Survey: DM Job Outlook Has Stabilized

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Finding a job might get easier for unemployed direct marketers in coming months, according to a nationwide DM employment survey.


The survey by Bernhart Associates/Wheaton Consulting Group found that 54 percent of companies responding said they planned to add to staff by the end of the year.


"The results of the fall survey are more positive than what we saw in our summer survey," said Jerry Bernhart, president of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, Owatonna, MN. "However, hiring is down sharply from last spring, when 74 percent said they were planning to add to staff."


But Bernhart warned that "there is still a lot of uncertainty out there." For example, 31 percent of respondents said they had a hiring freeze, about the same percentage as in July. However, the optimism of July, when most thought the freezes would be short-lived, has not carried over.


According to the fall survey, only 22 percent said they would lift their hiring freezes before the end of the year. Thirty-five percent said the lifting would be delayed until the first quarter of next year, and 38 percent gave no time frame. Even when the freezes are lifted, about half of the respondents said, normal hiring processes will be replaced by nonstandard procedures requiring added approval.


"On a positive note," Bernhart said, "we asked if the Sept. 11 terrorist attack(s) had caused direct marketers to alter their hiring plans. Surprisingly, nearly 80 percent said it had no effect."


Also, only about 14 percent of companies responding said they planned to reduce staff before the end of the year.


"That percentage is up only slightly since July, and expected cutbacks will be relatively small, averaging about 7 percent," Bernhart said.


"It appears that barring another unexpected economic jolt, the job situation in the direct marketing industry is not likely to deteriorate further," he said. "This is corroborated by an increase in the number of calls that I have fielded since the beginning of October inquiring about executive search. During past economic downturns, that has been something of a leading indicator that things were stabilizing or even beginning to turn around."


Bernhart said the biggest change he sees when comparing this year's three quarterly surveys is "a shift away from positions in list, media and human resources and a growing demand for sales representatives and analysts.


"Companies are focusing on positions that contribute directly to the bottom line, and that's what candidates should keep in mind when applying for a job," he said.


Direct marketers also expect to intensify hiring in management, creative, Web site development, customer service and technical areas, he said.


The survey was conducted during the week of Oct. 1 and was e-mailed to more than 1,200 direct marketing companies nationwide. Additional companies wishing to participate in the next employment survey in January should send an e-mail with the subject "survey opt-in" to info@directmarketingcareers.com.


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