If you thought last year’s job market was tough—and it certainly was!—then brace yourself for the 2011 job market because it could shape up to be a whole lot tougher! To effectively and successfully compete in the 2011 job market you’re really going to have to “up your game”!

Applicant-to-job ratio

You’re probably familiar with the applicant-to-job-opening ratio most often cited in the media today – about 4.5 workers vying for each open position. While that number is ostensibly true, it nonetheless is also somewhat misleading. Actually, the number of job seekers versus the number of job openings, at least potentially, is closer to 40 to one! Yes, you read that correctly, 40 to one. Let me explain.

At the end of each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes a report called the Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). This report shows how many positions were filled during the previous month, i.e., “hires,” and how many positions went unfilled. For example, in December 2010, 4.1 million positions were filled in the U.S., while over 3 million positions remained unfilled at the end of the month. (Most people are not aware that these numbers are as high as they are.)

At the end of January 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 139 million employed people in the U.S. and nearly 14 million unemployed people. And it is the interplay between these two key numbers that results in the oft-cited 4.5 applicants for every available job opening figure, i.e., 14 million (number of unemployed) divided by 3 million (number of unfilled positions).

What this figure overlooks, however, are the number of currently employed people who are also competing for these same job openings!

Ready and willing

Manpower, Inc., one of the largest staffing firms in the world, does a routine survey of “worker dissatisfaction.” In the latest survey (December 2010), they reported that 84% of currently employed workers say they are ready (and willing) to look at a new career opportunity. LinkedIn did a similar survey and reported a finding of 78%.

So, just for the sake of simplicity, let’s round off the percentage of currently employed who say they would like to seek a new position to 80%. That means there are 111 million currently employed people who would like a new opportunity, i.e., 80% x 139 million = 111 million. So now, there aren’t just nearly 14 million unemployed people competing for a finite number of current job openings, there are 125 million competing for these same jobs, or nearly 40 applicants for each open position!

Sobering, alarming statistics, aren’t they!

Why are so many of the currently employed so thoroughly dissatisfied? They say they are sick and tired of having to work virtually “24/7” doing multiple jobs for the price of one. Many, if not most, have received either minuscule raises or none at all during the last several years. They are weary of seeing their friends and colleagues laid off. They have become numb with fear themselves for their own chances of survival.

Now granted, not all will jump ship at the same time and some never will have the courage or will to make a job change—regardless of what they say. But, as the economy strengthens (and it is) and people gain more and more confidence (and they are), more and more will begin to brave the waters and explore new career opportunities. (In the recruiting business we call this “the churn!”)

The end result, of course, is that this phenomenon doesn’t create any new jobs. It does, however, create a much more dynamic and much more brutally competitive job market. That means that NOW is the time to carefully examine and refine to perfection virtually every aspect of the brand “you.” Otherwise, I can guarantee you that you will not land that new opportunity when it (or you!) knocks at the door!

Next week: Is Hiring Really a ‘Game’?