Even in a recession, companies still hire

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Interview: Tory Johnson

You can ask for pay raises and negotiate favorable compensation packages — even in a down economy, says best-selling author Tory Johnson. You just have to know how to do it.

At a glance
Name: Tory Johnson
Hometown: Miami Beach, Fla.
Education: Emerson College
Career highlights:
  • Workplace contributor for ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
  • CEO and founder of Women for Hire.
  • Creator of GMA Job Club.
  • New York Times best-selling author of “Will Work from Home: Earn Cash — Without the Commute.”
  • Columnist for ABCNEWS.com, Yahoo!, HotJobs and Shine, among others.
  • Held corporate communications positions at ABC News, NBC News and Nickelodeon.
  • Frequent speaker to nationwide audiences, including college campuses and Fortune 500 companies.

It’s the “knowing how” part that usually stymies most people. But the workplace contributor for ABC’s “Good Morning America” says it’s doable if you’re a proven top performer and are realistic about your salary demands.

You do have to be aware of the financial health of your company and its competitors so you know when to ask for that raise.

“The downturn doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t ask, but you can’t be tone-deaf to what’s happening within your industry,” she says.

College students, especially, should be proactive about conducting their job search long before graduation. The key to getting hired during an economic downturn is networking, networking, networking, Johnson says.

Bankrate caught up with Johnson at Women for Hire, the career resource company she heads in New York, where she talked about job search strategies, negotiating salaries and the best bets for future job growth.

With so many companies laying off workers, implementing hiring freezes and looking to cut costs, is it a good idea to ask for a raise? If so, what’s the best way to go about it without jeopardizing your job?

You have to pay attention to the health of your company. If your company has been negatively impacted by the economic downturn, the company has announced that positions and salaries have been frozen or benefits like 401(k) matches have been impacted, then obviously you don’t want to ask.

However, if you know that you are bringing in new business or you are doubling or tripling your responsibilities, then perhaps it’s an OK time to ask.

Many companies absolutely need — even in times of trouble — certain people to perform at their best, and if you fall into that category and you know that your company is relatively healthy right now … then by all means, it’s OK to ask for a realistic increase.

The worst they could say is “no,” right?

Right, and if “no” is the answer, then you should ask what needs to happen for it to be a “yes.” See if a specific amount of time has to pass or if there’s a specific achievement they expect you to tackle. You can also ask if there’s a specific milestone that you need to reach before revisiting the subject. Try to establish how you might be able to turn the “no” into a “yes.”

Even though the economy is in recession, the nation’s colleges and universities continue to pump out graduates who will need jobs. What strategies will increase their chances of getting a job?

Every organization hires entry-level talent. In this economy, I hear from students who tell me no one will hire them because they don’t have enough experience. And then I hear from the parents of those new graduates who say, “No one will hire me because I’m too old and I have too much experience.”

When times are tough, people often see things through the prism of age or (through) too much or lack of experience, but the reality is every organization hires entry-level talent.

The key is not waiting until graduation to start job searching. Be active and start thinking about your career before you graduate. Make time to sit down with the career service office and find out what companies are recruiting on campus.

Talk to professors about their industry connections and to alumni to find out how they’ve used their degree. Many times, you’ll find that someone’s leveraged it in a completely different direction than what might be the obvious.

What advice can you give job seekers on how to negotiate a salary, knowing that the company probably has a number of qualified candidates to whom they can offer the job if you’re unwilling to budge?

By the time somebody has offered you the position, there’s a very good chance that they want you. So that’s a good sign for you right there.

However, you want to be realistic about the salaries for industries within the area that you live and also very sensitive to this economic climate because companies know they can get great people for less than they would have a year or year and a half ago.

A company that’s choosing to make an investment in you and hire you is hoping that you’re going to be there for the long haul. They’re going to want to pay what’s fair for the experience that you bring and what’s commensurate with the going rate within that industry and area.

They aren’t going to simply lowball you because of the economy. Because they know that you’re going to be miserable, you may not be able to meet your own personal financial obligations and you’re going to resent that they came in so low.

Sometimes you can negotiate beyond money as well. Maybe there are specific benefits that you’re interested in, like the ability to work from home one day a week. Those particular benefits may matter to you just as much.

We’ve recently witnessed a huge shift in certain types of jobs being outsourced overseas. Manufacturing and call-center operations are two that come to mind. As our economy evolves, what industries are creating tomorrow’s fastest-growing jobs?

Health care certainly leads the pack. Positions like (caregivers) are in demand because the population is aging. Many want to be able to remain at home, but if they don’t have family or friends nearby, they need assistance.

There’s also an enormous abundance of nursing and health care technology-related jobs. They’re the only areas where we’ve seen consistent growth every month.

Another area is education. We see a shortage of substitute teachers around the country now and shortages in higher education.

We’ll see what will come of the whole green-job industry, which is everything from architects and engineers to windmill builders. I think many opportunities will be emerging there.

Losing a job mid-career or later can be difficult, especially for those who are well-paid and accomplished in their fields. Are job-hunting strategies any different for this group?

It’s a challenge because you are somebody who may have never had to do (a job search) before.

Perhaps they’ve been with the same company for the majority of their career, or the positions that they’ve had were because someone called them, they interviewed, shook hands and started the following Monday.

Part of the frustration now is not only the blow to their self-esteem and the challenge of being unemployed, but also the financial realities of it. It’s also learning how to job search.

It’s always harder to learn something brand new when it’s not the way things were done in the past.

The online application process, for example, can be daunting. Many times, when I tell someone who’s in his 40s or 50s that you have to create a profile on LinkedIn, it’s overwhelming to them.

In this particular economy, it’s not just about being the most qualified applicant for a position, it’s also being the best job seeker. For many people, that’s just a foreign concept because it never worked that way before, and it’s hard to wrap their head around why it works that way now.

Younger people are a lot more comfortable with social media, and they get that people find jobs on Facebook, through Twitter and through LinkedIn.

What do you say to those who look to you for advice on choosing a career path? Is it more important to choose a lucrative profession or one that is more personally satisfying?

I think both are important. It’s very hard to live in this country if you don’t make enough money based on our standard of living. While we all might want to do what we love and not pay any attention to money, that’s not realistic.

Money is a huge reason why people work, and there’s no shame in choosing opportunities based in part on financial compensation. That’s just a reality of our society and our workplace.

That said, to choose something solely based on money probably is not going to leave you very fulfilled or happy most days.

Being happy about the type of work that you do, the environment in which you do it and the cause that you are working toward each day are not to be underestimated. That plays a really important role.

If you’re unsure about what you want to do, think about things that are your own personal interests and what’s available where you live.

Pay attention to the hot trends where you live and what local industries are thriving. Pay attention to business news, read it and absorb it, because sometimes that opens up your mind to something that perhaps you haven’t thought of before.

Every one of us is in our jobs temporarily. At some point, by choice or by force, we’re all going to move on from the jobs that we hold today.