The Pre-Recession Job Hop

US hiring recently fell to a seven-year low. Here's how to get ahead of a red-hot labor market that's beginning to cool.

For the last few years, job seekers in the United States have had it pretty good. With unemployment at record lows and firms scrambling to lure talent into millions of open positions, they've generally enjoyed more freedom and flexibility than in previous labor markets.

But there's mounting evidence that the good times are coming to an end. The latest is a report by the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) that showed hiring by US businesses fell in the third quarter to its lowest level since 2012. Of the 101 business economists surveyed, only 20% said their firms hired more people over the last three months. Just over a year ago, that number was 34%.

Within your current firm, if you're looking for a promotion or to switch jobs, it's good to understand what projects and departments are "sacred."

The report-on top of a slowdown in GDP growth, escalating trade tensions, and another interest rate cut by the Fed-could indicate that a downturn is on the horizon. And for professionals looking to make a move into a new role or job, experts say it's better to act now before the competition gets too tough. Right now, there's about one unemployed person for every job opening, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; during the Great Recession, there were six people per job opening. Here's how to get yourself into job-change mode before it's too late.

Understand what will remain in demand.

To be sure, the sudden slowdown isn't affecting all job markets. Experts say organizations aren't, for example, pulling back on investment in digital transformation. So while shifting into artificial intelligence, automation, and machine learning may inevitably decrease hiring in certain areas, it also increases the need for human skills in others. Another area that'll continue to prosper is healthcare. With a growing aging population, there won't be a shortage of jobs in this industry.

Research the company's financial cycles and pet projects.

If you work for a public company or have your eye on working for one, their fiscal years are public information, and much of the hiring game at such companies is driven by that quarterly schedule. If a company has reported less-than-stellar financial results for several quarters in a row, for example, leadership may decide to pull back or remove certain job openings. But others that are flush with cash or in red-hot industries may be indifferent to subtle downturns.

Within your current firm, if you're looking for a promotion or to switch jobs, it's good to understand what projects and departments are "sacred." Firms are constantly having to choose between projects and departments to invest in, and the marquee ones won't lose money (and typically not headcount) unless things get extremely dire.

Network before you're in a bad place.

If you haven't been putting in the time and energy to foster relationships with your personal and professional contacts, experts say it's time to reprioritize them. "The time to network is when you don't need it," says Sean Carney, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. Deciding to build a network after you've lost your current position, or are blissfully content in your existing one, is much harder and less effective than curating an authentic network all along.

Pursue the certification you've been talking about.

Many of us push off our own professional development until it's absolutely crucial-things like professional certifications or coursework that could propel us into a new career. As you get yourself into the mindset of looking for a new job, especially while your current job is still stable, pursue the opportunities that will make you a stronger job candidate. "The primary purpose of your existing opportunity or job is to be the base from which you pursue your next one," Carney says. "Stagnation, coupled with complacency, will quickly lead you to irrelevancy."

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