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The Jobs Report: Who's Hiring Now

[This story was updated on March 4]

Today's unemployment report raised hopes that hiring has turned the corner. The economy added 192,000 new jobs in February, according to the Labor Department, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9%. But one month's unemployment numbers don't make a trend, and Fed chairman Bernanke cautioned yesterday that the road back to full employment could be a long one.

A sense of caution was supported by a recent survey of more than 4,000 business executives in a position to do some hiring. Just 9 percent of the executives said they plan to add professional-level staff in the second quarter. Subtract out the 4 percent who said they're looking to decrease their staff and we're left with a net +5 percent who expect to bring more professional staff on board this spring.

Still, the survey pointed to some promising pockets of job opportunity. Lawyers and folks with serious technology skills are expected to be most in demand in the coming months, with the best job markets located out west.

If you're looking to make a move, here are some key takeaways from the employment survey conducted by job-placement firm Robert Half.

  • B2B has the best job prospects. Seventeen percent of execs in the "wholesale" realm report they are ready to add staff in the second quarter, with just 2 percent expecting to reduce staff. That net +15 score is three times better than overall survey average. Retail was the next most promising, with 11 percent of execs saying they are looking to bring on new hires and 2 percent reporting plans to reduce staff.

  • Lawyers have a leg up. The survey drilled down for a look at the job prospects in a few specialties:
    • Lawyers: 29 percent expect to hire. Litigation and general business/commercial law are most in demand. No word on whether this includes lawyers billing at $1,000 an hour.
    • Technology: 9 percent of the chief information officers surveyed say they will be adding staff. Network administrators who've got cloud computing, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or Software as a Service (SaaS) skills have the best shot at landing a new job.
    • Advertising and Marketing: 9 percent expect to hire in the 2nd quarter. It's all about Facebook, Twitter and the iPad as demand is strongest for account managers with social media chops, and mobile app designers and developers. That jibes with a recent MoneyWatch report on the best $100,000+ job opportunities: mobile app developers are at the top of the list.
    • Accounting/Finance: 7 percent of chief financial officers say they are looking to expand their staff. Job hunters in this realm will want to make sure their resume highlights skills in cost-saving/productivity enhancement: Business systems and financial analysts are what CFOs say they have their eye on.
  • If you're mobile, focus your job search in the Mountain states. 16 percent of executives in the Mountain states (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV,NM, UT, WY) say they are ready to add staff, with 5 percent saying they will trim payroll. The next best region for professional job seekers is the Pacific (AK, CA, HI, OR, WA) where 12 percent of executives are looking to hire and 2 percent say they are in cutting mode. The South Atlantic region (DE, CD, FL, GA, MD, NC, SC, VA, WV) isn't far behind, with 12 percent in hiring mode and 3 percent trimming staff.
  • Be prepared for a tough slog. An undercurrent throughout the survey is that executives seem to still be in talking-the-talk mode but not yet necessarily in walking-the-walk mode. Nearly nine in 10 of the executives surveyed said they are somewhat or very confident in their companies' job prospects in the coming months. But as the statistics mentioned above show, that hasn't really translated into any widespread hiring fever.

What's most disconcerting is that 37 percent of all executives say that when they are ready to hire, they've found it difficult to attract workers with the right skills. Among respondents at firms with at least 250 employees, 46 percent say it is somewhat or very challenging to find solid candidates. I think that's just code for "you know, we really don't want to hire." According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 46 million civilian workers with at least a bachelor's degree, and 1.94 million are unemployed. I'll make an educated guess that there are at least as many professionals -- if not more -- who are employed but would love to get a new job. Any executive who says they can't find the right fit, isn't really serious about hiring.

More on MoneyWatch:

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