Despite those positive hiring trends, economists are still painting a dim picture of the 2011 job market because US companies aren't creating enough jobs to employ everyone in America who's unemployed.
What's more, any brightening in the employment outlook will draw back into the job market millions of discouraged workers who stopped looking for work during the recession.
"We have 500,000 people that have dropped out of the workforce in California alone," says Jeffrey Michael, PhD, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. "As the job market improves, they're going to be coming back in, so it's going to continue to be difficult to find work."
Marisa Di Natale, a director of Moody's Analytics, agrees. "Our forecast is that job growth will continue, but 2011 is still going to be a tough year," she says. "It will take until 2012 to see significant enough job growth to put a dent in overall unemployment, which will peak at 10 percent in the third quarter of 2011."
Hiring Outlook Better for Skilled Workers
While many organizations are waiting to pull the trigger on hiring until the economy's turnaround solidifies, selective hiring will get under way in early 2011, says Mark Szypko, managing director at Salary.com, which powers Monster's Salary Wizard. "More calls will be coming in from recruiters, and job boards will be filling up as organizations [look] to fill the pipeline for when it is time to start hiring," he says.
Among the more promising hiring trends: improving prospects for science and tech workers, Michael says. "We'll see better growth in technical fields related to computers and engineering," he predicts.
He also predicts some job growth in food service and retail -- two sectors in which workers can't be replaced by lower-cost overseas laborers or technology advances.
The best 2011 employment bets nationally will be anything involving aging, disease, economic recovery or education, says Kathryn Foster, PhD, director of the University at Buffalo's Regional Institute. "If you're able and interested in working with older people, there are going to be a lot of job openings," she says. "The number of people choosing to go into gerontologic fields hasn't kept up with demand."
Poor Hiring Outlook for Some Sectors
However, the hiring outlook for some industries will continue to be bleak throughout 2011.
The construction industry has shed millions of employees -- from unskilled laborers to highly skilled architects and engineers. "We've bottomed out in housing," Michael says. "We'll see some job growth [there] in 2012 and 2013. But the pool of unemployed workers with construction skill sets is so large that even double-digit growth won't be sufficient to mop up the pool of unemployed laborers."
Foster advises staying away from traditional construction and manufacturing, as well as production jobs in utilities and transportation.
Salary Projections for 2011
Reports from a number of salary experts, including Aon Hewitt, indicate that while companies plan to increase their overall salary budgets by 2.8 percent in 2011, they won't be spreading the wealth evenly.
"Most organizations still seem to be focused on ensuring that the increased dollars are spent wisely," Szypko says. "Getting an increase is no longer an entitlement. Getting a bonus is no longer an entitlement. If you want a raise or a bonus you need to move into the upper echelon of performers within your organization."
If you're currently unemployed, there is one ray of sunshine for you in 2011: Congress voted to extend unemployment benefits through the year.