Amid high unemployment, workers sought in jobs tied to revenue

Hiring improves in Maryland in sales, customer service, health care and IT

April 24, 2010|By Gus Sentementes and Lorraine Mirabella

Discouraged job seekers finally have some cause for optimism.

After losing roughly 100,000 jobs in two years, Maryland gained jobs in March for the first time in months. Increased job listings in areas such as sales and customer service signal a shift in companies' focus from cost cutting to growth. And some employer surveys show a brighter outlook in which more companies intend to hire than lay workers off.

"In '09, everyone was singing the blues," said Peter Francis, who works in the Timonium office of employee search firm MRI Global Search. "There's an increased sense of optimism that things will be better in 2010."

Andy Bauer, a regional economist in the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said he expects the labor market to gradually improve as the economy continues to strengthen, with some sectors such as information technology and health care outpacing others.

"We're seeing some rays of sunshine in terms of the job market," said Daraius Irani, director of applied economics at the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University. "Consumers are showing some signs of being willing to spend money," and prompting companies to consider adding jobs to capitalize on that trend.

Still, unemployment woes are far from over. Experts disagree as to whether Maryland's gain of 35,800 jobs last month was merely a seasonal fluke or a sign of improvement. The state's jobless rate — at 7.7 percent — has reached its highest level in 27 years, and some experts still expect a long, hard-fought recovery.

And more job listings could prompt some of the jobless who had given up job hunting to return to the labor force, keeping the unemployment rate high.

But CareerBuilder.com, a major jobs website, found in a survey earlier this year that 23 percent of employers hired full-time permanent employees in the first quarter. The website, which is co-owned by The Baltimore Sun's parent, Tribune Co., also found that about one-fourth of employers plan to hire in the second quarter.

"Companies are focusing more on growth strategies," said Jennifer Grasz, a CareerBuilder spokeswoman. "You see companies focusing on sales, marketing and information technology. You're starting to see them ramping up those components to be ready for when the economy turns around."

Among the biggest job categories in CareerBuilder's listings for the first quarter, the largest increases were in customer service, sales, information technology, marketing and health care.

The Sun took a look at CareerBuilder's hottest job-listing categories to find out where positions are available and what applicants should know to land these jobs that experts say are still highly competitive.

"It doesn't matter whether it's marketing, sales or accounting, the competition is fierce for each position," said Kay Calivas, managing director of search firm Stephen James Associates in Baltimore.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: Up 26 percent

Companies such as Capital One, which recently bought Chevy Chase Bank, are hiring for customer service in Maryland. More than 80 jobs were posted by the company on CareerBuilder.com in the past month, ranging from part-time teller to branch manager to call center employees.

Sears, Advanced Auto Parts, Blockbuster and Macy's are some of the other major employers in the Baltimore area that are hiring. The majority of jobs pay $20,000 to $40,000 a year, and most are full-time positions, according to Indeed.com, which aggregates job listings from CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com and other employer and recruiter websites.

"The client-facing roles: sales, marketing and customer service tend to be the leading indicators" in a job recovery, said Ann Boland, of the Boland Group, a recruiting firm in Catonsville. "Companies are starting to fill positions they've had on hold."

Boland speculated that many companies put their hiring plans on hold last year as they weathered the tough economy and watched major issues, such as health care reform, play out. Now that some of those issues are behind employers, they're more comfortable hiring, she said.

SALES: Up 23 percent

Many companies that are poised to expand need to hire more sales staff — and that's one of the brightest spots in the Baltimore-area economy, according to industry observers.

Hundreds of sales jobs were available in CareerBuilder for Maryland this past week. The jobs ranged from real estate and wireless to food service and insurance. In some cases, job applicants may need to apply with a recruiting or outplacement service, which then helps place them in positions.

Service companies and retailers are adding sales staff to help bring in more revenue, according to Steven Braun, president of MRI Sales Consultants in Baltimore and head of the Maryland Recruiters Association.

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