Even before the coronavirus crisis, uncertain conditions threatened numerous mid- to late-career executives. Transformative technology is rendering many formerly respected and highly paid jobs obsolete. Globalization and the rationalization of roles have taken a heavy toll. Now, with an impending recession, companies are looking to reduce expenses wherever possible, simply in order to survive. The best-paid, most senior employees are frequently the first to be let go.
Few bounce back as quickly as they’d hope. In spite of their depth of experience and know-how, senior executives who are retrenched in middle age often struggle to re-enter the workplace. According to Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM), in Q3 2019, only 61 percent of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) had found a new job within six months of being retrenched, versus 76.5 percent of clerical, sales and services workers, and 72.8 percent of production and related workers. Those aged 40-plus stay unemployed longest; in Q3 2019, 40 percent remained unemployed six months after being laid off.
The power of strong network
Long-term unemployment results in great economic hardship and in the case of expats, a return to their home country, whether they like it or not — and no matter how deep their roots in Asia. Many experienced executives are confident that, even if they are retrenched, they will quickly find a new job comparable in rank and pay grade to their previous position, through a recruiter or by applying for vacancies listed on LinkedIn and other sites. This is rarely the case. In my experience, 80 percent of senior executives find new roles through their professional networks.
To offer a salient example, I know one particular executive who, after being retrenched by a multinational company last year, applied for nearly 100 positions. All that effort came to nothing, despite this individual being in possession of a highly impressive resumé and decades of experience in his field. However, when he went out cycling with a friend, it turned out his companion knew of an appropriate position within his own company and could put in a resounding referral. He got the job.
That’s the power of a strong network. But a network isn’t established overnight. People need to put in the time and effort to solidify their network before the dark clouds fill the sky. It’s like physical fitness, you need to work on staying healthy and exercising while you’re still in good physical condition. If you wait until your health starts to fail, it’s too late.
As many will sadly discover as the coronavirus crisis plays out, those who think they have a job for life today are sadly mistaken. Yet still, a large number of top executives and leading professionals overestimate their employment security. Or they operate under the false impression that a new job will be easily found when needed, simply by contacting recruiters or trawling job listings. They are mistaken. It is invariably business contacts and relationships that create the connections leading to a new appointment.
The relationships leaders build with their peers are invaluable in allowing them to learn from one another, collaborate, share advice, overcome hardships, and thrive during periods of prosperity. But equally, the networks those executives forge prove literally lifesaving when they are faced with unemployment. Sending your CV to a recruiter is unlikely to result in a new job. Tapping a group of trusted associates in senior leadership roles, meanwhile, has proven over and over to be decisive in securing a new position.
We are facing a major crisis at present, one that prevents person-to-person contact for the time being. The timing is not ideal, but it’s never too late — and we’re fortunate in that we have numerous digital communication and social networking options at our disposal.
There’s a Chinese proverb that goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” If you haven’t begun shoring up your professional network yet, start today.