The latest job figures released on Friday showed that the U.S. unemployment rate inched up 10 basis points in September to 9.8 percent. Many companies continue to reduce headcount, and those that are hiring are being very cautious and taking their time to find the right candidate.
Yet, many job seekers are still approaching their job search like it’s 1999, when the unemployment rate was just half of that—4.9 percent. While I realize a portion of the Personal Branding Blog readership was still in high school back then, those of us Gen X and older can remember the heady days of the last decade.
Ten years ago, I had been working for the same company for 4 years and while I loved the industry, I wanted more variety in my job. When I started looking around for other opportunities, I wasn’t firmly committed to leaving so I didn’t push myself very hard. I surfed around a few job boards and submitted my resume very selectively. Even with that half-hearted attempt, I still got three job offers in just a few weeks in industries I had never worked in before and in roles I had never done.
But the job market was very different then. The tech bubble hadn’t burst yet and even when layoffs did start to come in 2000, it usually didn’t take workers very long to find that next position. Median duration of unemployment was only 6 weeks in 2000, a fraction of today’s average of 18 weeks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Perfect or near perfect
So what does this mean for today’s job seeker? At a minimum, you have to show yourself as a perfect or near-perfect fit for the job in terms of qualifications.
- Address each of the job requirements in your cover letter. If you can only meet two out of five, for example, you’re not likely to even get the interview. With so much labor supply, companies know they can hold out for the perfect candidate.
- Tailor your resume. The summary section and bullet points should showcase the experiences that best match what the employer is looking for. Draw a clear connection with the achievements you choose to highlight, rather than trying to cram everything you’ve ever done hoping that something will hit part of the target.
- Add critical keywords to your LinkedIn profile so you’ll appear in the results when recruiters search for those qualifications
- Of course, don’t lie or embellish the truth. Don’t say you were in sales if you never were.
While you’ll certainly beat out 85-90% of job seekers who don’t even do this much—again, those who still think it’s 1999, or at least, wish it was-—you’ll still find plenty of stiff competition. It’s like going into college as valedictorian of your high school and realizing your freshman class is filled with them.
Break the tie
While the tangibles are the minimum price of entry, what will often break the tie are the intangibles:
- Demonstrated commitment and excellence in the field. With fewer staff members doing the same amount of work, companies have to be confident that you can jump in and start contributing and adding value from day one. Showcase your deep expertise in your area not just with what you’ve done on the job, but also outside of the office through blogging, writing, speaking or involvement in the industry association.
- Chemistry and rapport with the hiring manager and team. There’s enough negativity and fear in the news without having it hit you in the workplace. While a positive, can-do attitude can be hard to muster up if your job search hasn’t been going well, you won’t get hired if people don’t like being around you no matter how talented you are.
- A strong recommendation from a trusted source. This is where your network can really help you. If you know someone who can put in a good word for you—and LinkedIn makes it so easy to find mutual connections—that can help tremendously.
The bar you have to jump over to land a job is so much higher today than it was 10 years ago. Accept that reality and adjust your job search strategy accordingly. Instead of half-heartedly applying for jobs on job boards and hoping you’ll get a call back, spend more time proactively building your case to position yourself as close to the ideal candidate as the company could hope for.