A Look at the Job Market in 2008

So you’re thinking of making a job change and wonder what the crystal ball holds. Are employers actively hiring this year? Will it take you a while to find another position, or will conditions be in your favor?

The news is good for information technology (IT) professionals. Research shows that firms expect to continue adding staff to support corporate growth and technology initiatives such as Web development, wireless communication and network security. The latest Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report found that chief information officers (CIOs) anticipate solid hiring activity in the first quarter of 2008.

Job Seekers Gain an Edge
To better understand how companies and job seekers view current labor conditions, Robert Half International and CareerBuilder.com conducted research for the 2007 Employment Dynamics and Growth Expectations (EDGE) Report. The vast majority of hiring managers polled said it is equally or more challenging to find qualified applicants today compared to 12 months ago, a 10 percent increase from a year earlier.

Employers attributed the difficulty to a shortage of qualified workers, due in large part to a low unemployment rate for college-educated professionals. Firms are looking for IT candidates with a mix of technical expertise, industry-specific experience and soft skills.

Professional and technical staff-level positions are particularly hard to fill, noted managers, with IT positions ranked No. 3 (AP) in difficulty among all job categories. CIOs polled in another survey by Robert Half Technology said it takes them an average of 56 days to fill a staff-level position and 87 days to fill a manager-level position.

Interestingly, despite the feedback from employers, job seekers haven’t quite recognized their advantage in today’s hiring market. Thirty-five percent of workers said it is more challenging today to find a job than 12 months ago, down just slightly from 37 percent who said the same a year earlier. So if you expected hiring conditions to be less than favorable this year, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Pay Levels Rise
There also is positive news for workers when it comes to compensation. Thirty percent of hiring managers in the EDGE Report said salaries for new hires have increased in the past year, and another 37 percent will increase them in 2008. Forty percent plan to increase compensation for professional staff positions, up from 36 percent in the 2006 EDGE Report.

While candidates believe hiring conditions are challenging, they do appear to understand the value of their talents. Fifty-eight percent of employees surveyed in the EDGE Report said they are more likely to try to negotiate a better offer with new employers than they were a year ago, up significantly from a year earlier, when only 29 percent said they’d try to negotiate a higher salary.

Many workers also are thinking beyond salary when considering job offers. When asked which benefit might help them choose one job over another, 65 percent cited flexible work arrangements. Other top responses included telecommuting, employee stock purchase plans and fitness facilities.

Even if you plan on staying in your current job, you may benefit from the competitive market. More than half (55 percent) of workers polled said their compensation has increased during the past 12 months, up from 45 percent the prior year. Companies are taking additional steps to retain employees, such as providing bonuses, improving the office environment, offering a more defined career path and featuring more generous benefits packages.

It’s a good year to explore new possibilities in the IT field. Demand is strong in a number of specialties, including network administration, database management and Web development. By updating your resume and polishing your interviewing skills, you may just find employers ready to welcome you to their teams.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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