Good advice from a jobs guru

H. Kent Craig talks with top recruiter Alicia Sisk-Morris about what the currently employed, recently unemployed, and struggling business owner in the mechanical contracting industry can and should do to weather the current recession

When Alicia Sisk-Morris began her career with a major construction management executive search firm in the 1990s, an opportunity soon presented itself because of her honesty, work ethic and dedication. She was asked to start, from scratch, the firm's first MEP Desk and from there her career took off, she eventually becoming one of the top recruiters in the country.

Just this November, she left that firm to begin the next phase of her career in the form of her own firm, Sisk Consulting Group, which offers a more comprehensive and full-service approach to helping both candidates and clients. With the mechanical contracting industry still being bashed about in the tsunami surf of The Great Recession and with no real rescue in sight, I recently sat down with her to pick her brain and seek her perspectives about what the currently employed, recently unemployed, and struggling business owner can and should do to help weather this storm.

Question: So, Alicia, in such a crowded field as executive and middle-management search and placement, how have you achieved such a high level of long-term success when most of your contemporaries don't usually last too long, let alone develop a solid track record like you have?

Answer: What I do is not rocket science. It takes time, attention to detail and a thorough understanding of both what candidates and client firms need to be able to place the right candidate with the right skill sets and personality type with a correspondingly good client company fit. By focusing solely on MEP firms, I have developed over my long tenure a very deep knowledge both of the trades themselves and how to fit the right person with the right company.

Q: Given current market realities, what is the one piece of salient advice you most need to tell "my guys and girls" who are the senior-level project managers and estimators to help them survive until times get better?

A: Attitude is everything! If you are currently employed a good attitude and work ethic will help keep you employed, and if you are seeking employment a positive attitude will help separate you from the pack.

Q: Alicia, that sounds all well and good, but what about all those horror stories I keep hearing through the grapevine about 30-plus-year solid employees being laid-off or even outright fired over nothing more than pure age discrimination or just to be able to replace an older higher-paid worker bee with a newer, cheaper version?

A: There's no doubt that there have been widespread layoffs in our industry coast to coast. I have found that these companies have laid-off both men and women of all ages, skill sets and backgrounds. Everyone in every demographic group has been negatively impacted regardless of age, gender, race, etc. I have known fathers who owned their own company to lay off their own flesh-and-blood sons whom they had been grooming all their lives to eventually take over and run the family business, simply because there was little if any work to be had in their particular marketplace. It really is that harsh out there, as your readers already know.

Q: Given that, how can a candidate stand out from other job candidates?

A: The first crucial step is to craft a well-written resume. Spelling and grammar are crucial. Before you send your resume out to potential employers or a search placement specialist such as myself, proofread it several times yourself and then have at least two other pairs of eyes also look it over as well. The second most important thing you need is a current job list highlighting the variety of projects you have worked on, as well as a shorter more compact list of just the larger projects you have worked on.

Q: Then, assuming I do get an initial interview and it goes well, how should I handle the now even more delicate topic of salary and benefits?
A: It's imperative to remember that there’s nothing to negotiate nor discuss until after you've determined that you actually want the job, and they've told you that they want to actually hire you.

Q: Given the current scorched-earth reality out there, do I need to lower my salary and benefits expectations to enhance my prospects of landing the job?

A: If you are currently employed and are looking to move to a new company because of perceived better compensation and/or work environment, you really need to carefully weigh all factors of risk versus reward, keeping in mind that the best time to get a new job is when you're currently working in your old/your present one. That said, if you are currently unemployed, any job within our industry is better than no job at all. The longer you are unemployed, the harder it will be to eventually land a new position. Flexibility is paramount! Nowadays candidates, not employers, are the ones that have to be "flexible."

Q: Does that mean, Alicia, that to be able to get a decent job they might have to relocate to another state or even region of the country?

A: The answer to that is, unfortunately, yes. Let me reiterate that as a professional recruiter and placement specialist, I am always available to help qualified professionals determine where the jobs in our industry actually are, at no cost to them.

Q: I assume you're also willing to help companies find world-class talent such as myself and my bretheren and sisteren?

A: Absolutely! Forward-thinking client companies are capitalizing today on the unprecedented pool of senior-level project managers, estimators and executive-level talent that up until now has been unavailable. I am always available to consult with both companies and your good readers regarding possible opportunities.

Feel free to contact Alicia at her office phone number: 828-645-2000 or via e-mail at: [email protected]iskcg.com. She is also on LinkedIn and can be followed on Twitter as "MEPCareers."

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. You may contact him via e-mail at: [email protected] .