In the midst of a lot of shocking news, it stood out: In November 2008, Citigroup announced it would lay off more than 50,000 people, or one-seventh of its global workforce. Most companies don't even have 50,000 employees, and those that do could barely function if so many workers left at once. Yet Citigroup was in desperate straits, with a plunging stock price that bottomed out near a buck and financial woes that would force a second bailout from the U.S. government. Some worried that the feds might even nationalize the bank. The only company that axed more workers than Citigroup during the recession was General Motors—which declared bankruptcy.
[In pictures: 11 Companies That Shrank Too Much.]
Citigroup has since withdrawn its S.O.S. and posted another sign: We're hiring. According to job-search firm Indeed.com, Citigroup is on the hunt for about 2,000 new workers, ranging from executive assistants to computer programmers to financial analysts. Nearly 1,000 of those jobs pay $70,000 or more. Most of the openings are clustered near Citigroup's New York City headquarters, but the bank is also hiring dozens of people in New Jersey, Tampa, and Irving, Texas.
Citigroup's hiring spurt doesn't mean the sprawling bank will ever return to its former size. Like other big firms, Citi had grown so fat it was almost unmanageable, and the financial crisis that threatened its solvency also prompted a badly needed slimdown. But Citi's crash diet reflects another phenomenon that's reshaping America's labor market: Many companies lack detailed information about their own workforce, which has caused some of them to lay off workers they need along with many they don't. Now, some of those firms are replacing people they never should have gotten rid of in the first place. "A lot of companies lacked the organizational agility to respond to the recession," says Cathy Farley of consulting firm Accenture. "Companies are now organizing themselves more flexibly."
It's obviously good news for workers that some firms are cautiously hiring, while layoffs abate elsewhere. Companies cut so aggressively during the recession that layoffs are now at a 10-year low, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. The catch is that companies are hiring much differently than they did before, forcing workers to make uncomfortable adjustments. Companies that need to staff up are taking their time to hire, to make sure they match worker skills with long-term business strategy. They're hiring more temps and project workers and fewer full-timers, even at professional levels. And with lots of applicants for most jobs, companies can offer lower pay than they once did.
To identify some of the big companies that overdid the layoffs, I started with data from Challenger, Gray and Christmas listing more than 40 organizations that have laid off 6,000 people or more since 2008. Then I asked Indeed.com, which monitors thousands of career sites and job boards, to check which of those firms are currently hiring. At about 25 of the shrunken firms, there's still no appreciable hiring, which helps explain why the unemployment rate is still at a worrisome 9.6 percent. A few of biggest job-killers, like Lehman Brothers and Circuit City, aren't even around any more.
But 11 firms that laid off about 175,000 people in total now appear to be expanding again, with listings for at least 500 new workers at each firm, according to Indeed. The new jobs add up to far less than those lost, which foretells a long road back to pre-recession employment levels. But many of these firms were struggling just a couple of years ago, and modest hiring is a welcome sign that conditions are improving.
Below is our list of 11 big firms that have swung from firing to hiring. The figures are approximate, since Challenger's layoff numbers typically come from company announcements and are rounded off, while Indeed's job counts are based on jobs posted on each company's website, so they don't include openings that are unadvertised or posted elsewhere. Still, the numbers show a tepid recovery underway, a trend that seems to be strengthening in virtually every industry and in thousands of smaller companies where personnel moves don't make the news. A few more years of this and it might start to feel like prosperity again:
Layoffs since 2008: 9,200
New openings: 5,525
Biggest needs: personal bankers, financial advisors, project managers
Where: New York; Columbus, Ohio; Chicago; Houston; Phoenix; Dallas
Estimated percentage of openings that pay more than $100,000: 9 percent
Bank of America
Layoffs since 2008: 7,500 (does not include 35,000 layoffs at Merrill Lynch in 2008, right before B of A purchased the investment bank)
New openings: 4,620
Biggest needs: computer consultants, risk managers, administrative assistants, "change consultants"
Where: Charlotte, N.C.; New York; Plano, Texas; Simi Valley, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla.
Jobs over $100,000: 9 percent
Layoffs since 2008: 7,000
New openings: 4,000
Biggest needs: sales associates; more than half of the openings are part-time
Where: New York; Miami; Houston; Los Angeles, Cincinnati; San Antonio; various retail locations
Jobs over $100,000: Not available
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Layoffs since 2008: 59,000
New openings: 1,990
Biggest needs: programmers, technical specialists, executive assistants, business and financial analysts
Where: New York; Tampa; Warren, N.J.; Irving, Texas
Jobs over $100,000: 15 percent
Layoffs since 2008: 24,600
New openings: 1,895
Biggest needs: service reps, technology consultants, systems architects, software engineers, business analysts
Where: Houston; Plano, Texas; Herndon, Va.; Washington, D.C.; San Diego
Jobs over $100,000: 14 percent
Layoffs since 2008: 12,000
New openings: 1,875
Biggest needs: retail salespeople, sales support, assistant store/kiosk managers, real estate and construction managers, software engineers, technicians
Where: Atlanta; Austin; Glendale, Calif.; Columbus, Ohio; New York; various retail locations
Jobs over $100,000: 7 percent
Layoffs since 2008: 39,000
New openings: 1,745 (includes Verizon Wireless, which is part-owned by Verizon)
Biggest needs: retail salespeople (including bilingual), sales support, account execs, store managers, project managers, network engineers
Where: Northern Virginia; Basking Ridge, N.J.; New York; Houston; Alpharetta, Ga.; San Diego; Irvine, Calif.; various retail locations
Jobs over $100,000: 6 percent
Layoffs since 2008: 8,100
New openings: 1,400
Biggest needs: customer-service reps, production coordinators, dockworkers, drivers, facility mangers, shipping coordinators
Where: New York; Dallas; Collierville, Tenn.; Memphis; Austin
Jobs over $100,000: 1 percent
Layoffs since 2008: 7,000
New openings: 912
Biggest needs: store managers and assistant store managers, human resources specialists, warehouse associates, distribution specialists
Where: Atlanta; Austin; Westfield, Mass.; Chicago; Baton Rouge, La.
Jobs over $100,000: 5 percent
Layoffs since 2008: 8,000
New openings: 900
Biggest needs: retail salespeople (including bilingual), technical consultants, store managers and assistant store managers, sales and account execs
Where: Overland Park, Kan.; Houston; Reston, Va.; San Antonio; Austin
Jobs over $100,000: 3 percent
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United Technologies (includes Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Sundstrand, UTC Fire & Security, UTC Carrier, Sikorsky and other subsidiaries)
Layoffs since 2008: 11,600
New openings: 535
Biggest needs: sales managers, project engineers, customer-service reps, program managers, design engineers
Where: Central Connecticut; Rockford, Ill.; San Diego; Bradenton, Fla.; Kennesaw, Ga.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Milwaukee; Michigan City, Ind.; Columbus, Ga.; Grapevine, Texas; Indianapolis
Jobs over $100,000: 6 percent