“It seems like hiring is picking up…” Cautiously Optimistic for 2014

I just got a message from Brian, an unemployed alumnus who, for the last six months, has been diligently looking for a full-time job while he works on projects to pay the bills and keep his skills (and mind) fresh.  In his email, he says “I have three final round interviews in the next two weeks … it seems like hiring is picking up.”  I hope that Brian is right,  as he’s not alone in his long quest for a mid-level job.  During this first week of the new  year, lots of labor analysts, recruiters and career advisors have been speculating about what the labor market is going to do in 2014 – here’s what I have surmised from reading and studying the trends as well as observing hundreds of job searches in 2013.

Over the last few months, labor statistics in the United States have shown growth in employment and have signaled a job recovery.  But, expansion in management and executive employment is not as apparent.  Execunet’s Recruiter Confidence Index reveals  expected growth in hiring at the upper levels to be slow, at best.

Companies continue to hoard cash, and are still not investing in growth.  It seems that aspirations of stability and strength are trumping growth – evident in how very cautious and careful companies have become in making executive hiring decisions.  Employer interest is less about finding good people and more about finding people who have experience doing exactly what the job entails.  The propensity to take a risk on a promising, yet green,  new hire is much lower than it used to be.

Cautious hiring managers favor the candidate who comes with a personal introduction and/or endorsement from a colleague, classmate or friend.  It’s less risky.  Also, recruiters are seeking the “perfect” candidate — someone who already has experience in what the job requires.  Being focused in what you are looking for will allow you to highlight the right skills, traits and experiences to portray you as that “perfect” candidate to recruiters.  If you are looking to change jobs, it will help immensely to tap into the people who surround the hiring managers.  And, acting quickly when you hear of an opportunity, being first to the hiring manager if possible, could even help bypass the formal recruiting process.

Once you are in the recruiting process though, don’t be surprised if the company seems to take forever.   Employers are treading carefully these days and the hiring process has lengthened.  Our 2012 alumni survey indicated that the average job search for Darden alumni was 6.8 months.  So, patience and persistence in job search are key.

Another trend being reported by Salary.com is that more people are looking for jobs in 2014.  They are looking because they are unhappy with their jobs, their pay, and their prospects for advancement.  Many are unhappy with their jobs because they don’t feel appreciated and are not feeling challenged.  Over 2/3 of alumni working with career coaches at Darden’s Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services in the last quarter were currently employed.  Many of them are looking for better fitting jobs, having “stuck it out” through the recession in positions that weren’t exactly right for them.   Perhaps confidence in the economy has provided the impetus to make a change.  If employed managers make moves, their positions will open up and employers will presumably become more active in recruiting too.

Overall, I am cautiously optimistic about the management job market for the coming year.  Candidates that know what they are looking for, understand what their target employers need, and focus on how they can make a difference for those employers and get their network energized to connect them with hiring managers, will have a better time in the search.  Patience, persistence and dedication will pay off — let’s hope it does for Brian in the next few weeks!

Connie Dato English,  MBA ’91  Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business


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