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Microsoft added a net total of 684 employees worldwide last quarter — the largest increase in its employment since the recession two years ago. However, the growth was still modest in the scheme of things, representing less than 1 percent growth (from 88,719 employees previously to 89,403 employees in the latest count).

That contrasts with Google and Amazon, which are solidly back in growth mode.

The search company boosted its employment base nearly 8 percent, to 26,316 people, in its latest quarter, according to its financial report. And as we reported earlier this week, the Seattle-based online retailer added a whopping 4,200 employees in a single quarter, growing by more than 12 percent to 37,900 employees.

Microsoft, Amazon and Google are among the top tech companies competing heavily for top engineering talent, but Microsoft has been focusing heavily over the past two years on keeping its operating expenses down to help boost its profit margins.

However, the Redmond company recently signaled plans to boost compensation for many of its employees in a move designed to help recruiting and retention. Microsoft said yesterday that operating expenses are projected to rise by about 3 percent to 5 percent, to at least $28 billion, next fiscal year.

Much of the growth posted by Microsoft in the past quarter was in international markets. Employment in the Seattle region, home to the company’s headquarters, remained flat at 40,310 people. The numbers don’t include contractors who work on Microsoft businesses through third-party employment agencies.

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