For six months after he was restructured out of his job as president of a Toronto-based medical sciences company, Hans Thunem beat the bushes for a new executive position.
Though he was willing to consider a job anywhere in the country, with the economy in a tailspin, no Canadian company was even interested in talking about hiring, Mr. Thunem says. "There was nothing going on. It was completely dead," he recalls.
As he networked, recruiters and other contacts suggested Mr. Thunem expand his search to the much bigger market south - a suggestion he dismissed at first.
"Everything I was hearing from the U.S. was that the situation was worse than ours," the former president of Toronto-based LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services says. But finally, out of sheer frustration, "I thought it was worth a try."
So Mr. Thunem went back to his contacts. One executive he had worked with at his previous job was an American who gave him several leads. And once in the door, Mr. Thunem was able to put his maple leaf background to work.
In fact, he received two competing job offers over the summer and, in August, started as president of research at biotech company Harlan Laboratories Inc. in Indianapolis, Ind.
In this environment, it might seem crazy to turn the focus of a job hunt to the United States. After all, the jobless rate is even higher there, with millions of people out of work - already resident and with experience and connections on familiar ground.
But expanding a job search across the border is a move executives finding limited opportunities in Canada should consider, the experts say - adding that Mr. Thunem's success is not just a fluke.
"I am hearing from recruiters in the [United]States that they are increasingly looking for executives who have an international view, appreciation of how other business cultures work and how to work in smaller markets. These are things that Canadian executives have traditionally had to do to expand in our much smaller market," says Lou Clements, a partner at executive transition consultancy Miller Dallas in Toronto.
Even if the United States is weakened, "you're still talking an economy that is 10 times larger [than Canada] so even if there are fewer executive jobs overall, there could be 10 potential roles available for every one available here," says Richard Wajs, president of Toronto-based recruiting company TWC International Executive Search Ltd.
"Quite simply, there is just greater opportunity in the States, and, when options are limited, as they are now, you want to go to where the most opportunity is," he adds.
As for the competition, much of the recent rise in U.S. jobless rates has been in blue-collar industries, says Carl Lovas, chairman of Toronto-based executive search firm Odgers Berndtson Canada.
At the management level, "we are still facing a huge global talent shortage that has only temporarily been masked by the economic crisis. But as the economic shock is starting to dissipate, the desire of employers to get management talent on board is growing," he says.
The market for executives is improving rapidly, says John Challenger, chief executive officer for outplacement consultancy Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. in Chicago, which tracks hiring trends.
"The number of people in management and professional occupations is already up 2.5 per cent from the low point... in August," he says.
"At the top executive level, we are seeing hiring improving even more rapidly. As we continue to pull out of this recession, companies are looking to make leadership changes to reflect a new attention to growth strategies, as opposed previous strategies focused on survival," and increasingly they will be looking for candidates who can see opportunities in other markets, he adds.
Where are the best opportunities?
There seems to be rapid growth in postings for management roles in health care and life sciences, and in multinational companies that also do business in Asia and Europe, says Tony Lee, president of CareerCast.com, which does ongoing surveys of trends in executive jobs posted online.
There is also much more hiring activity in companies on the east coast, particularly Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., than on the west coast, he says. The biggest opportunities are in health care, biotech, and contracting to the defence and infrastructure programs getting federal grants to stimulate the economy, he says.
CareerCast found the number of new management jobs listed in October was only about 62 per cent of the volume of new postings in October, 2007, at the height of the economic bubble. But the number of new postings has risen substantially since the job market's lowest ebb in April, when new executive job searches were only 42 per cent as numerous as they were in April, 2007, he says.
A cautionary flag, Mr. Lee warns, is that while the U.S. economy is improving, September and October, normally boom times for recruiting, had lower levels of new job postings than the summer months, "so we're not in a strong recovery by any means."
Still, Mr. Thunem believes there were several reasons why being Canadian helped him land his job. One factor was being bilingual, helpful because the biotech companies he interviewed with also had business operations in France.
A perceived world view played a role as well. "I had two potential employers tell me they were particularly interested in hiring Canadians because they feel we have a broader viewpoint and more global awareness," he says. "They told me very directly in interviews that we are seen as more attuned to other people and cultures and perspectives."
To pique the interest of U.S. hiring managers, a Canadian should speak to examples of accomplishments demonstrating dealings with foreign markets, Mr. Clements suggests.
The fact that Canadians have a different viewpoint will be an attraction to employers looking for fresh ideas to help organizations emerge from the recession, Mr. Lovas says. Companies may prefer outsiders rather than Americans, who may seem to bring "more of the same" kind of thinking in a turnaround, he suggests.
Another reason Canadians may be more attractive: a willingness to accept slightly lower salaries than Americans, Mr. Lee says.
With his experience, Mr. Thunem believes that, "whether the economy sucks or not, there will always be a demand for Canadians in U.S. companies."
Cross-border search tips
Get the word out
Contact recruiters who do international searches and let them know about your interest. Research potential jobs The Internet makes it easy to learn about companies and the challenges they face. Even without a posted opening, consider a company with functions that fit your skills a potential target. Develop an expat network Many subsidiaries of U.S. firms in Canada have Americans on staff who can help you find networking contacts south of the border.
Fewer is better Because you're likely to be doing your hunt by long distance, limit the search to a few prime targets, rather than blanket the industry. Avoid cold calls
Personal introductions to potential employers are important when you are an unknown.
TALK cross-border RECORD
If you've done business in the United States or elsewhere in previous roles, use it to sell your value to companies trying to expand their business in a recovery.
Talk global experience
Offer examples of how you found opportunities by having an international point of view.
Negotiate terms Unlike in Canada, many U.S. employers don't customarily include terms of a severance payment in case your job doesn't work out. Get adequate coverage Health benefit plans often need to be negotiated as well.