Ideal Climate for Leveraging Career

If you've thought about switching jobs or negotiating a better position at your current employer, now's the time to make your move.

"Whenever there is a strong labor market, it is an excellent time to pick up additional experience either internally or externally," says Steve Ford of Fitzgerald, Stevens & Ford, an outplacement firm in Concord, Mass.

If you're looking for new opportunities but lack some skills, it's easier to get your foot in the door today. Businesses are strapped for workers, Mr. Ford says, and looking for candidates wherever they can.

"Employers are more willing to listen to a good pitch, and that's an option that didn't exist before," adds Julie Remington, vice president of ProtoType Career Services in St. Paul, Minn.

But you can also capitalize on the tight labor market without changing jobs. The same businesses that are recruiting new faces need to keep the old ones. Which makes now a great time to ask for a better assignment or an extra week of vacation.

"If you're a good, strong employee, your own company may be willing to help you find something else internally to keep you," Ford contends. "We see a lot more people asking companies for flexible schedules and companies agreeing to them."

Some career counselors say workers can now afford to be more aggressive.

"Employers are keenly aware of the [tight labor] environment, but I don't think job seekers are as aware as they should be," Ms. Remington says.

Still, just because software developers and computer engineers are getting big signing bonuses doesn't mean everyone is.

"People need to be careful not to assume that just because it's a full economy that you have options that you didn't have before," says Jackie Keagy, an outplacement counselor in Minneapolis.

Businesses must answer to their bottom line. "I wouldn't advise people to ask for the moon," says Betsy Harrison, president of Career Development Services in Rochester, N.Y. "To go and ask for eight weeks of vacation when everyone else is getting three is probably not particularly wise."

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