One enduring symbol of the late '80s was the ambitious manager, who celebrated the nation's economic boom by hopping from company to company, in an orgy of raises and promotions.
District manager one day, regional manager the next. Pretty soon, the executive suite was in sight.
Well, those days are long gone.
On Wall Street and Charles Street, companies are cutting back, conserving their strength in the face of a looming recession. MNC Financial Inc., for example, has considered laying off about 1,000 employees -- less than a year after eliminating 1,200 jobs in the merger of MNC and Equitable Bancorporation. Such corporate conservatism has lowered the speed limit on the road to the top -- and has made changing jobs much riskier.
"Everybody is holding on for dear life," says Michael Brandjes, a specialist in recruiting banking executives. "LIFO scares people," he adds, referring to the accounting principle of last-in, first-out.
His advice: Think twice about changing jobs. "If you have a nice job, are making a decent living and are relatively secure, hold onto it," he says.
Still, he and other recruiters say, ambitious managers who plan carefully and do their homework can make a move.
For example, even as banking giants such as MNC shrink to accommodate mergers and cut costs, they're eager to hire people who can boost revenues and profits. A sharp salesperson or lending officer may be able to jump to a better job.
"The worst thing a bank can have is a loss. The second worst thing is non-performing assets," Mr. Brandjes says.
The same reasoning applies to law firms.
Lawyers who have their own prosperous firm -- or rainmakers in large firms -- are still in demand, because every firm wants to strengthen its bottom line. "That's what security is all about -- having your own practice," says Karen Williamson, a legal recruiter with Williamson & Neal.
If you are ready for a move, think first about your current job.
Don't let your performance slip. You never know when your boss -- or the man or woman sitting next to you -- will get a job with another company, a company that just happens to have some more openings.
"Get noticed," suggests Michael Emig, who heads the compensation consulting practice for the Wyatt Co. in Washington. "Always work hard to impress the people around you. . . . The people who have been most successful have done so by impressing their peers."
Check into opportunities within the company. You may be able to chase a promotion in another department. At the very least, seminars, college courses and workshops sponsored by your current employer may give you new skills that could make it easier to find another job.
"A lot of people don't test the limits of their current employer," says Jody Johns, a senior consultant with the Maryland Consulting Group.
Once you've broadened the job hunt to See JOBS, Page 7JOBS, from Page 6include other companies, the serious research should begin. What is it like to work at those companies? Is the company downsizing? Has there been a lot of turnover lately? Have employee benefits been cut recently? Does the company have a sound future amid the economic slowdown?
Networking is crucial. Don't overlook the obvious. Start networking with the people who are closest to you: your family and close friends. Then, expand that circle of contacts.
Try to find people who work for your prospective employer, or who know someone who works for your prospective employer, or who know someone who knows someone who works for your prospective employer. The best way to get access to corporate executives is with an invitation from someone they know and respect.
"Networking can be very individual," Ms. Johns says.
Former employees often are valuable sources. Many large companies sponsor associations of retired employees. But be careful that former employees aren't nursing grudges against the company.
Another note of caution: Don't abuse your networking.
Don't just invite a corporate executive to lunch and say, "I want to pick your brain," if what you really mean is, "Are there any openings at your company?" Be brief. Be specific. Don't waste others' time.
Personal contacts are crucial, but don't overlook published reports.
If you're interested in a public company, take a look at the quarterly and annual financial reports submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Those documents, as well as the annual corporate report and other financial information, can be obtained from the company or at the SEC headquarters in Washington.
It's harder to find published information about privately held companies. But even these companies may be required to file financial reports with the SEC, if, for example, they have been financed with publicly traded bonds.