WASHINGTON — U.S. employers stepped up their hiring in November but pulled back slightly on the number of jobs they advertised.
The mostly favorable report shows companies are gaining more confidence in the economy and filling more of their open positions. It follows other encouraging data on hiring that suggest 2012 may be a better year for job growth.
Employers filled almost 4.15 million jobs in November, a 3 percent increase from the previous month, the Labor Department said Tuesday. It also nearly matched September's hiring level, which was the highest since May 2010.
Since the recession ended more than two years ago, most of the improvement in the job market has been because of a sharp drop in layoffs, which have returned to pre-recession levels.
Overall hiring has picked up since plummeting to 3.6 million in October 2009 — the lowest level in the 10 years the government has tracked the figure. That same month, the unemployment rate hit 10 percent, the highest level since the recession began in December 2007.
Hiring still has a long way to go before returning to pre-recession levels. Gross hiring exceeded 5 million each month in the three years before the downturn.
Companies and governments posted 3.16 million job openings in November, according to the Labor Department's monthly survey on Job Openings and Labor Turnover. That's down from 3.22 million job postings in October and 3.4 million in September, which was a three-year high.
It generally takes one to three months for employers to fill job openings. Given November's modest decline, job gains may fluctuate in the first couple of months of this year.
The number of available jobs has increased 30 percent since the recession officially ended in June 2009. Still, the postings are far below pre-recession levels of 4.5 million.
And there is heavy competition for each available job. About 13.3 million people were unemployed in November, which means there was an average of 4.2 people out of work for each opening.
In 2010, employers posted more jobs but hired at a slower pace.
Some companies were extremely selective and only hired candidates that exactly matched their needs, recruiters said.
That may be changing.
Businesses "aren't as picky as they were a year ago," said Mike Starich, president of Orion International, an employment agency in Austin, Texas.