Question: “Matt, given the number of job hunters you tend to work with on a regular basis, do you see any signs that the market is getting any better as we kick off 2010?”

If you held my feet to the fire, my answer would probably be yes.  In the last month or two, there have been several signs (at least from my vantage point) that the job market is perking up a bit.  At the same time, however, I certainly won’t go so far as to declare that we’re out of the woods or predict that we’re now squarely on our way out of the recession.  While it’s always fun to speculate, I’ve found that most people in the “professional prediction” business (e.g. economists, stock analysts, meteorologists, psychics, etc.) have an abysmal track record, on average, so I’d hate to be lumped into their ranks!

For what it’s worth, however, there definitely seems to be a better vibe out there than there was for the majority of 2009.  Am I wrong about this?  People right now just generally seem to be in a better mood and to be in a more optimistic state of mind about the future, I’ve found.  In one sense, it almost seems like people have grown sick of living in a state of fear, stress, and anxiety.  My own pet theory is that the “fight or flight” reaction that followed the big Wall Street meltdown 15 months ago is finally petering out — and as a result, people and companies are finally starting to peer out of their bunkers, loosen up the purse strings, and show a little more willingness to think positively and invest in the future.  Not all companies, mind you, but enough of them that the pendulum is slowly starting to swing.

Another bright sign I’m seeing is a rise in the number of HR and recruiting positions being advertised.  I mean, I’m no Sherlock Holmes or anything, but I can’t think of other reason why a lot of these personnel-focused roles would be opening up unless companies are contemplating plans to add staff in the coming months.  I’ve also seen a rise in the number of people thinking about starting a new business, which is good news, since some of the most successful organizations in history have been launched during tough times like these.  A former client of mine, for example, invited me over the other day to tour the office of the new architectural firm he’s launched.  In all honesty, I expected this “office” to basically be a broom closet or something, since I knew he was just starting out.  My jaw almost hit the floor, instead, when I walked into this gorgeous facility he’d built that was decked out with computers, supplies, and facilities for an entire five-person staff.  Now granted, this entrepreneur hasn’t hired anybody yet, but said that he had five talented people waiting in the wings that he’d be bringing on board as soon as he could land his first contract.  As for the scope of the investment he’s made, he said that he just decided one day to roll the dice and borrow the money to do things right, since he didn’t want to leave himself with any other option but to succeed in his new venture.

A gutsy call, for sure, but this is exactly the kind of attitude we’ll need to pull ourselves out of the economic nosedive.  So I salute this individual, along with anybody else who is working on even creating one new job for the people around them.

One last observation, even if it’s a little off-topic?  I’ve also been struck by how many frustrated job seekers have managed to land new jobs in the last few months — and have pledged NOT TO FORGET the lessons, challenges, and dehumanizing treatment many of them have experienced from employers during their time out of work.  Hopefully, if enough people get hired in the days to come, and maintain this same attitude, we’ll finally see some pushback against some of the rather undignified behavior that many employers have been displaying in the hiring process as of late.  You know — things like failing to communicate effectively with candidates, lowballing salaries, practicing age discrimination, that sort of thing.

So in closing, while things are unquestionably tough out there still, and I’d still encourage all job hunters to think “long haul” when forging their transition plan, there are a few exciting sparks of hope materializing on the horizon that gives us reason for optimism.  Are these positive signs part of a bigger trend, or merely an end-of-year anomaly?  It’ s impossible to tell.  But I’m opting to go with the “glass half full” standpoint, myself…