A year ago, Washington marketing associate Tara Miller felt lucky just to have a job in her field.
So while she wanted to work in Baltimore — where she could be closer to her boyfriend — Miller stayed put at her job in D.C.
But by March of this year, she was feeling antsy.
"I was poking around and ended up seeing some openings," including an account executive position at Himmelrich PR in Baltimore, Miller said.
"I threw in my resume and ended up getting it," she said. "Now I can say I have a job I always wanted."
As hiring begins to pick up, workers who held onto low-paying, unfulfilling or bad jobs through the recession are starting to test the job market, workplace experts say.
"It's no secret there's a lot of pent-up frustration in the workplace and that many … employees have been floating their resume," said Ron Sims, head of the talent management practice in the Mid-Atlantic region for Right Management, a division of ManpowerGroup.
As the number of openings increases — the job-search website CareerBuilder.com said postings in May had jumped 10 percent over the previous year — surveys show that employers are increasingly worried about losing top talent.
One-third of employers are concerned that top performers will look for new jobs as the economy improves, CareerBuilder reported in its second-quarter forecast. Fourteen percent said top employees had left in the first quarter.
Nearly a third of workers, meanwhile, are planning to look for a new job, CareerBuilder reports.
"We do know from past recessions and post-recessions that as more jobs become more plentiful, there's more movement, and as there is more movement there is more turnover for each individual organization," said Beth N. Carvin, chief executive of Nobscot Corp., which works with employers to retain workers.
Carvin says up to 60 percent of currently employed workers could be waiting for a new opportunity elsewhere.
Although the rate of voluntary turnover hasn't returned to prerecession levels, Carvin said, "the creeping-up effect is what really makes you look."
"Even when you're talking about a 2 percent difference, that's a lot of people … who are leaving that weren't leaving before. Turnover is one of those unspoken numbers. There's no spot for it on your balance sheet, but millions of dollars get spent on this."
That's not to say that happy days are here again for workers.
While corporations have posted double-digit increases in profits for several quarters, they have been slow to hire new workers. The U.S. unemployment rate remains high at 9 percent.
Maryland has lost more than 6,000 jobs over the past six months, government figures show. Defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. and Superfresh's parent company recently announced layoffs or buyouts of hundreds of workers.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Labor has reported an uptick in job turnover. The annual rate increased to 18 percent in February, up from 15.6 percent in February 2010.
Katherine Carter knows the frustration of a dead-end job. The 30-year-old Owings Mills woman worked for four years at a nonprofit in Washington. After the first year, it became clear that budget constraints would keep most of the staff from getting raises or promotions.
She thought about moving on, but the few job offers that came her way would have meant a pay cut. So she waited it out.
"When you are not getting a raise because they've cut everybody's raises … it lowers morale and you don't feel like coming to work," Carter said. "I would have been gone within six months if I didn't need that job, and I desperately needed that job and wasn't going anywhere."
Carter began looking more aggressively for work in the for-profit sector a year ago and found she was getting more interviews than in the past. She was offered a job last month in Washington doing data analysis and legislative research for a New York-based company that distributes financial information to accounting and law firms.
Carter starts in July. She is looking forward to a salary increase and an annual bonus.
Carvin believes the entry of younger employees into the workforce, with different expectations than older workers about the amount of time they will spend with any one employer, will contribute to continued rising turnover rates.
"'Job-hopper' used to be a dirty word," Carvin said. "You were trained that you should try to stay with a company long-term. If everyone left after two years, it would equate to employee turnover of 50 percent … beyond manageability for organizations."
As turnover increases and companies grow, some firms are beginning to face stiffer competition for qualified workers.
WellNet Healthcare Group, a pharmacy benefits administrator based in Howard County, expects to hire 70 people this year, including business developers, engineers and technology developers.
"It's a very competitive landscape," said Keith Lemer, WellNet's president. "We have also noticed the market get a little tighter, and people have been getting a little more competitive in their negotiations."
When making offers to engineers, for example, "we're being told [that] we need to increase our offer by 10 to 20 percent and that there may be another offer on the table," Lemer said.
"Eighteen months ago, we had a little bit more leverage."