With the economy looking up, the private sector adding jobs and a hot technology job market, now is the time to consider changing jobs.
The U.S. economy added 220,000 jobs in February, the most in almost a year and enough to nudge down the overall unemployment rate below 9%.
In the market for technology workers, there are far more opportunities than there are people to fill them, say recruiters. A quarterly survey by the staffing firm Robert Half Technology, a recruiting firm that works with full-time and contract IT professionals, showed that 83% of technology executives expect their companies will invest in IT projects in 2011. And according to jobs website Dice.com, online job listings for mobile developers on the iPhone and Android platforms surged more than threefold as of March 1, compared to a year earlier.
"We began to see a difference beginning about 10 months ago, but in the last four months things have gotten really hot," said Ian Ide, general manager of the New York technology practice for the recruitment and staffing firm Winter, Wyman.
Hiring acceleration at staffing agencies usually precedes an uptick in full-time, permanent staff hiring, said Ide. But not everyone knows that, of course, and tech job candidates who get out into the market earlier in a hiring cycle are usually better off than those who get a job later.
"If you're looking to change jobs, now is a great time to do it," said Jodi Chavez, senior vice president for Accounting Principals, a division of Adecco, a human resources firm.
1. People who are hired now are less likely to get laid off during the next economic downturn.
"The hiring right now is to fill critical needs," said Ide. "There's a certain security that goes with that."
The first positions hired in an up cycle tend to be for products in markets that a company is bullish on, because they've already identified them as growth generators. They're less likely to abandon those markets just a short time later.
By contrast, positions added later in an economic growth cycle, during "the height of the job market," Ide said, are more likely to be the result of "overhiring" by companies. Those jobs are more likely to be cut first the next time resources get tight or start to shrink, he said.
2. The tech job market is better than most people think it is.
It's especially so for top-performing veterans who are in demand. "People don't realize how much the supply-demand ratio is in their favor," said Ide, who finds mostly senior-level engineers primarily for companies in the technology, advertising and retail industries. "When we bring people to market, they think they'll get two offers. But they get eight, and they've got a job within two weeks," he said.
Product developers, product managers and customer-facing Web designers are in strong demand, especially at New York advertising agencies, Ide said
3. The strength of the U.S. tech job market is widespread.
Even cities with high unemployment rates have a strong demand for certain tech workers, especially mobile software developers.
And tech workers are better paid than most workers across the U.S., according to government data.
Vimal Shyamji, who recruits temporary contract workers for Winter, Wyman clients on the east coast, wasn't sure what he'd find when he was asked to find a team of mobile developers in Detroit for a large marketing agency he declined to name.
"I was amazed," said Shyamji, who's been a recruiter for 13 years. "Guys in Detroit are now getting multiple offers."
The Detroit mobile software salaries are just 15% less than they are in New York, he said.
"Mobile is a real job catalyst right now. So is any user design or other customer-facing skills," Shyamji said.
Mobile developers in Detroit that Shyamji knows are earning at an annual rate between $85,000 and $95,000 per year, he said, while mobile project managers are earning between $95,000 and $115,000.
In New York, individual contributors on mobile software projects are earning at annual rates between $100,000 and $125,000, while managers are earning between $115,000 to $135,000, Shyamji said.
4. The most talented software engineers have tremendous leverage right now.
Shyamji told the story of "a 20-year-old guy who'd written six iPhone apps in his dorm room," who "was given an offer worth $120,000 right out of school" but who turned it down because "he was making $115,000 from his apps and didn't need the job.
"I work with everyone from management consultant firms to two-person startups, and no [job candidates] are making lateral moves," he said.
Software project managers are especially in demand, Shyamji said. Companies that have begun to expand development teams over the past year by hiring extra staff members, are now starting to realize that they need to hire more managers to get their return on investment, Shyamji said.
"They need some lieutenants to help manage these larger teams," he said.
5. Temporary staffing is booming, and that means more tech jobs.
"Typically when the economy starts to come back, the temporary staffing industry leads the recovery," said Chavez of Accounting Principals.
Technology positions have grown faster than any other contract job in the past few years, according to John Reed, executive director of Robert Half Technology.
Related: How to Make it as a Contract Worker in Technology
Even companies that are "gun shy" and haven't yet begun to hire full-time employees are adding contract workers, which is where many companies are now finding their labor pools, Chavez said.
And any stigma of entering a company as a contract worker is largely "over," she said. "That's how companies are hiring."
Write to John Shinal