Job Seekers Attend Job Fair In San Francisco
Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

What Job Seekers Really Want Now

Jan 19, 2016

If you’ve been thinking about changing jobs, 2016 may finally be your year. Assuming the recession that some economists are expecting doesn’t materialize, the outlook for job hunters is likely to get sunnier. Almost 70% of companies across a wide range of industries plan to add headcount in 2016, says a new survey by recruiting firm The Execu|Search Group.

And here’s welcome news for this spring’s crop of new grads (and their tuition-paying parents): Demand is picking up. Companies in the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ annual survey plan to take on 11% more hires than they did in 2015. About 40% described the job market for the class of 2016 as “very good” or “excellent” — more than double the 18% of employers who said the same two years ago. New MBAs should do pretty well, too. A recent poll of 159 companies by the Graduate Management Admissions Council found that 75% hope to recruit more MBAs this year than last.

For employers, of course, this means that attracting and keeping top talent is getting tougher, partly because employees are likely to be weighing more than one job offer. Almost 60% of 591 job seekers (including people who already have jobs) in Execu|Search’s poll said they had their pick of “two or more” positions.

Moreover, some companies’ hiring managers seem to be emphasizing the wrong things in interviews. “We’re seeing a disconnect between what employees want and what employers believe they want,” says Edward Fleischman, Execu|Search’s CEO.

Asked to rank a list of job characteristics in order of importance, most employers put salary and benefits at the top of the list. Given the same choices, however, 51% of employees and prospective hires gave “opportunity for professional development,” including training and career planning, as their No. 1 priority.

Trying to hold on to people by offering them more money probably won’t work — or, at least, not for long. Consider: While fewer than half (45%) of the 226 employers surveyed cited “greater emphasis on training and development” as important to their retention strategies, more than two-thirds (67%) mentioned increasing pay, and 64% reported making counteroffers to keep key employees from leaving.

Yet when asked why they quit their last job or may quit their current one, most employees gave “lack of advancement opportunities” as the main reason. Among those who accepted a counteroffer, 1 in 3 ended up leaving within a year anyway.

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