The labor market is expected to heat up nicely this year. Here are the hottest -- and coolest -- sectors.

TIRED OF THAT SMUG grin on your boss's face? Thanks to an improving job market, you might not have to look at it much longer.

According to employment experts, 2005 could be a very good year for the job market. Companies across nearly every industry plan to add to their payrolls, building on the hiring momentum that started in 2004. "We are starting to see a return to job-seeker prosperity," says Steve Pogorzelski, president North America for Monster.com.

Since July, employers have added nearly 750,000 new jobs, according to recruiting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. And unless the economy falters, the firm expects this trend to carry into 2005. The folks at Manpower, a Milwaukee-based employment-services company, agree. Of the 16,000 U.S. employers that Manpower surveys, 21% (seasonally adjusted) anticipate an increase in hiring for the first quarter of 2005 -- a seven-percentage-point increase over the previous year. That might not sound so exciting, but this gain puts hiring expectations on par with the first quarter of 2001, which was quite rosy. (Things slowed down that summer, and changed radically after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.)

Indeed, many employers and job hunters don't realize the tremendous amount of competition for talent that exists in today's marketplace. Many skilled candidates are fielding two or three attractive offers at once, and some companies are finding it's taking them longer to fill positions, says Michael Parbs, a recruiter with Saddle Brook, N.J.-based recruiting firm Ajilon. "Employees for the first time (in a while) have options," he says.

Mind you, we haven't completely returned to a candidate-driven economy, like we saw during the late 1990s. Back then, all you needed to do was add the word Internet to your resume to get hired. Corporate America has learned from its mistakes. Now, every hire must make financial sense and offer a clear return on investment, says Parbs.

What Employers Want
In 2004, companies hired mainly for their core positions. In 2005, they plan to employ people for growth -- but in a controlled fashion. Hiring managers are looking for what the recruiting industry calls "investment positions," says Parbs. These are the people who are not absolutely necessary to run the business, but who will help the corporation add to its revenue stream. The key for job seekers is to sell themselves to hiring managers as being able to boost the bottom line.

At the senior level, companies are looking for people who have built businesses and can do it again, says Marc Lewis, president North America for Stamford, Conn.-based recruiting firm Morgan Howard Worldwide. While this trend started in 2004, it should take off across all industries during 2005, he says.

Even at the middle and lower levels, companies are looking to hire people who think like managers and who are always trying to improve profits. Simple order takers need not apply, says Lewis.

Continuing a trend that began a couple of years ago, hiring managers are still looking for people who are willing to pitch in and wear many hats. Recent college graduates fit the bill, since they have yet to specialize and still have that eager-to-please gleam in their eyes.

Hot Industries
Demand for talent crosses virtually every sector. The No.1 draft pick for 2005 is the coveted CPA, says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Accounting is suddenly sexy as corporations beef up their controller's office to make sure no Enron-like shenanigans are taking place.

Health care is another hot area. The nursing shortage continues unabated, and health care experience is also highly sought after at biotech, pharmaceutical and medical-device companies, says Challenger. As baby boomers continue to age, there'll also be an increasing need for radiologists and technicians, he adds.

Finally, higher oil prices and an antiquated electrical grid are increasing demand for workers in the energy and utility industries.

There are two areas that remain weak. The first one is entry-level computer programming. This function has become somewhat commoditized, and in many cases has been off-shored to India and other places, says Morgan Howard's Lewis. Computer hardware jobs in general are also moving overseas.

No matter what industry a job seeker is pursuing, he or she shouldn't be discouraged by layoff announcements. Like it or not, layoffs are a natural part of a healthy economy that adapts to changes quickly. Often, the same companies that are letting people go are hiring simultaneously. "So the message to workers is ratchet up your courage and make that exciting move when it makes sense," says Morgan Howard's Lewis.