What fresh hell is this?

A super line attributed to Dorothy Parker –if you don’t know who she is, check her out on google, and even better, read some of her stuff. Brilliant. She used the line, apparently, in the office whenever the telephone rang.

Things were puttering along nicely in the early years of the new Millennium, those first few years of the noughties, as the BBC called the years between 2000 and 2009. But then, in about 2007, there were signs that the economy was changing, and not for the better. It got worse in 2008 and some of us began to panic – we weren’t financiers so we had no idea what it was about, we just knew it wasn’t good. I started to learn phrases like Collateral Debt Obligations. Shoor enuff, unemployment went at one point from about 4.8% to 5.0%; my friend-and-colleague and I (he very soon became my still-friend but ex-colleague as my previous employer went pfft) realized it wasn’t going to level out, the little increase of 0.2% wasn’t a nothingy bubble, it showed we were on top of a volcano, that was a bubble of lava, and it was going to blow. Being a non-financier with no idea what it was about, I hoped it would all get better in about a year. Hahahaha. Unemployment topped 10.3% before it finally started to come down.
So… here we all are in 2015 with unemployment, as I write this, at 5.4%. Are we nearly back to where we were at the end of 2008? I have absolutely no idea, because I’m still not a financier. I can tell, though, that the job market, especially in New York, has morphed. A lot. The following are my observations. You may think they are hugely insightful, in which case you are clearly related to my mother… I could do no wrong, or you may think I’m spouting rubbish – in which case, why not email me and let me know.

There just isn’t anything like the same number of financial services jobs around in Manhattan that there used to be. Technology, outsourcing, moves out of Manhattan, mergers and Murphy’s Law got rid of a lot of them. T-h-o-u-s-a-n-d-s of jobs disappeared and I don’t think they’ll be coming back anytime soon.

Similarly there just aren’t the same number of legal secretary jobs out there that there used to be. Law firms merge, disappear into the ether, attorneys make do with fewer admin staff to help them. Some lawyers type at 70 words per minute because they took typing classes in High School! – I mean, what’s THAT about. It means they don’t need to dictate hours of stuff to their secretaries, they can type it themselves and amend it as they go along – it can often be more efficient than the old way. Where do you learn shorthand in New York these days? Beats me. Presumably people thought there was no longer enough of a need of it. Heavens above, even some of the secretarial training schools disappeared, never mind their shorthand classes.

Talking of secretaries, where are they now? Went the way of Miss Moneypenny, retired to Florida or to the Typing Pool in the Sky. Colleges give 2 and 4 year degrees in Business Administration to train you as administrative assistants, where your knowledge of business is much more profound than it ever was allowed to be in the past. Administrative and executive assistants can be indispensable to their managers – they do immensely complex calendar management, arrange international travel without the help of pesky travel agents, have the telephone number for reservations for all the best restaurants on speed dial, know way too much about their boss’s medical profile, financial status, children’s schooling. If they work for someone amazingly senior and important (translation: major revenue-producer) then they only have one boss, but these days that’s rare. On the plus side, there is a career path for administrative/executive assistants that there didn’t used to be. Titles like Chief of Staff, Estate Manager, Administration Director are there for the taking. Of course, job titles don’t pay the bills, but potential salaries can be a lot higher than they were in the past.

On the negative salary side, post-2009, some of the salaries have stayed flat or actually gone down. Yup, a few cheapo bosses know that they can get away with paying what you just have to accept as better than nothing.

More importantly as a factor though is the very noticeable increase in temp-to-perm positions. Why would companies only consider temp-to-permanent hire? Presumably because they have a few months’ grace period before they start paying expensive benefits. It gives them an extra safety net in case they make a bad hiring choice and the owner wants a head to roll. To be fair, they also just might want longer to test someone out. And they can get away with it because there are still more unemployed support staff out there than there used to be. Try to be positive about it. You get to have a safety net too, and you can walk away from them, if you were the one not making the right choice, without feeling you have to explain away leaving a permanent job.

Oh, and do most of you work longer hours as the norm than you used to? Remember when 9.00 to 5.00 was a phrase that tripped off the tongue? There are probably a few jobs out there that are still 9.00 to 5.00 but the people in them are not going to leave unless they’re dragged out screaming, leaving claw marks on the door.

I have to think of something upbeat to finish the blog. Don’t I? This last year, year-and-a-half there has definitely been an upward swing in the number of jobs out there, both that agencies are being given, or that companies are advertising directly (dear me, I hate companies that don’t use staffing services. But that’s for another blog). And the signs (house building increasing, foreclosures decreasing) are that life promises to continue getting better. Works for me.