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AFewGoodMen.-0001Good export managers with great experience can still command healthy compensation in a recessionary environment where salary budgets are being trimmed and job applicants far outnumber the positions available.


It is without a doubt an employers’ market.  A company advertised one vacancy at the junior level and was deluged by 1,500 applicants.

This may be an extreme example but recruitment officials have been seeing a dramatic rise in job applicants in the market.

Salary budgets are also definitely being trimmed over the last 12 months as employers attempt to manage operation costs in an economic downturn.

“What we are seeing – over the last 12 months – is that when organizations were asked to project salaries six months forward, each time we went back, there has been a moderation in the forecast,” says Rob Knox, leader of Mercer’s information business across Australia and New Zealand.


Mercer’s Total Remuneration Survey 2009 reported that 8% of organizations plan to trim their workforce, and 17%have frozen new hires, according to the New Zealand Herald website.

The law of supply and demand dictates that when supply is ample, price falls.  Employees changing jobs would find it hard to get a better base pay due to the market being flooded with workers looking for work.

“Salary levels are not going up if people are changing jobs but where some companies have a little room to move (on their salary levels), it would be targeted at skilled workers,” says David Lowe, manager (Employment Advisory Services) at the Employers and Manufacturer’s Association (Northern).

However, at the higher end of the market, where exporters need skilled international business development and international sales expertise in their specific industries, good candidates are still hard to come by.

Salary levels for these skilled people will hold ground provided employers are unable to find similar expertise in the market.

Knox says based on the overall market movements, compensation for experienced sales professionals rose in the order of 7.5% through 2008 in Australia and 6.5% in New Zealand for the same period.  However the market has shifted noticeably lower since the latter part of last year, he adds.


Employers are also seeking to better utilise their pay expenditure by focusing compensation for sales professionals on variable pay while employees in difficult economic times will be more inclined to be looking to build their package around fixed salaries, Knox adds.

The scale has definitely tipped in employers’ favour, says Simon Oldham, sales and marketing manager at Q Jumpers, an online recruitment service provider.  “It has been an interesting nine months.  There is a sudden shift in power from employees to employers.

“We have been tracking the number of applications per role – and the number has risen sharply.  The national average in 2008 around this time was 13 applications per role, now it is 35.”

Due to the surge in application numbers, Q Jumpers has been seeing increased interest from employers using its automated recruitment system to help filter and shortlist candidates and provide automatic response to applicants.

Employers definitely have more power but there is a split in the market – in some highly skilled roles, where it is still hard to get suitable applicants, employees still hold a balance of power, Oldham adds.


Top talent in sales and international business development roles are still hard to find, says Pete Macauley, associate director and country manager at Michael Page International.  “Candidates with a strong track record in international and export sales – there is a limited pool you have to work from in New Zealand.  Michael Page and the clients we partner with are continuing to have success in sourcing talent from offshore markets,” Macauley adds.

Employers have also been less likely to look overseas for skilled roles “which is a bit of a shame,” Oldham says, as overseas candidates brings diversity and relevant skills to New Zealand.

One recruitment company, however, recently went across the ditch to Australia, to hire an international marketing manager as no suitable candidate could be found in New Zealand.

Patrick Teo, CEO of BCS Group, a turnkey provider of airport management systems, reckons that New Zealand has an attractive talent pool with international business but not necessarily in the type of industries employers are seeking.

Here, it is important for the company to have a good HR policy in place to attract new talent to the company.  At BCS, although the new additions may not have the requisite industry experience, people within the company with industry knowledge have been willing to share.  “This worked for us primarily because of the culture within the company,” Teo adds.

Macauley says he hasn’t seen employers lowering salaries on offer where there is a distinct need to fill a role requiring export-related experience and specific skills.  And those who already have good business development people are now focusing on retention strategies and organisational developmental strategies to ensure they provide career paths for their existing talent and reduce the risk of losing them to competitors, he adds. 

Where a candidate has been in the market for three to six months, there is greater willingness for these candidates to take on lower level roles and on a lower salary, Macauley says.


Lowe from the EMA says there is indication that companies may be selectively hiring, positioning themselves with the right people for when the economy picks up.

Knox from Mercer is of the same view adding that companies are always on the lookout for key talent.

“In this market, however, they can be more discerning about how they do this.  While pay pressures have eased, companies will still want to pay competitively, keeping an eye on current circumstances but mindful of the need to manage retention as business conditions improve,” he adds.


  • Hiring an export manager?  Explore more variable reward rather than fixed pay.
  • Expecting a deluge of applicants?  Automated systems can save you time/money.
  • Export companies with healthy profits should consider selective hiring as most employees are ready to lower salary expectations.
  • Don’t forget to focus on staff retention strategies for when the economy picks up steam.

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