Hiring is expected to pick up in the New Year, according to career counselors, but uncertainty surrounding the strength of the economy will likely prevent the hiring season from being as robust as in years past.
Last month, the economy added 146,000 jobs, well beyond the expected 85,000 experts predicted. And a strong holiday shopping season is buoying hopes that December will beat expectations as well.
"Historically, the first quarter of any fiscal year is always the best time to expect hires because of the normal cycle of business," says Robert Meier, president of Job Market Experts, a Florida-based firm that helps match job seekers with openings. "Companies are kind of lying low, but now is the time when they do the talent evaluation. If you can get into the evaluation cycle, you have a good chance of getting hired."
[See our list of The 100 Best Jobs of 2013.]
But Philip Noftsinger, business unit president for CBIZ Payroll, Inc., and creator of the CBIZ Small Business Employment Index, doesn't expect hiring in 2013 to match the employment hikes that have occurred during past economic recoveries. He says uncertainty about the impact of politicians on the recovery and the inability of job seekers to properly market themselves will delay many jobs from being filled. The outcome of the fiscal cliff—the tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect at the end of the year—is also directly tied to the state of the job market.
"If we don't reach compromise [on the cliff], I think you're looking at demand-driven hiring," he says, meaning that hiring will depend on consumer demand rather than a company's long-term plan to grow. "It's going to depend on how deep the cuts are and how they affect the overall macroeconomic picture."
Positive signs, with a caveat. Even as the fiscal cliff looms, Noftsinger says the current demand-driven hiring is a positive. As long as consumers keep spending, he says, the economy will continue to add jobs. He believes the fiscal cliff is the only thing potentially blocking 2013 from becoming an "accelerating positive year."
"If I'm seeing the bell ring on the door and more customers come to my store, I'm going to hire more workers," he says.
Joan Roberts, a certified career coach and president of CareerCounseling.com, says she is also noticing improvements in the job market. Negative feelings about the state of the job market are ebbing, she says, and people are beginning to feel more optimistic about the prospect of finding work. "My clients are getting jobs, and lots of interviews as well," she says. "It feels like it's a better job market … Morale is improving."
The numbers support what Noftsinger and Roberts are experiencing with their clients. On average, the U.S. economy has added 151,000 jobs each month in 2012. The unemployment rate is currently at 7.9 percent—the lowest in four years.
However, a troubling aspect of the job recovery is that many small businesses aren't participating. Noftsinger says this lack of participation is a reflection of economic uncertainty due to political uncertainty in Washington.
"When small-business owners make a [$500,000] investment decision in a plant or people, it's a life decision, it's college tuition, it's food on the table," he says. "They're far more intelligent about the economy than they were in 2005."
Broken job market. Even with the job increases, millions of Americans are still looking for work. According to Meier, their inability to find jobs is a symptom of what he characterizes as a "broken job market."
"Right now, as of this month, there are 3.5 million open jobs advertised in the United States, while there are 12 million people unemployed," he says. "Just because we're going to flip a calendar from 2012 to 2013 isn't going to fix this problem. You have millions of job seekers and millions looking for jobs and they can't get together and dance?"