The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

The view from my recession is grim. I am an executive recruiter in the construction industry. In recent years I have placed Presidents, CFOs and other senior managers with some of the largest commercial/industrial contractors in the country. I take pride in my work and my company's superb reputation in our industry. But lately things have changed around here; the party's over.

We have experienced dramatic growth over the last ten years, even accounting for the setback caused by 9/11. But last summer the wave crested. In October, ten percent of our company was laid off. And last week our President announced that more layoffs were coming for those who weren't producing enough. This is kind of amazing when you consider that we all work on 100% commission.

But they are making a business decision to protect the core of their company: top recruiters who are proven producers year after year. For example, a VP here who billed nearly a million dollars in south Florida alone for the past few years, during the residential boom, can't even set an interview there anymore.  Like many of his clients and candidates alike, he has pulled up stakes and moved to a region with better prospects.

Many recruiters at my company will ultimately leave before they get laid off, to go work a salaried job with a guaranteed paycheck. We are in fairly uncharted territory here, and most projections indicate that the tide won't start to turn until this fall at the earliest. Many of our best clients, companies doing hundreds of millions of dollars in annual volume, have issued a hiring freeze for the foreseeable future. Privately funded projects slated to begin soon--casinos, hotels, shopping malls--can't start up until the credit market thaws and banks start lending again. Construction is a great engine of the American economy, and that engine will continue to idle until we get it back into gear.

Markets hit hardest by the housing crisis, such as Vegas, Phoenix or the south Florida region, will take years to get back to normal. And in that time many more small and mid-size contractors will move away or simply shut their doors. The only silver lining I can see is that most of our competitors in the executive search industry won't be able to weather this storm either!

As for me, I have my limit too. At some point, if I can't make a decent living anymore, I'll unplug the headset and go travel the world. I hear places like Ireland and Iceland are affordable this time of year.