FORTUNE -- If you're looking for signs that the economic recovery is picking up steam, here's one: The number of U.S. companies creating executive jobs is up for the tenth straight month, led by a steady increase in high-level hiring at companies with annual revenues between $11 million and $500 million.
That's according to the Executive Job Creation Index, a monthly survey of recruiters by ExecuNet, a nationwide career network for managers making $100,000 or more.
"Small-to-medium sized companies are the engine driving a slow but sustained recovery in the market for senior management talent," notes Mark Anderson, ExecuNet's president and chief economist. "They're creating new executive roles at twice the pace of their larger competitors."
Even for those not quite at the $100,000-plus salary level, the poll results are encouraging, since, historically, "leadership hiring always precedes broader gains in employment," says ExecuNet executive director Lauryn Franzoni. "With so few companies now planning cuts or freezes, or putting off filling vacant senior positions, we're finally seeing the recovery starting to take hold."
The industries adding the most managers include recession-resistant stalwarts like health care, pharmaceuticals, and high tech, but Anderson sees "pockets of opportunity in many fields. Manufacturing, especially at global companies, is one strong area right now. So is consumer products, despite the decline in consumer spending."
One reason for the uptick, he says, is that "layoffs over the past few years cut so deeply that employers now find themselves limited in what they can do."
To seize the moment, he suggests job seekers "be ready to step in and fill a gap. Do enough research to target companies with a problem you can solve."
It might help, too, to focus on smaller enterprises bent on growth.
"The $50 million company trying to get to $100 million often looks for experienced people from bigger companies who can help them get there," says Anderson, adding, "Don't overlook private companies, many of which fared better in the recession than public ones, in part because they didn't suffer the huge swings in stock prices that slammed their publicly held brethren."
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