The job market in accounting and finance is essentially holding steady with few gains anticipated early next year, according to a new survey.

Nine percent of the 1,400 CFOs polled by recruiter Robert Half International plan to add full-time employees in the first quarter of next year, while 8 percent expect to decrease the size of their staff. Eighty-two percent of the CFOs said they would make no change to the size of their teams.

In a sign of the current economic climate, the percentage of firms anticipating personnel reductions is at its highest point in the past three years. However, the number of companies expecting to hire is above the average over that same period, reflecting an ongoing need for skilled professionals.

Large companies in particular plan to add staff in several key specialty areas. Eighteen percent of respondents at companies with 1,000 or more employees expect to hire in the first quarter, compared to 8 percent who anticipate decreasing staff levels.

Financial executives continue to report difficulty finding highly skilled professionals for certain functional areas. Twenty-eight percent of CFOs said accounting positions are the most difficult to fill, and 20 percent said they experience the greatest challenges hiring for finance roles.

The Middle Atlantic states are projected to experience the most active hiring in the first quarter. A net 9 percent of CFOs in this region anticipate adding full-time accounting and finance staff.

Executives in the manufacturing and professional services sectors are most optimistic about hiring in the first three months of 2009. Nine percent of manufacturing CFOs expect to increase personnel levels in the first quarter while 3 percent foresee a reduction in staff, a net 6 percent increase. Within professional services, a net 5 percent of financial executives forecast greater hiring activity.

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