By Melissa J. Anderson

Earlier this year, ExecuNet released its 2012 Executive Job Market Intelligence Report describing the opportunities and challenges for firms in attracting and retaining top executives.

In his opening to the report, President and Chief Economist Mark M. Anderson writes, “If employers and executives have learned anything over the tumultuous past five years, it is that economic currents, global market dynamics, disruptive business models and new competitors can redraw strategic positioning overnight.”

He adds, ““In this climate, executive performance may hinge more than ever on one’s capacity to adapt rapidly to a new operating environment.”

That goes equally for employers, looking to retain skilled executives who have learned to hone their versatility through the recent tumultuous years. After all, an ExecuNet follow-up survey of recruiters reveals significant market changes occurring even within 2012.

Executive Job Market Trends

The 2012 Executive Job Market Intelligence Report, released in the early part of this year, polled almost 6,000 people, the majority of whom were executives in North America, plus a large number of other global executives, search firm consultants, talent acquisition managers, and HR professionals.

According to the survey, at the beginning of the year, respondents felt the top areas for executive job growth were Health Care, High Technology, Manufacturing, Business Services, and Energy/Utilities. In the span of a few months, those top industries shifted a bit to Healthcare, High Technology, Life Sciences (pharmaceuticals, medical, biotech), Manufacturing, and Energy/Utilities.

The latest list is based on ExecuNet’s recent poll of recruiters. The survey also revealed that the top growth functions for executives include business development, sales, engineering, operations management, and marketing.

“Recruiters have consistently ranked healthcare as the greatest growth sector for executive leadership over the last few years, and the industry will only continue to expand,” Anderson commented. He continued, “An aging population, increasing lifespans, technological advancements, government involvement and reform, a greater emphasis on wellness – these factors all contribute to a boom in the healthcare industry.”

Changes in executive job growth opportunities shouldn’t come as a surprise. In the Job Market Intelligence Report, ExecuNet Editor-in- Chief Robyn Greenspan explains, “Rapid changes are becoming a normal state of affairs for executives in every industry.”

She adds, “Executives are being challenged like never before. Additionally, how they conduct their own career management has been pushed to evolve at the same pace, particularly when it comes to assessing the value and sustainability of their industry, employer and new opportunities.”

As global uncertainty and a swift rate of change shapes the executive job market, companies looking to attract and retain top talent should keep an eye to job growth industries and functions.

Executive Changes

The report also shows that companies are eying greater growth in 2012 and beyond than in the past two or three years. It explains:

“Companies are indeed looking to grow, as ExecuNet research reveals that more than a quarter of employers are now adding new management positions and more than half of employers are selectively ‘trading up’ with new hires for existing executive roles to fill gaps or improve teams. Of course, the pace of hiring activity is not equal across all industries, but it is especially strong across many sectors. Equally promising news comes in the revelation that only 2 percent of companies are continuing the management cutbacks that many executed beginning in 2008 and through much of the downturn.”

All that adds up to increased competition around highly skilled executives with versatile management skills. ExecuNet Founder and CEO Dave Opton explained, “The search is already on for sales, business development, sales enablement and marketing leaders who can grow the corporate top line.”

He added, “Companies are also seeking to add more general managers with the capacity to lead by example, make sound business decisions and inspire their teams to improve performance.”

Dealing with rapid change has become the standard across many industries, and according to ExecuNet research, companies are seeking leaders who understand this. Employers should be aware that their high performers may be becoming a hot commodity in the coming months as firms ramp up hiring activities, and actively seek to retain leaders who are skilled at managing change.