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HR firms find that hiring appetite in (slow) growth

There is still a long way to go until corporate hiring again reaches its pre-crisis levels, but certain fields are already seeing some pick-up in activity.

An unemployed IT specialist recently chose a fairly novel way of jobseeking. The 36-year-old woman, a mother of three, painted her personal data and competencies on a huge piece of cardboard and walked the streets of Debrecen holding it. She said that after exhausting every possible means of job search, she tried this as a last resort. Whether she was serious about finding a position or merely intended to raise attention is unclear. But she is not the only jobseeker with a degree whose attempts to find permanent placement have remained unsuccessful for more than a year.

According to the latest figures of the Central Statistical Office (KSH), 52% of all unemployed have been chasing jobs for a year or more. While the employment rate increased by 0.5% in the period of December 2010–February 2011, the unemployment rate rose as well, to 11.5% within the same period. The growth of both rates compared to one year ago shows that ever more people are registering as jobseekers, but many of them are not finding positions, KSH said.

Engineers on the rebound

The experience of recruitment agencies seems to reinforce the KSH findings. Commissions for permanent placements have not yet reached their pre-crisis levels. Fortunately, hiring in some sectors is picking up. IT, the field in which the jobseeker in Debrecen is hoping to land a job, has seen a small improvement, according to Ottó Vég, managing director of Adecco Magyarország.

Had the IT specialist from Debrecen learned to be a technical engineer, she would probably not be out of a job right now. Due to the establishment of several major car factories, Hungarian engineers with adequate skills are more sought-after than ever. “There is a shift from the previous trend of considering Hungary solely a service provider to a central investment location for manufacturing companies, especially those in the automotive sector,” said Tammy Nagy-Stellini, managing director of Hays Hungary.

Yet even with the jobs created by the automotive factories, an excellent candidate is often hard to find. “The pool of highly specialized workforce with a strong command of German and the willingness to relocate is rather limited,” Vég noted. Tamás Fehér, managing director of Grafton Recruitment, disagrees with regard to knowledge of languages. “In a regional comparison, Hungary still leads the pack with the non-native German speakers’ skills.”

Aside from languages, competencies that are harder to measure have grown in importance. “Since the recession, firms have defined far more clearly who they are looking for,” Anikó Jónás, managing director of Kelly Services, told the Budapest Business Journal. Companies do look for candidates who have a clear vision of their future performance and perspectives, Grafton’s Fehér noted.

Lack of permanence

Yet for all the enquiries about candidates’ long-term goals, firms are still reluctant to hire for permanent positions, not even at top levels. This accounts for the rise in interim management and temporary contracts. Bosch, for instance, which announced the creation of 15,000 jobs this year, has so far been cautious in awarding permanent contracts. CEOs and high-level managers seem to have taken this change well, as many apply for fixed terms.

Securing a top-level job also takes longer than before. “Earlier it took between four and eight months for a CEO to find a job, while now the process can last up to a year,” said Jónás. She also noted an improving trend and some quality changes in executive search. “Clients want better value for money. They want better quality candidates in a shorter period of time, though at the same time would rather wait for the right talent than rush the process of hiring,” Nagy-Stellini explained.

Expanding ahead

Although job offers still do not abound, the expansion plans of recruitment agencies may provide some hope. Hays Hungary has had to strengthen divisions such as business services (specializing in shared services centers), engineering, IT, pharma, sales and marketing, retail, accountancy and finance, due to the increase in client demand. Grafton Recruitment will also expand three of its divisions, but did not reveal which ones.

As for effective job searchs, cardboard is definitely not on the list of endorsed methods. Building a strong network works better. According to Nagy-Stellini, “It is vital for candidates to have themselves ‘out there,’ such as being part of social or professional networking sites, to be more easily identified.”

This article appeared in the BBJ's HR special edition on April 8, 2011.