David Ciullo decided in 2009 to put his years of retail experience to work in the career services industry, buying Portland-based Career Management Associates. Sure, buying anything in the middle of a deep recession is a bit of a risk, but, as the cliché goes, Ciullo saw it as an opportunity. The Springvale native beefed up the company’s outplacement and executive search services and added other services, such as executive coaching, leadership development, compensation consulting and human resources. In addition to running the company, Ciullo hosts a radio show, HR Power Hour, on WLOB-AM every Saturday.

Q: We’ve been hearing a lot about tight labor pools here in Maine. What are you seeing?

A: There are three key areas we focus on: The first is finding great talent. Our search business has not been this busy since, well, ever, or at least since I’ve owned it. People are really trying to find great talent right now and a lot of it we have to find out of state. There aren’t enough candidates to fill the job openings.

The second is retaining great talent because people want to stay in Maine – executive coaching and training are two areas where we’ve seen great growth this year. The market is becoming an employee market rather than an employer market, which started about 10 months ago.

The third area is compensation and that’s related to the last two. Rates are going up.

Q: What evidence do you see of that?

A: There are signs, based on the tightness of the work pool, the candidate pool. That starts creating demand. A second sign would be the companies are starting to open up the purse strings and recognize that they have to start to pay better, and offer training (to employees) because they have to retain them. The recession created a lot of stagnation – people wouldn’t leave because they were scared. That mentality has changed.

Q: Are there industries where it’s picked up stronger than others?

A: It’s pretty general, to be honest. What are some key areas? Medical, financial, manufacturing, senior-level jobs – we call that C-suite level, for CEOs, CFOs, C-everything. There are some that are not doing well, where we’re not seeing a lot of movement – marketing and advertising, that area of the world is fairly quiet.

Q: Do you have to sell Maine to out-of-state job candidates?

A: The last winter did not help us (laughs). There are a number of different pieces to that. The first thing is, forget about the state – what is the opportunity? You sell them on having an opportunity to come and work for someone in a great state. But you have to sell them on an opportunity first.

And you have to find the connections: Did they ever come here for summer camp or vacation, do they like the change of seasons, do they enjoy the outdoors? We send them material to talk up the positives. Portland is easy. It’s easy to sell Portland. It can be more difficult to sell northern Maine because it’s a different field. And it’s also about selling to the spouse. Many times, the candidate is excited to come to Maine, but sometimes the spouse isn’t and wants to know where they will live and where the kids will go to school. So, it’s a lot like matchmaking: Maine sells itself a lot from its beauty, but it has to be more than that. We find a lot of candidates have some sort of connection here.

Q: We often hear about the “trailing spouse” issue – finding work for both people. How difficult is that?

A: There is more flex work than ever, more people working at home than ever and that’s really helped our cause.

Q: Why did you buy a personnel services firm in the depths of a recession?

A: I have a bumper sticker that says, “I refuse to participate in the recession.” Our intention here is to help business owners and leaders, for large or small companies, really develop their people and make sure they’re right for their business. Some of these services are almost recession-proof: People always need great help, and compliance help, and help developing their people. So it’s our mission to fulfill that.