If there are no jobs out there, someone forgot to tell Andrew Gordon.
In late August, the 25-year-old started a new gig as a Web specialist in the communications and marketing department of the American Health Assistance Foundation, a non-profit in Clarksburg, Md. The job is a big move up from his last position as a customer service representative of a moving company. And it came with a 15-per-cent higher salary.
Most significantly, he landed the job at a time when many job seekers simply assume there's not much out there.
"The job supply was greater than I would have thought," says Mr. Gordon, who started his search earlier in the summer. "There were actually plenty of things to apply for."
Mr. Gordon's experience could bode well for the rest of us.
A mix of strengthening salary numbers, growing private-sector employment, and robust corporate profits indicate that the frozen job market of the last few years could be thawing. That could make this a good time to trade up to a better job or to ask for a long-deferred pay rise.
"There's never been a better time in recent memory to look for a job than right now," says David Perry, managing partner of executive search firm Perry-Martel International and author of Guerilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0, who has recently had prospects turn down $400,000-a-year jobs because top-flight talent is in such demand.
Forecast: a sunnier outlook
A few factors are feeding this brighter outlook.
Two-thirds of U.S. human resource professionals are planning to hire more staff this year, according to the Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, which was conducted in March.
At big companies of more than 10,000 employees, human resources managers are even more bullish, with more than four out of five planning to boost their ranks, according to the report.
The loosened purse strings may be due to healthy corporate profits. Earnings-per-share for the S&P 500 stand at record highs, according to S&P Capital IQ.
And a newly released Canadian compensation study from consulting firm Mercer forecasts 3.2 per cent average salary growth for 2013, mirroring the same increase in actual compensation in 2012. That's up from 3 per cent in 2011 and 2.9 per cent in 2010.
"Companies have gone as far as they can with a skeleton crew," says Cynthia Shapiro, a Los Angeles career strategist and author of Corporate Confidential. "For years, they've been holding their breath to see what would happen; hoarding their cash. But you can only do that for so long."
Beware, though. If you're looking to trade up, whether at your own company or somewhere new, it would be wise to consider how the job market has changed. For example, the traditional method of scanning available job listings doesn't bear much fruit any more.
"Recruiting has gone underground since 2008," Mr. Perry says. "Whenever anybody advertised, they were deluged with 5,000 responses, and they had to get back to everyone and keep all those résumés on file. It was a mess. So hiring has gone into stealth mode, and executive-search firms have never been busier," says Mr. Perry, himself an executive recruiter.
In other words, even if you're not actively searching for a better gig, you still want to be found. That means leveraging sites like LinkedIn or ZoomInfo, and seeding your online résumé with the keywords that match the job you want.
Staying put, but trading up
Of course, you don't have to leave your company in order to secure a better position. You may be able to snag a pay raise or a more senior title at the same company.
Your manager may be more amenable to the idea than you realize. Perhaps you have taken on more responsibilities after the departure of other staffers without getting a commensurate raise.
And it's not just you. One 2011 MetLife employee benefits study found that 34 per cent of employees said their workload had spiked over the previous 12 months, and that employers admitted as much.
Many hiring managers know intuitively what Matthew Bidwell, assistant professor at the Wharton School, outlined in his paper Paying More To Get Less: That outside hires can be more pricey while failing to meet performance expectations.
"It's a heck of a lot easier to give you a 5- or 10-per-cent pay bump, than to go through the whole rigamarole of finding someone better than you," Mr. Perry says. "If you've got talent, you're in the driver's seat."