Young professionals have not escaped the shockwaves of the global economic crisis and are having to adjust their salary expectations.
"We have a new workforce – up to their mid-thirties, who have been fast-tracked to the executive suite in a skills-short market and who have not been through a major recession before," says Sandra Burmeister, CEO of the Landelahni Recruitment Group. "They are experiencing current market conditions as a bolt from the blue.
"Over the halcyon growth years, young professionals became used to earning enormous salaries. In South Africa that has been exacerbated by gender and equity premiums. It was an age of abundance for employees, and salary expectations rose dramatically.
"Employees now need to set realistic remuneration targets for themselves as South Africa readies itself to step out of recession.
"While leading economic indicators may show that, technically, the recession is easing, it will be months, if not years, before South Africa sees the kind of growth it requires as a developing economy. Moreover, global realignment may well be balanced by better corporate governance to mitigate the effects of greed, and that may hold salaries in check."
Burmeister believes it is important for young professionals to temper their expectations.
"If you've been retrenched, you cannot expect to re-enter the market on the same salary. Companies facing reduced revenues and profits will not be paying excessive salaries for skills that the downturn has made more readily available. By the same token, opportunities for promotion are likely to be more limited.
"Flexibility is important, and candidates willing to take jobs in different industries and geographies, for example in other African countries, are likely to stand a higher chance of success."
A degree is just the first step on the career ladder, she adds. To succeed, young professionals need experience and that takes time.
"We've moved from a period of entitlement to a period of demonstrable ability – the ability to generate business for the company," says Burmeister.
"The new workforce – Generation X and Generation Y (people between the ages of 18 and 40) – has never before experienced conditions like these."
Whereas Gen X-ers (late 20s to early 40s) are most likely to be motivated by short-term cash, travel and personal indulgence incentives (such as spa treatments or trendy restaurants), for Gen Ys (early 20s now entering the workforce), time is more important than money. They want more flexibility in their workday and a better work/life balance and respond well to cyclical work and job sharing options.
"Both groups may find that these expectations are curtailed under current market conditions," says Burmeister.
"Nonetheless, professionals need to keep their knowledge current through training and leadership development programmes. Now more than ever, it's the employee's responsibility to invest in his own skills.
"Why? Because you are your own best investment. You will be exchanging skills for an equivalent reward in the job market for the rest of your professional life. Your skills are your best tool to ensure that you are always in demand, and receiving appropriate reimbursement for the work you do."