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by SixFigureStart | January 16, 2009


Everyone has tracked the monthly and yearly unemployment numbers, rising scarily upward like the water in a toilet getting ready to overflow.  But the 7.2% number that's been recently quoted isn't really what it appears to be.

 Mark Twain popularized the phrase, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics," implying that numbers can mean almost anything you want them to.   In this case, let's pick apart the 7.2%, which reflects the ranks of the unemployed in every category.  According to, considering only those persons with a four-year college degree effectively drops this to 3.3%.  Granted, that's an increase of 65% over where it stood over 2006-2007 (2.0%), but still a far cry from the largest figure.  Also, the total has been greatly lifted by layoffs that have disproportionately affected the manufacturing and construction industries (in which unemployment rates are 10% and 13%, respectively).  Energy, technology, health care and pharmaceutical employers haven't suffered anywhere near as much -- reportedly, those industries are all still expanding, though perhaps at a more modest pace than before.   Further, for those individuals with the right education, green technology -- anything involving environmental engineering or planning -- right now looks like a great sector in which to search.   (If you'd like more details on what it's like to work in any of those areas, check out Vault's Industry Overviews.)    

Geography is also a big factor in landing a new job; obviously, the biggest metro areas are the best places to be.  But there are still marked differences in a job hunter's prospects depending on where he's located.  The Ladders, which caters to $100,000+ managers, has compiled jobs data on 10 major cities that reads like an oddsmaker's book in Vegas:  The ratio of executive candidates to openings is a desirable 3-to-1 in San Francisco and Washington D.C. and rises to 7-to-1 for Austin, Chicago and L.A.

Executive recruiters have discovered small signs that a recovery is just around the next bend, waiting to gain momentum.  The Ladders reported that during the last quarter of 2008, some 400 companies sought to attract new talent through the organization.  And ExecuNet's monthly poll of headhunters found that between November and December, those who said they saw signs that hiring activity was increasing jumped from 26% to 40%.   

So, the moral of this story is, keep the faith.  It's always darkest before the dawn.  And take everything you read in the news with a grain of skepticism.

 --Posted by Todd Obolsky, Vault Staff Writer




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