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Job Outlook for Executives Is 'Strong' as Firms Seek Growth

For all the concerns about the sluggish jobs recovery, there’s one group with an encouraging outlook: senior management.

Andreas Pollok | Getty Images

“The outlook is strong for executives,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of employment-research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Companies are trying to get executives that can help them capture the era of growth — instead of just trying to survive the recession.”

With the worst of the recession apparently over, many companies are sitting on a lot of cash and looking to increase their business. So they want a strong management team to seek out mergers and acquisitions or take their existing business into new markets.

Sales and marketing executives will be among the most in demand, Challenger said, because they’re on the front lines of growth. By contrast, when times are tough, companies tend to put their financial or operational people in charge.

“For a lot of marketing executives and professionals who got stuck in this recession, now opportunities are starting to open up again,” Challenger said.

Unfortunately, this doesn't mean a general pickup in hiring at all levels. But it does indicate that companies are thinking about expanding rather than cutting back.

“There’s some positive pressure on companies to hire more broadly,” Challenger said, though he added that it’s not heavy pressure. “Companies so far haven’t taken the next leg of what creates hiring growth and demand … there’s still caution out there.”

The demand for executives doesn’t end in the corner office: Companies also are looking for senior and even middle-management.

Since the beginning of the year, listings for management jobs have jumped 41 percent on job-search site SimplyHired.com.

That’s everything from an executive director of comedy developmentfor ABC Studios at Walt Disney to a business-development executive for IBM in New Orleans.

SimplyHired has also noticed a significant bump in the sales and marketing manager categories.

“The demand is where you expect in a tough economy,” said Simply Hired CEO Gautam Godhwani. “Companies have to compensate and work harder to get sales.”

There’s also a lot of demand right now for directors.

“Director recruitments are at an all-time high for us,” said John Wood, who runs the CEO and board practice at executive-recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles International.

“Two years ago, when things started to fall apart, boards looked at their retiring directors and said things like, ‘You’re not going anywhere! You’re our most tenured director. We need your help,’” Wood explained. “Now, with some stabilization and signs of recovery, directors are able to retire and we’re seeing an uptick in demand for new directors.”

In addition, companies seeking to go public and those emerging from bankruptcy — particularly in the automotive industry — are also hiring new directors. To some degree it’s the big auto manufacturers, but mostly it’s their suppliers.

“Bringing in people who are comfortable with growing their business to someplace else is at a premium right now,” Wood said.

WHERE THE EXECUTIVE JOBS ARE

In terms of sectors, health care has seen the biggest bump in hiring overall — and that goes for executive and management jobs, too.

“There are opportunities in health care because of aging Baby Boomers and health-care legislation,” Challenger said. “More small- and medium-sized firms are growing and they need stronger executive management,” he explained.

Physician executives who can run a 300-400 person medical group are in particular demand as are health-care technology executives, or “health information officers” as their known, said Andrew Chastain, a health-care executive recruiter at Witt/Kiefer.

“Our clients are preparing for integrated information systems and they’re bringing in more talent to push that initiative,” Chastain said.

Energy companies and firms looking to expand globally in places like China and India are also seeing significant executive hiring.

Wall Street is starting to hire again but it’s nowhere near as robust as it has been in the past.

“They’re coming back out of a deep hole,” Challenger said.

The hiring picture on Wall Street is a tale of two cities, said Ilana Weinstein, CEO of executive-search firm IDW Group. Hiring at investment banks has slowed down, while hiring at hedge funds has picked up.

The reason, quite simply, is that’s where the money is, Weinstein said. Investors are finding it hard to make the returns they need from the more traditional investment banks. So, they’re increasingly putting their money with hedge funds, though they’re careful to stick with hedge funds that have been around a while and have a proven track record.

“They’re successful in raising capital and deploying it, and that’s what drives hiring,” Weinstein said.

Geographically speaking, the home of the nation’s chief executive is also the top city for hiring corporate executives.

Washington, D.C., topped the list of cities with the most managerial job openings per capita in August, according to the latest survey from job-search companies CareerCast and JobSerf.

Boston came in at No. 2, followed by San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta. Cleveland saw the most improvement in management hiring, with a gain of 19 percent, followed by Houston, up 14 percent.

“During the past two years we’ve seen a major drop in managerial hiring activity,” said Jay Martin, chief operating officer of JobSerf, a job-search outsourcing firm. “It is encouraging to see the recent stabilization in recruitment activity, and some light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

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