Job market starts favoring workers
Outplacement firm finds job seekers are being hired more quickly and offered more money, benefits and opportunities.

NEW YORK ( - Shorter search times, higher starting salaries and signing bonuses...those on the hunt for new work are moving a little closer to the catbird seat, according to two surveys released Tuesday.

In its survey of 3,000 job seekers, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that the median search time for a job in the first quarter was 2.7 months, the lowest it has been since the second quarter of 2001.

"More and more human resource executives are coming to the realization that they can no longer drag their heels on hiring decisions. If they do, it is increasingly likely that the candidate will be off the market before the offer is made," said John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement firm, in a statement.

In Challenger's survey of 100 HR executives, 66 percent said it was getting harder to hire qualified candidates and retain talent, while 25 percent said their companies were experiencing a severe shortage of workers.

Fifty percent, meanwhile, said their companies were offering higher salaries, enhancing special benefits and increasing training opportunities to attract workers.

A lot of the "special" benefits being offered are relatively inexpensive to the employer, such as discounted group rates on auto insurance or disability insurance, the premiums for which the employee pays.

But others are not. Challenger found one firm, Aerospace Corp., in its bid to attract Ph.D.-level scientists, has started to offer its defined-benefit pension plan to new employees, something it hadn't done since the early 1990s.

It also found another firm, United Technologies Corp., offering a far more generous tuition reimbursement programs than many companies do. The UTC program doesn't place restrictions on what employees can study, gives them paid time off up to three hours a week to do their academic work and continues to offer the benefit to laid-off employees.

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