Taking a job at AT&T or T-Mobile, two of the big four wireless carriers, wouldn't have been a cause for concern just a few months ago. Now that the two are planning a $39 billion merger, potential employees have to consider whether they might be one of the thousands predicted to lose their jobs if the deal is consummated.
Retail staffers, sales and marketing employees along with mid-level regional managers and administrative clerks are likely to be let go if and when the AT&T merger is approved, says F. Drake Johnstone, a telecommunications analyst at Davenport & Company LLC, a Virginia-based investment firm.
Whether you're looking at working at one of the telecom giants or a smaller company going through a merger, there are several things you need to consider.
Know Your Role
"In general, it's not the best strategy to join a company that's about to merge unless you're in a job category that you would consider to be merge-proof," says Brad Karsh, president and founder of JobBound, a career coaching firm.
Highly skilled professionals like engineers or programmers who are integral to product and company growth are more likely to be retained in a post-integrated workplace because they are hardest to replace.
On the other hand, if you're filling a data entry or back office accounting position, your chances are greater of getting a pink slip. "That's often the core reason for a merger, to find inefficiencies in those areas," Karsh says.
Do Your Homework
What kind of company is likely to emerge after the deal is completed?
Talk to friends or acquaintances at the company and find out which departments may be downsized. Find out which executives are taking the lead in re-shaping the company -- it's their vision and sensibility that will define the new corporate culture.
"You really want to do your homework. It's important that you really understand how the two companies come together, how the cultures work, and even where the firm will be headquartered," says advises Bill Driscoll, district president of Robert Half Management Resources, a career placement and consulting firm. "If you can find out who's going to take the administrative lead, that can give you some key indications as to what jobs might get cut and what jobs might not."
"You want to position yourself as being as versatile as possible," says Karsh. "There's going to be a lot of change, and rigidity isn't going to fly well in a merger situation. You want to volunteer for more responsibility and for more work, you want to go into it embracing change rather than fighting against it."
During your interview, don't ignore the elephant in the room. Ask straightforwardly how the merger will affect your job over the long-term. This shows that you're knowledgeable about the company and want to be around for a while.
"If the companies are merging and it's public knowledge, you're only likely to further strengthen your candidacy and credibility by asking intelligent questions about how the merger will affect you. Don't shy away from it," Driscoll says.
Know What You're Getting Into
As soon as the merger is finalized, executives begin to think about restructuring. Just as there is room to shine during the merger process, there's also room to look incompetent. So make sure you're not entering a terminally problematic department that will be gutted as soon as ink dries on the deal.
"Ask yourself: do you feel like you'll be able to prove yourself in a year?" says Karsh. "If it's going to take three years for you to turn the department around, be skeptical."
Look for Opportunities
Executives who go through the trouble of executing mergers like to leave their stamp on the company's culture and branding, and you'll probably be asked to contribute to that if you do join the company.
"There's absolutely upsides," says Laura Turner, regional vice president for Spherion Staffing Services. "When you're merging two companies that are very established, getting in on the ground floor gives you the opportunity to develop and shape a new organization with new goals."
Mergers can also cause a great deal of anxiety, which means that those who exhibit poise and skill in times of uncertainty can distinguish themselves as potential leaders.
Write to Joe Walker
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