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As jobs become available, the vacancies are most often at the bottom

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High-level executives looking to nab a new C-suite job in the Washington area may be hard-pressed to find a place to send their résumé.

Hiring specialists and others say that local companies are frequently filling top positions from within their own ranks instead of casting a wider net, a trend that began during the recession and has continued under the uncertainty of a sluggish recovery.

And after promoting from the inside, businesses are more likely to have job openings on the lower rungs of their corporate ladder, which can create a domino effect of opportunity for the many entry-level workers who have flocked to the region in recent years.

When it comes to executive jobs, “There are fewer of them, and [hiring] is not happening in the same way with the same frequency,” said Paul Villella, chief executive of Reston-based staffing firm HireStrategy.

In recent months, several local companies in a variety of sectors have turned to familiar faces to take on key executive roles. Defense giant Lockheed Martin announced in April that its chief operating officer, Christopher E. Kubasik, would replace retiring chief executive Robert J. Stevens. In December, J.W. Marriott Jr. announced that company veteran Arne M. Sorenson would take over as the hotel chain’s chief executive. In February, Rosetta Stone promoted Stephen M. Swad, its chief financial officer, to president and chief executive.

In some cases, firms are handling a departure at the top by spreading around that person’s duties among other senior leaders, allowing them to eliminate the position.

Other times, companies are absorbing these losses with more of a chain-reaction strategy.

“Everybody moves up a notch, but the new person comes in at the bottom,” said Lisa Sturtevant, a researcher at George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis.

This method of filling vacancies, Sturtevant said, helps explain a recent influx of entry-level workers to the area.

According to Sturtevant’s analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 32,000, or 13 percent, of the 250,000 workers who moved to the area from 2008 through 2010 were between 22 and 24 years old.

She said this age group “always should be a big share of movers, but this is bigger than the past.”

Seven percent of the population that lives here are 18 to 24, according to Sturtevant’s research.

As the job market crumbled elsewhere in the country, the Washington metropolitan area fared relatively well, largely because of its economy’s dependence on the fairly stable federal government.

That may be changing as the federal government looks to cut back. As other cities’ economies have picked up, so too has their ability to compete for young workers.

Still, at least some recent college graduates continue to see Washington as a place of opportunity.

Rachael Peli, a 2012 graduate of Anderson University in Indiana, said it was a key part of her decision to move to the District.

“It was mostly the jobs, to be honest,” Peli said.

She applied to jobs in Chicago, Indiana and on the West Coast, but ultimately she said she decided, “There are so many more opportunities in my field if I go to D.C.”

Shortly after arriving, she landed a position in the digital public affairs practice at Edelman.

Joe DeGioia, president of executive search firm JDG Associates, says the challenges facing executive-level job candidates may vary by sector. The constriction in high-level hiring in the recent past, he said, occurred largely among administrative or human resource jobs. However, marketing and sales executives are more in demand.

“Everybody needs more business,” DeGioia said, and these leaders would be on the front lines of generating it.

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