Keeping this information to myself doesn't help anyone but me, so in the interest of sharing for the common good, here's what I observed while out and about:
1. The sun is coming out (if slowly). Bit by bit, client budgets are quietly returning. Most say the money coming in is being allocated toward amping up digital efforts. Of course, every client is different, but as a general trend, it's pretty hard to miss.
2. Calculated restructuring. Agencies have come out of an earthquake -- things were destroyed, but the rubble's been cleared. Right now agency leaders are being exceptionally careful about how they rebuild their staffs. They are taking a long, hard look at who they are, what they offer clients and how they need to change in order to prosper in a future that's radically different from their pasts.
Some are hiring again, but they're starting with senior talent. They are fighting over smart people who can revive them, lead new departments or change the way the shop approaches challenges. The good news for us is that eventually, hiring will trickle down to the more junior levels. There's no telling how long this process will take, but I, for one, am happy to hear the hiring freezes are thawing a bit.
3. "There are no jobs, but there's plenty of work to go around." Every shop I talked to said their teams are understaffed. They have plenty of projects, but lack the budgets and freedom to hire help. That is, some have the financial means, but freezes in their holding companies means their hands are tied.
In other words, the door for fresh talent isn't open, but it is ajar. There are plenty of freelance projects and low/no paying internships available for the hungry among us. Be open-minded about opportunities coming your way. A temporary gig may not be what you hoped for, but it's a great way to prove your worth and stay close to the game so that when a door does open, you can pounce.
4. Unemployment is forgivable; idle hands are not. Recruiters understand that times are tough and that it's taking longer for young talent to find a job. Then again, they also know we're made of time. If you're out of school and without a job, the pressure's on to craft a compelling story about how you turned that wealth of spare time into a productive experience. There's no excuse for sitting still. For tips on how to handle this transitional period, read Adrienne's last post. It was spot-on.
5. Not all markets are created equal. The state of the industry is different in every city. And while opportunities can be had everywhere, there are clear distinctions across markets:
Washington is doing very well. If you're into the political side, there are plenty of openings helping government programs get off the ground with a proper communications plan.
St. Louis isn't faring as well; its economy was hit hard by the recession and resulting auto-plant closures. In Chicago, there's a little action happening with ad agencies, but it's the PR and social-media crowd that's really booming.
New York is a great place to be if you've got a few years of experience to bank on, but jobs for people just out of school are very scarce. There are, however, plenty of agencies offering internships and temp-to-perm hiring (see No. 3).
Overall, my sense is that the business is still stunned from the shock of the downturn. There's a long way to go, but some shops are shaking off the dust and recovering. Amen.
If you've been hunting for a job and have learned something in the process, I'd love it if you could share it in the comments. The more people contribute to this list, the more valuable it becomes for GenNext readers and fellow job hunters among us.