years.

There are two key questions job seekers should ask themselves, Mr. Sullivan says. Is this job the right fit with my interests and skills? And will it take me in the career direction I want to go?

If not, you should be patient because "the goal is to get yourself and keep yourself on the right career path for you."

© 2005 Ray & Berndtson



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