Visit the Web site of Ajilon Professional Staffing, and your eye is immediately drawn to a banner proclaiming Accountant Appreciation Month. "Tax season is tough. That's why Ajilon is taking the month of April to recognize great accounting professionals," the site proclaims. A button below the banner invites you to "Send them some love!"

They could certainly use it. But for many skilled finance and accounting pros, a raise would be better. Or a job.

Few CFOs have succeeded in drawing a ring of fire around their staff in the past couple of years. Finance departments have been shredded along with everyone else, and the F&A talent market has been frozen solid. But now, finally, the first tentative hints of a thaw are starting to emerge.

A new survey from Robert Half finds that, despite the recession, it still typically takes four weeks to find the right person to fill an open staff-level accounting position and five weeks for a management post. Given the rounds of layoffs in the past couple of years, "that could be a little longer than you might expect," says Bill Driscoll, the firm's New England district president. "As the job market begins to loosen, we are seeing employers' sense of urgency heighten somewhat."

Judging by the firm's latest survey of CFOs' hiring plans, released in March, the employment outlook remains icy for the second quarter, with 85 percent of respondents reporting that they don't foresee any change in personnel levels, and 8 percent predicting staff reductions. Only 7 percent expect to hire. Still, that's an improvement on the past two quarters, when non-hirers outnumbered hirers by bigger margins, and suggests that companies may be pulling out of the down cycle at last.

A new poll of CFOs and controllers from Grant Thornton tells a similar story. This study looks a bit further out, at the next six months, and finds that just under one-half of respondents expect headcount to remain the same. About 22 percent foresee a reduction; 29 percent expect an increase.

Driscoll is upbeat about the prospects for the latter half of the year. "There's still a little bit of the psychology that there's this plethora of people out there, but the fact is, highly skilled, highly talented specialized accountants and finance people are still hard to find," he says. "As the economy continues to progress and more and more companies start hiring, you will eventually start to see that translate into wage increases."