Negate 2008

No, this isn’t a political commentary. Instead, we are referencing a troubling tendency by many employers to make snap judgments about candidate career paths over the last several years. All too regularly we are hearing – “but he’s had quite a few jobs in the last few years” or “she seems to have taken a step back in her recent job” or “I don’t like the gaps that I see”.

This well-intentioned employer vigilance often ignores that the economy, employment and several industries have been in an unprecedented state of flux over the last 10+ years. As a result, previous held notions regarding employment longevity should be calibrated.

2008 disrupted many previously successful careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated 8.8 million jobs were lost during the Great Recession, spanning December 2007 to February 2010. During this period, manufacturing accounted for over 2 million of these lost jobs – greater than 15% of total manufacturing employment. This compounded a steady decline in manufacturing positions that began in the wake of September 11, 2001, amassing a total of 5.8 million manufacturing jobs through December 2009.

Durable Goods, Building & Construction Products, Printing/Paper and Mining/Energy Equipment were amongst the industries hardest hit during 2008-2010. Several commentators also observed that leadership and higher paid ranks were purged at unprecedented levels during this period vs. earlier downturns.

As a result, the credentials of many solid candidates are being ignored or dubiously questioned because of the career path “hiccups” emanating from one or both of these pivotal periods. We forget that during 2008-2010, the media continuously warned the downsized to take “whatever you can find and keep yourself afloat”. This advice led to pay cuts, contract roles, cultural mismatches, skill misalignments, industry changes and positions with lesser responsibilities. Regularly, these disconnects have yielded a career path Gordian Knot with ripple or anchor effect permeating several positions over the past 3-5 years.

As the economy improves or changing business needs require looking at people able to bring something different to a position – don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to recruiting and outplacement candidates with “irregularities” stemming out of the Great Recession, and/or the post 9/11 malaise. When evaluating these candidates, try to avoid preconceived suspicions concerning potential performance or behavioral failings. Start instead with a “trust but verify” approach assessing and balancing fallout from these  time periods against career trends.