Chicago has positioned itself as a major destination for organizations and professionals seeking to take their success to the next level. The draw of the Windy City is evident - few metropolitan areas in the U.S. have the same combination of size, opportunity, culture and aesthetic appeal as Illinois' largest city. Chicago is commonly compared to New York City, except the streets are cleaner and the people are friendlier - what's not to like?
In part one of this two-part series, our own analysts in the Associates and Technology sectors offered their insights into why Chicago's job market is trending. For both verticals, the outlook is positive. At the Associates level, there is an array of opportunities across industries. Employers can find experienced professionals for more advanced positions but also attract new job seekers for temp-to-perm postings. The Tech scene is strong nationwide, and Chicago is no exception - talented individuals are looking for offers from Chicago IT departments.
As it turns out, things are looking up for the jewel of the Midwest in three other sectors, as well.
Legal industry gains ground after financial crisis
After the U.S. economy took a major hit back in the recession of 2007 to 2009, the legal sector was among the industries that suffered the most damage. Whenever transactions are taking place - people are spending money, companies and corporations are taking on staff and making investments, and so on, the legal industry does well. It is a direct result of a strong economy. So when the market fell into the doldrums, the legal sector fell with it.
"The legal sector has gained momentum and is moving in the right direction."
But now, there's reason for optimism. Ann Eisenreich, Legal Division Director at Beacon Hill's Chicago office, pointed out that although the field has not gotten back to pre-recession levels, it has gained momentum and is moving in the right direction.
"Legal is probably slower in growth than other markets, just because of the hit it took in 2007, 2008 and 2009," Eisenreich explained. "But transactional pieces are definitely picking up, corporate roles, commercial real estate roles ... when the economy is good, that's when legal transaction roles also rise."
For those seeking employment in the legal scene, there are growing opportunities - and not just in the major law firms. Much like the IT space, many organizations are building their own in-house legal teams to handle their own needs rather than hiring an independent firm. Eisenreich estimated for every job seeker there are between five and 10 jobs available. These openings run the gamut from litigations and paralegals to intellectual property experts.
Still, there are a range of law firms - large, small and mid-sized - looking for the best available talent. Firms like Baker & McKenzie and Kirkland & Ellis are both headquartered in Chicago and are among the top 10 biggest law firms in the world (at numbers one and 10, respectively), according to The American Lawyer. Furthermore, 17 of the nation's 250 largest law firms are based in the Second City. But law firms of all sizes attract candidates, depending on their focus and opportunities.
Research and development boosts pharmaceutical sector
Like the other industries mentioned thus far, Chicago pharma sector has also taken steps forward since the recession - though it's not the same industry now as it was then. However, Ryan Pirnat, the Managing Director for Beacon Hill Staffing's pharma division, believes the industry is doing about as well now as ever.
"It's different now than it was back in the '06, '07 timeframe, but that's the busiest I ever remember it and it's that busy right now," Pirnat offered. "For our space, research and development within pharmaceutical devices is very busy - which is good for us."
Part of the reason hiring has remained strong within the sector is that the large pharma companies will always hire - they aren't as affected by the market as other industries. But what really marks a healthy pharma scene is that the small companies are also hiring now - the startup scene is blossoming in Chicago.
"There are just so many startups in our space, which means money is being invested heavily," Pirnat continued. "It's a great time to be a candidate in the marketplace because they have a lot of different options available to them."
It isn't only pharma candidates who have benefited from the strong industry. Pharma companies are getting better at planning for what they need over the course of the entire research and development process - which routinely clock in at 20-year investments. Over that time, these organizations rely on both outsourced and in-house staff and resources. Typically, the largest of these companies exist on the outskirts of the city, but smaller startups have taken to the downtown area to utilize a different demographic.
Like any industry, the best fit for company and candidate will depend upon what traits each one is looking for. Fortunately, there is enough diversity on both sides to allow these partnerships to flourish.
Chicago finance as strong as ever
While the nation's third-largest city has a diverse array of industries, finance is one of its most recognizable. Chicago continues to attract finance talent, but not just because it has a booming finance district in The Loop. Michael Pickens, Finance Division Director for Beacon Hill Staffing, pointed out that Chicago is a "magnet for the Midwest." People are drawn to the culture, food and lifestyle.
"People are drawn by the culture, food and lifestyle."
"In the past, a kid who grows up in Michigan or Iowa and graduates from college is probably going to move to Chicago," Pickens explained. "What's shifting is that now we have finance grads from Texas saying, 'New York or Chicago?' So they can pay $3,000 for an apartment in New York, or choose Chicago and get a similar appeal for lower cost of living."
Having said that, the finance sector cannot be overlooked. The industry was able to weather the storm during the last recession from 2007 to 2009 better than other industries. Some positions, like those in financial analysis, were difficult to staff during that time - organizations were focusing less on the future and more on the present. But in the aftermath, employers are planning for growth and hiring with that in mind.
Technological advancements have also had some impact on the finance sector, but it hasn't forced jobs out. Rather, candidates have had to adjust their skill set to accommodate new developments, like enterprise resource planning. Similarly, employers are learning to accept young professionals with varied experience and backgrounds.
"Employers think they need XYZ, when really they only need XY," explained Joanna Foulk, Managing Finance Director for Beacon Hill Staffing. She also pointed out that candidates increasingly seek work-life balance and won't be wooed just with salary and benefits. Employers would be well served to remember that.
However, job seekers might also benefit from flexibility, according to Foulk. College graduates take their finance or accounting degree to Chicago and envision joining a huge organization or firm, but they might be better off examining small or mid-sized companies. Every business needs an accountant and these roles and organizations are necessary stepping stones on career path.
Foulk is optimistic that Chicago will remain a destination for professionals at all levels. Even during the recession, the Windy City fared better than most - it was never a depressing place to be, in her experience. Now, as the job market improves across industries, Chicago is attracting individuals and businesses looking to progress. As it stands, the city is one of the best job markets in the country and is poised to take additional steps forward.
But even beyond the jobs scene, the Second City offers a livable culture for those who make it their home. That's why so many are flocking to the shores of Lake Michigan - Chicago has the jobs to bring people there and the culture to keep them.
This content brought to you by the Marketing Team at Beacon Hill Staffing Group.