Is the SEO/SEM Job Market Growing?
I was instant messaging with a friend the other day and he wrote that he thought the SEO/SEM job market was hot right now i.e. a lot of open positions. Having gone through a job search a couple of times in a little over a year, I had a different take on the situation. I feel that while there are openings, they aren't as numerous as people think and they aren't necessarily increasing by leaps and bounds as some people suggest. Here's why...
Every Departure Creates an Opening
Whenever a search engine marketer from company A leaves for Company B, one job opening closes and another one opens. The number of openings therefore remains constant. However, it feels like there are more openings because the new opening causes a flurry of activity amongst recruiters and job boards. Candidates sense this activity and subconsciously add the new activity with the old opening's activity to come to the conclusion that there are X times as a many jobs available as there were before.
High-Turnover and Poaching
The SEO/SEM world is much like the web development world in that there is high-turnover. Part of this comes about because companies are still failing to provide growth opportunities for those with online marketing skills (SEO, PPC, affiliate). When faced with the prospect of a dead-end job, it's not hard to imagine the motivations behind frequent job switching. In addition, some competing companies are particularly good at finding exceptionally skilled SEOs and SEMs and providing just the right incentive to motivate a job change even when the candidate wasn't actively searching. Both of these situations multiply the number of departures i.e. openings and the overall sense of a growing SEM job market.
Openings Remain Open When Expectations Don't Match
Another issue that candidates must contend with is a mismatch between their salary expectations and the expectations of the hiring companies. When candidates, as a group, want more than is being offered, a job opening remains open. When this happens, more recruiters get in on the effort and post the job to job boards. Because most recruiters don't include the hiring company's name in the job posting, it feels like there are new openings, but in reality, there are just more postings for the same opening.
Sidebar: For those new to the job search game, note that many recruiters love high-turnover. Once a candidate of theirs has made it through the probation period and the recruiter's fee has been paid, there's nothing quite as profitable as being able to place that candidate at another job while ALSO filling the opening the departure would create. It's a short-term approach, but recruiters are often job hoppers and so long-term thinking is of little value to them.
Measuring Job Market Growth
The most statistically valid method for assessing the job marketing is to wait for the various employment agencies to report their numbers. These folks draw from a large data pool so what they report is the best available snapshot of growth. One problem is that the snapshot may be out of date the day it's published. Certain industries seem to go from boom to bust in very short order and if you're relying on 8 month old data, you could be in trouble. Also, aggregate data can hide nuances between markets -- a job downturn in Dallas isn't necessarily going to impact people in Manhattan.
I prefer to take a more hands-on approach that has served me well over the years despite the obvious failings when it comes to a statistically relevant sample size. All I do is watch my company's activities. Is my company hiring? Great! Is my company hiring for my team? Even better! I also try to keep in touch with previous co-workers in my industry. A lunch here or a drink there is all that's required to ask a couple of simple questions. I don't ask for specifics, because that would be wrong for my friends to divulge. Instead, all I need are overall trends that will re-enforce or contradict what I'm experiencing first hand. Confirmation provides guidance for determining my next step while contradiction tells me that I need to gather more information.
One thing to be wary of with my approach is to base your decisions on objective measures. It's really easy to convince yourself that the job market is strong when your current job isn't fulfilling as you look for rational reasons to support your decision to move on. So keep a log of job opening changes and only record new jobs when you can confirm they are truly new and not just reposting of previously counted openings.
So what's your take? Is the SEO/SEM job market growing, shrinking, or is it flat?