Attempting to hoist oneself up into the higher levels of management can be a difficult task these days — especially in Detroit. Ever-changing and constantly evolving workplaces may have fewer senior management positions available at the top as opposed to entry-level work, but that doesn’t imply that they are off limits.

In fact, if you ask James Thompson, a top recruiter and vice president of business development at JMJ Phillip in Ann Arbor, it’s getting better all the time when it comes down to landing a senior management position, especially in the Motor City. Find out what Thompson had to say to the topic.

1. For recent and upcoming graduates, what would your best advice be for finding a company that they can grow within and having the best chance of elevating into upper-tier management?

James Thompson of JMJ Phillip (credit: Michael Ferro)

James Thompson of JMJ Phillip (credit: Michael Ferro)

“The interesting thing with graduates is that your first job right out of college, and sometimes even your internships, will shape your entire career. Taking technology as an example, if they came out of college and their first experience was working with ERP systems such as SAP, the next company will likely hire them because of their SAP experience.

“Regardless of what you do, your first job is a pigeon hole and you haven’t even started building a resume yet. We often speak to new graduates about this concept because they should be very aware of the decisions they make. While many come out of commencement hungry to do big things, most will settle and take any job, which is often a detriment.

“You need a strategic plan on how you will get to the director or vice president Level in your 30s and this begins with your first job, including both the position and company. We say, if you think this company is down on their luck, it may be wise to pass for now even if they have a 50-year history and a high chance of returning to greatness. While many think ‘they will be back,’ you do not have time to wait or see if they actually do it.

“For those wanting to succeed at a rapid pace, it makes the most sense to find companies that are growing at a fast pace, are in new or emerging markets, or have a leader at the helm where you can bet with odds in your favor that this company is going somewhere. While a well-known company may throw out a great job title or salary, but you know you will be stuck in the same position for the next six to eight years and will not have the option to display your talents, you need to have the courage to say no thanks, or know in your mind this has to only be a stepping stone.”

2. As a Detroit-based recruiter, do you find that there are more or less opportunities for individuals to find higher-level management positions in the area due to the economic downturn?

“Without question, the market has picked up in Michigan across the board. With the boomers retiring, we are witnessing a gap between managers and the c-suite that has become really tough to fill. While many of the boomers did not have two or three degrees on the wall, they had hands-on, real-life experience that is hard to replace.

“We have a lot of people with 12 to 15 years of experience that are heavily educated, but may not have all the hands-on experience companies need to fill the higher level positions. When it comes down to it, many of the boomers already extended their retirement because of the recession and with that ending, they are finally stepping out.”

3. When it comes to higher education, would you say that the Detroit job market has more opportunities for individuals with MBAs? Or is it more of a matter of being at the right place at the right time?

“Being a national executive search firm allows us to really keep our ear to the ground when it comes to trends in different markets and regions. We can say with confidence, regardless of where you go, MBAs from top schools get scooped up rather quickly.

“Companies in the Detroit area are very fortunate to be surrounded with such a great collection of colleges and universities. While the trend for a while was many of our new graduates leaving the state, we are hoping to see a reversal in that trend so we can keep all of this great talent in our region.

“While much of anyone’s job search is the right place and time, during the recession you had to take whatever you could get. But one thing is for sure, even during the recession, if you graduated from a top school like the University of Michigan or Michigan State University with an MBA, your chances of getting a great offer were much higher. You have to think when things tighten up, companies have more people to select from and they are going to choose those with the most education from the top schools with the best GPAs.”

Michael Ferro is freelance writer and a graduate of Michigan State University where he majored in Creative Writing and received the Jim Cash Creative Writing Award. Born and bred in Detroit, he currently resides in Ypsilanti Township. Additional writing can be found at


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