While the prospect of a recession is rattling nerves from Main Street to Wall Street, a case of recession jitters hasn’t fully engulfed the recruiting community.
"I definitely see movement on the horizon," says Nancy Albertini, chairman for executive search firm Patterson Blackstone in San Jose, California, which recruits high-level executives in the media and Internet sectors. "It is an upward trend in hiring."
Her upbeat attitude in the face of bleak economic times falls in line with findings from a report by the Association of Executive Search Consultants published January 22. In the survey, 75 percent of respondents had a positive hiring outlook for the coming year. The poll of 250 executive search consultants was administered between November 28 and January 2.
North American respondents generally were restrained in their outlook; 58 percent said they are optimistic about the industry, compared with 80 percent of European and 88 percent of Asian counterparts.
AESC president Peter Felix says U.S. executive search consultants will have different attitudes about the hiring outlook depending on their area of focus. Those involved in structured finance and mortgage-backed securities are getting pummeled by the housing credit crunch. Meanwhile, executive search consultants in health care, utilities and not-for-profits are going full steam ahead.
"There are sectors that are feeling the pinch, and there are others that remain unaffected," Felix says. "Overall, our members are telling us that they’re very busy."
Staffing firms don’t seem to be slowing down either. "We’re not getting a sense that there is an impending jolt in staffing employment," says Steve Berchem, vice president of the American Staffing Association in Washington. The telltale signs of an impending recession are not there, he notes.
Historically, staffing employment has taken a severe blow during the three to six months before a recession is officially declared.
"That’s just not happening right now," Berchem says. "The industry has generally been flat for the last year."
Berchem recalls the last recession, in March 2001. He says staffing employment was growing at a pace of 6 percent year-over-year. That changed overnight, when the industry actually began declining—falling by 2 percent—during the fourth quarter of 2000.
"It was a net drop of more than 8 percent," he notes. "The situation got worse with each quarter."
When the dust settled, 800,000 staffing jobs were lost from the peak in 2000, when there were 2.8 million employee assignments each day for the staffing industry, Berchem notes.
Some recruiting experts suggest that even if there were to be a national recession, it may not necessarily halt hiring.
"We’re living in a very different world," says Francis Luisi, principal at Charleston Partners, an HR executive recruiting firm in Rumson, New Jersey. Factors such as employers with global vision and the millions of baby boomers reaching retirement age could make the traditional recession-related hiring slump less severe than in past cycles, he explains.
"It is simply too early to speculate on what will happen," Luisi says.