How’s the market? I can’t even begin to guess how many times that I have been asked this question. Having worked in and around recruiting for over a dozen years, people assume that I see trends in the labor market that can indicate the overall health of the economy. To a great extent this is true. The companies that I have helped start and run for the past 10 years are proven leading indicators of market conditions, especially for the technology markets: people stop hiring when things get scary, and they start hiring when things look good.
Over the last 10 years I’ve come to the conclusion that downcycles are “light switch” events: you come to work one month and things bright and sunny, the next month they are dark and gloomy. In November of 2000 the recruiting company I worked at started to notice a minor decline in revenue. By February 2001, our revenue was nearly cut in half. By the end of the year, the Dow had lost about 2000 points. In 2008, though this time better prepared, we saw the writing on the wall in the spring as the market tightened and revenue began to fall. By late August hiring had ground to a halt; we all know what came next.
Okay, so ask me “how is the market?” Well, if you follow me on Twitter, you may have caught a tweet last week about my growing optimism. Despite grumblings from some of the guys at my gym (taken with more than a grain of salt seeing as I go to a gym in the Bank of America headquarters), the constant gut-wrenching news from the cable news outlets (who seem to get paid to spread fear), and the worried calls I get from my future mother-in-law (she should get paid to worry), I can tell you that I believe things are on the uptick.
Here are a couple of reasons I am optimistic this spring:
1. In February and March both divisions of GravityPeople, the recruiting company that I co-founded in 1998 are doing really well – seriously. Now, they have great employees that have stayed level-headed and worked hard through what the pundits are calling the worst economy in 80 years, but the numbers are there too. Job orders are up and so is revenue. When I met with some of them today, they told me that they are seeing candidates with multiple offers. This is a really good sign that hiring is becoming competitive again. When hiring gets competitive it means that companies are moving from fear to growth.
2. March has been a breakthrough month for Newton, our recently founded software company. From the looks of it we will start April with several new customers, some press coverage, and some major inertia. Our customers are telling us that they expect to actually see some growth this year, and they’re getting prepared. At Newton we continue to invest in the technology and we are even starting to tackle some marketing projects.
3. The sheer amount of technological innovation that we are seeing in social media, cloud computing, content management, and the mobile spaces, to name a few, confirms to me that entrepreneurs, the backbone of optimism, are alive and well. It’s evident that many start-up companies are taking advantage of a slow sales cycle to innovate and challenge conventional technology and business models.
When I circled around with our teams today, suggesting that I am feeling optimistic, folks seemed to genuinely agree that they too are feeling more positive. In an open discussion we got to talking about all kinds of things like the growing lines at our favorite lunch spots, about the buses that we take to work being more crowded and about it taking longer to get a pint at the pubs after work. By the way, we weren’t complaining, much to the contrary. Social scientists would probably slap some moniker to this discussion and call it collective optimism. But, I don’t care what it’s called.
I am going to call it spring forward optimism and I feel good.