"Strong" may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of the labor market. After a promising start in 2013, the pace of job creation slowed during the year. Slowly but surely, though, the labor market is expected to firm up in 2014, economists say, with the rate of monthly job creation projected to return to about 200,000.
If that's the case, the unemployment rate is likely to fall modestly, from 7% to 6.8% by the end of 2014. While not a tremendous change, that would mark the lowest level in five years.
Those looking for work also face less competition today, in part since people have gradually found jobs in this recovery -- and since some have simply dropped out of the labor force. There are three job seekers for every opening, down from seven in the depths of the recession in 2009.
"We see an accelerating pace in the economy and employment," says NABE president Jack Kleinhenz.
For the college educated and professionals who are highly skilled, the picture is brighter still. The unemployment rate for workers with a bachelor's degree or higher is 3.7%, down from 5.1% three years ago.
Meanwhile, employers are having a tough time finding qualified candidates to fill jobs, particularly those with expertise in accounting, IT, mobile application development, business analytics, and regulatory compliance.
If you have skills or experience in demand, "this is a good time to make a move," says Joanie Ruge, senior VP of market development at Monster.com.
THE STRATEGY: Leverage employer fears of losing talent
The vast majority of companies are worried about losing highly skilled workers, according to a survey by outplacement firm OI Partners. No wonder star performers got raises this year that were more than 75% larger than what average performers received. Seize this opportunity.
YOUR BEST MOVE
Be an "intrapreneur." Forty-two percent of new jobs are being filled by internal candidates, up from 28% in 2007, according to CareerXRoads -- in part because it's still cheaper to hire from within. So work your intrapreneurial skills. Let the decision-makers know what your goals are and sign up for cross-departmental projects that will expand your network.
THE STRATEGY: Don't waste your next move
You're probably feeling more secure in your job than you have in a while. Just 15% of workers say they're worried that they or their co-workers will be laid off in the next six months, down from 26% in 2009, according to Glassdoor's employment confidence survey.
Meanwhile, a growing number of workers are quitting on their own as confidence about finding new work grows.
YOUR BEST MOVES
Play hard to get. With the desperation factor down, you don't have to jump at the first offer. Sure, a modest bump in pay is nice. But will the new job boost your skills, title, and most important, management responsibilities? Over the course of a career, the median lifetime pay for managers amounts to nearly $1 million more than for nonmanagers, according to PayScale.com.
At the very least, find out if the job is a good steppingstone. Use LinkedIn.com to research the career trajectory of people who have held that job and ask current employees about the firm's record at developing talent. "You want to be playing chess, not checkers, with your career," says Rusty Rueff, a career expert at Glassdoor.
Ask for more. More than two in five workers did not haggle over their current salary. They may not have felt secure enough to try. Now that your hand is improving, don't be afraid to seek higher pay when going for a new job. Rueff recommends asking for at least a 10% bump.
THE STRATEGY: Cast a wider net
In the financial crisis, managers seeking better pay or opportunities were hamstrung not just by the soft labor market, but also by a lousy housing market that made it hard to unload homes to move. That's changing. The percentage of managers and execs relocating for new jobs doubled to 14% in the first half of 2013 from a year earlier, owing to real estate's rebound, according to the outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas.
YOUR BEST MOVE
Get ready to relocate. Job searches for senior managers and execs 51 to 60 typically take five months, says outplacement firm BPI Group. Moving will give you an edge, says Challenger CEO John Challenger. Executive searches by recruiters rose 21% this year, with strong growth in the Southwest, Southeast, and Midwest, according to ExecuNet, an online recruitment network for $100,000-plus-a-year managers. Moving may be easier now too, especially if the kids are grown and you're looking to downsize your home.
THE PENDULUM SWINGS
Here's a sign workers are gaining some leverage in the job market: Businesses are worried about losing top talent.
Companies reporting rising turnover
Note: Seasonally adjusted. Sources: BLS, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, OI Partners
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