If surveys and statistics are to be believed, the job market is beginning to show a pulse, which means some laid-off workers will need to adjust to the 9-to-5 routine again.
The number of layoffs announced by major corporations dropped by 21 percent in August — below July levels and 14 percent below a year ago, according to the executive recruiter Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
A telephone survey by recruiter Robert Half International and online job site CareerBuilder found more than half of the employers polled expected to hire full-time employees in the next 12 months.
For job seekers who have been out of work since the first throes of the recession, going back into the work force comes with a new set of challenges. Many will have to adjust to workplaces that have changed dramatically during the downturn.
"It's real, a lot of folks have been out of pocket," said Dawn Fay, district president in New York for Robert Half. "Many companies out of necessity have found new ways to do things."
Returning employees will need to accept that things will be different, moderate their expectations and do some homework before the first day back at work to lessen the shock, said experts. They may not even be doing the same type of work; the Robert Half/CareerBuilder survey found 38 percent of new hires polled found jobs in different industries than the ones they left.
For example, after being laid off as an editor at a Detroit news radio station last October, James Melton accepted a part-time job handling public relations for a local nonprofit group shortly before Labor Day.
He acknowledged moving into public relations is an adjustment and he would rather have a full-time job, but he said it's a foothold into a different line of work with a group whose goals he supports. The nonprofit, Inforum Michigan, aims to encourage women's leadership roles.
"I don't think I would do it if it was a widget market but because of their mission and what they do, I'm on board," he said. He expects that it will turn into a full-time position eventually.
It's not just workplaces that have changed since the beginning of the downturn. Workers who have spent time exploring other career options, taking courses and spending more time with family won't necessarily want to go back to the same grind they left.
"Unemployment has given rise to a lot of soul searching," said Jo Prabhu, founder and CEO of recruiter International Search Group. "Expectations are going to change on both sides."
But many of the same skills that can help job seekers land a position — networking, learning new skills and researching potential employers — will help them adapt to a new workplace.
Melton, for example, honed his skills by building a Web site, Michiganpositive.com, which is focused on positive local news.
Job seekers should learn all they can about the corporate culture of a workplace before a prospective employer makes an offer, experts said. The transition from job search to work will be much smoother.
Fay suggested asking during the interview process how the company has changed in the last year.
"Asking questions about their work culture, their managing style, those are all things that will help you stand out, so you have a clear understanding when you come into the organization and know what to expect," said Jennifer Grasz, a spokeswoman for CareerBuilder.
New hires should also ask what preparations they can do ahead of time to hit the ground running. Fay suggested meeting with future bosses and other employees before the first day of work. Ask if the company has a mentoring program. If it doesn't, find a mentor on your own.
But perhaps the simplest skill to cultivate is the habit of getting up in the morning and leaving the house. It helps if during the search, job seekers develop a routine that treats the search as a job itself. Melton said when he was out of work, he made sure to leave the house every day, working on his laptop at a coffee shop.
"It takes a bit of oomph in the beginning to get acclimated to get yourself going again," said Fay. "The biggest thing is — literally — that you have to set that alarm, make yourself get up and go out, put in place a routine for yourself."