As heat waves blazed through the nation in July, the job economy warmed up a bit too, adding 117,000 non-farm jobs and bringing the unemployment rate down to 9.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was more than economists expected.
The private sector alone added 154,000 jobs and unemployment ticked down from 9.2% in June. Economists had forecast a gain of 75,000 jobs and no change in the jobless rate.
"This is a reassuring number," said Troy Davig, senior U.S. economist at Barclays Capital. "It doesn't change the broad contours and the broader trends that are out there. Things are still a bit sluggish." Economic growth remains uncertain as the U.S. and Europe grapple with high debt and declining stock markets.
For job seekers, this means that the struggle to find new work will continue. The path to getting back into the workforce remains the same: Take on temporary work, acquire new skills and find work in industries and geographic areas that are booming.
The Intersect Group, an Atlanta-based staffing firm focused on tech and finance roles, has seen strong demand all year through July. The firm's clients, which include Fortune 500 companies in 16 states, have been aggressively hiring full-time and temporary workers.
"I don't know if 'nervous' is the right word; I think maybe 'cautious' is," said Intersect Partner Keith Ordan of his clients' attitudes toward hiring and the economy. "They don't think the world is coming to the end."
Intersect Group has about 300 workers in the field on contract positions that have the potential to become full-time jobs. Many of those candidates were recently unemployed and their newfound employers are taking the opportunity to "try before they buy," according to Ordan.
Workers who have experience in a slow sector of the economy would do well to transfer to a hotter area, according to Davig.
"If you're a lesser-skilled worker, you need to retool or retrain or it's going to be a long wait," he said.
John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, is advising job-seekers to emphasize any international experience or foreign language fluency that they may have.
"I keep getting asked, 'why are companies cutting jobs if they have record profits?'" he said. "Companies may cut in one area and may grow in another. International markets give them a big opportunity."
Whether it's taking on temporary work, finding a new, valuable skill or going to where the jobs are, it's important for job seekers not to let negative economic news discourage them in their search.
"A positive mindset will get you far, especially in a job search," said Mike Ramer, president of Ramer Search Consultants, an executive search firm in Livingston, N.J.
Ramer advises job seekers to stay upbeat by studying job-search tips, networking actively and attending industry focus groups and conferences. "That proactive style will fuel positivity," he said.
Though hiring in the economy has maintained a sluggish pace through spring and summer, there is considerable churn in the job market, and millions of people are hired for new jobs every month.
There were nearly 3 million job openings nationwide in May and just over 4 million new hires, according to the most recent BLS data.
"As a job seeker, you have to keep your momentum," Challenger said. "You have to be fighting to get your foot back in the door, get resettled in another job. You have to cast your net as widely as you can."
Write to Jeremy and Kyle