The Jobless Crisis: Boardroom tips for ex-executives

THE boardroom looked like any other with a group of well-dressed and well-presented executives discussing staff recruitment problems. David Hockney prints hung on the wall and secretaries provided coffee and biscuits.

All but one of the seven sitting around the table yesterday were qualified accountants, two had Masters degrees in Business Administration, another had graduated from Cambridge before training with Price Waterhouse. Although they had experience at finance director level, only one was over the age of 44.

They appeared confident and good humoured as they discussed the difficulties of 'downsizing', job rationalisation and the right approach to factory closure and 'outplacement' services.

It was difficult to believe they were all unemployed, up-market representatives of the 3,062,065 out of work. Most had earned more than pounds 40,000, plus perks, in their former jobs; one with a clothing manufacturer, another with a national brewer and another with an industrial conglomerate. The talk was not of the public perception that at least accountants would do well out of the recession, but of 400 applicants for every job, age discrimination beginning at 35, using your contacts and of how to get your curriculum vitae noticed.

Nigel Collin, 42, former finance director for the Techland Group, a computer company, rationalised himself out of a job when a review concluded the group did not need a full-time finance director. He did not believe it would be so difficult to find a replacement post. His failure is put down to 'too general' experience when companies are playing safe and looking for expertise related directly to their sector. And his age.

'Old age is 35. It makes you realise the market has totally changed,' he said. Like many of the others, Mr Collin has padded out his redundancy payment with freelance earnings and has formed a company with a colleague in his home town of Maidenhead, Berkshire, to provide advice for firms too small to employ their own professional staff.

The boardroom group, one of whom had travelled 120 miles to be present, was taking part in a seminar organised by Robert Half, a recruitment agency specialising in accountancy.

Jeff Grout, managing director, said he was running monthly job search workshops at his company's London offices. Participants, no matter how senior, were given advice on how to approach companies, using their contacts to best effect and on interview techniques. 'The market has not worsened from three years ago - we are in a completely different world. The demand for accountants is at its lowest level since the Second World War,' he said.

The only slight signs of optimism were that the level of temporary contracts was at its highest level for 18 months and the volume of recruitment advertising in January had been above January last year.

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