U.S. job growth blew past expectations in July, reaching a point of recovery for the 22 million jobs lost during the pandemic, all despite gloomy economic forecasts that a recession could be on its way.
Workers, for their part, are still changing jobs — 4.2 million people quit in June — and many of them are getting big raises and interesting career opportunities. Even so, headlines of layoffs coming out of the tech sector are shaking workers' confidence.
CNBC Make It spoke with three people newly and recently on the job market about how they're really feeling about the mixed messages.
While layoffs remain at record lows, according to the Labor Department, many have been shocked to see some tech companies take a dive after growing at warp speed last year. It surprised Ashley Williams, a software engineer in New York City who's looking for work for the second time in seven months.
Williams, 25, used to be a high school teacher. Like many people in search of better pay and work-life balance during Covid, she took a coding bootcamp to switch careers into tech. Once she graduated last October, she remembers fielding lots of job opportunities.
She joined Ribbon, a real estate startup, in January. By July, she was one of 136 staffers impacted by a mass layoff.
"Going through a layoff wasn't something I was expecting at all, coming from career in public school teaching," Williams says. "I was never worried I was going to lose my job."
She thought tech would be just as stable: "People said, 'Everyone always needs engineers,' which is true. But I didn't anticipate how volatile this career could be, especially at a pre-enterprise company."
She now finds herself in a crowded field of newly laid off engineers, especially those early in their careers, vying for the same jobs.
Beyond tech, workers' confidence in the job market seems to be waning, according to a ZipRecruiter index as of July. More than a quarter believe there will be fewer jobs six months from now, and roughly half feel financial pressure to accept the first offer they receive.
Williams is taking a sober approach. "Having a job is more important for me now than having a perfect job," she says.
She adds that her biggest challenge is being "emotionally ready" to go through intensive technical interviews again. But she knows she has to jump right back in.
"The day that I was laid off, I felt like I had to get on LinkedIn and say I was affected by cuts," Williams says. "I was worried that in another few days, another company would be doing the same thing, and I would be old news."
Indeed, the market is still pretty good for people who want a new and better job. The labor market posted 10.7 million new openings in June, and there are still roughly 1.8 open jobs for every person who is unemployed.
Courtney Smith, 34, of Thomaston, Connecticut, was laid off from her restaurant job in May when the owners decided to close for good. She had seen the writing on the wall: In-person dining never recovered from Covid drops, rising food costs were making it harder to stay afloat and her bosses were nearing retirement age.
The layoff made Smith rethink her next move. She wanted out of restaurant work, despite seeing that Indeed was "just full of pages and pages of opportunities" across food service. She didn't just want a new job — she wanted what she considers a more fulfilling career.
So she decided to get into office work and sent out 30 applications to various receptionist jobs, heard back from five and got offers on two. Last week, she accepted a position at a medical office, where she feels she can learn and grow. "It feels like my first 'adult' job, and I'll have more responsibility," she says.
Another major upside? She'll earn 3.5 times her old pay.
In the last year of the Great Resignation, exhausted recruiters have put everything on the table with big signing bonuses, on-the-spot offers and shiny perks people really want. But recently, new data from Indeed suggests intense recruiting is leveling off. Roughly 5.2% of job postings on Indeed advertised signing bonuses in July, more than three times higher in the same month in 2019, but below the December 2021 peak.
Patricia Shirazi, 32, of San Diego, also noticed a slowdown in recruiter messages over the last few months.
A year ago, Shirazi had her pick of recruiter offers for software engineering jobs at startups and corporations alike. After some aggressive recruiting and just a few weeks of interviews, she ended up taking a position with Olive, a heath-care startup that was "hiring like crazy." In September, the startup announced plans to hire 300 people, increasing headcount by 30%, within the last quarter of 2021.
By this summer, though, Shirazi felt like her workload was slowing, and she lost motivation for the job. She poked around her inbox and found the usual flood of recruiter offers was less intense, too.
She ended up taking a few calls with Capital One and was hired after a month — a longer and more involved interview process than she's used to. And just weeks after accepting her new job, she learned that Olive was laying off 450 employees due to over-hiring.
Shirazi says she's encouraged to see her Capital One team is still adding headcount, though not at a breakneck speed.
"I'm now just one person in a big corporation, so I don't know exactly what's going on under the hood," Shirazi says. "But at a startup, there's always a lot of speculation around the product, and they can't risk going through unstable times."
"I'm glad I made the move at the right time," she adds.