It's a buyer's market for employers, who have become much more selective in hiring. As many industries have cut positions because of the recession, too many job seekers are chasing too few jobs.
Recruiters and job placement specialists say area employers are scrutinizing applicants and are less willing to train new workers. Job seekers who fare best are experienced workers with technical or specialized skills. In some cases, companies are luring key employees from competitors that are on the ropes.
Some employment experts also say they have begun to see an upturn in some fields, and all agree that the strongest job market is the health industry. At the same time, the percentage of job openings in sales has gained.
"It's an employer's market," says John Stevens, senior vice president at the Towson office of Drake Beam Morin Inc., the nation's largest career consulting and outplacement firm, which is often hired by companies to counsel people being laid off.
"They can look for those who can hit the decks running," says Stevens. "Many are not even having to advertise or use recruiting agencies. They just go through all the resumes they've gotten and those who have contacted them through networking."
"The pool is so large . . . so many people out there looking, employers can be very choosy," says Debbie Conaway, co-director of the Career Focus program at Maryland New Directions. Conaway says her clientele is about half men, half women, generally in their 30s or older, well-educated and with a great deal of work experience.
"Some have been laid off," she says. "Some have seen the handwriting on the wall."
"The last four to five years it was an applicant's market," says Don Boswell, office manager for the Towson office of Snelling & Snelling. "Now there's a lot of people on the streets -- middle management -- that are having to take jobs at a lot less."
"Middle-management generalists are really being squeezed, the ones making $30,000 to $60,000 or $70,000 and sometimes a little more," Stevens agrees.
As an example, he cites middle managers in human relations. If they're generalists, they face a tough ride, he says.
But, he says, "If they bring with them a strong technical background such as compensation or benefits, there's a market for them."
Carl Wright, president of Don Richards Associates, a recruiting firm that specializes in financial services, says employers in some cases are seeking to add a new skill to their staffs.
L "Employers are targeting certain jobs to upgrade," he says.
"In finance general management, you can find the right person. You have an opportunity to recruit somebody you wouldn't have been able to attract six months ago."
What's more, Wright says, employers can entice coveted personnel worried about job security from their financially strapped rivals.
And employers are picking up these selected people at the going rate, he says. "I'm not seeing any great salary deals," he says.
Wright says he is beginning to believe that banking had hit the low point and is now moving to fill key jobs on a selective basis. Health care, he says, has remained strong, and residential real estate is just starting to come back, bringing with it an upswing in residential mortgage banking.
But commercial real estate, he says, is showing "absolutely no signs of life."
James H. Porter, president and owner of the Porter Group Inc., a Columbia firm that specializes in entry and midlevel positions, says he is finding companies are taking longer to make decisions on hiring.
Where employers had been taking two to three weeks, they now take four to six, he says.
Porter says the medical field has definitely picked up, with demand "red hot" for nurses to go into fields such as home-care equipment sales, but adds that management jobs in retail, finance and restaurants have "definitely died somewhat."
In retail, he says, he normally might have 100 jobs available. "Now 20 would be doing good," he says.
As the management jobs have dwindled, Porter says, the ratio of sales jobs has increased. A year ago, he says, sales jobs constituted about 60 percent of his listings; now they account for 80 percent.
"They're looking for experience in their own industry," he says. "If they're in office furniture, they're looking for people who know a brand; they want someone who knows Steelcase," a major manufacturer.
And, while companies are looking for experienced sales people, "they definitely haven't increased their pay," Porter says. "They're paying about the same as last year."
Steve Braun, owner of the Baltimore franchise of Sales Consultants, says he hasn't seen a dip in hiring; in fact, the first quarter was his best ever. Positions he fills generally pay from $40,000 to $80,000 in base sales plus commission.