As a career coach, the topic I discuss the most with job seekers is how job search best practices have evolved over the years. For baby boomers and Generation X, job search practices remained the same for decades, with the typical search consisting of writing one general resume that outlined their work history and using it to apply to multiple roles. A hiring stakeholder then read the resume to decide whether the job seeker was qualified for the open position before offering an in-person interview.
the job market has seen a paradigm shift
The baby boomers and Gen Xers who change employers regularly have been exposed to new job search practices, learned new skills and adopted new methodologies to keep pace with market changes. The millennial generation entered the job market at the beginning of the paradigm shift and they learned the new practices. Left behind are the job seekers who have rarely changed employers. They have missed this shift and many of them, now recently unemployed, are struggling in the current job market.
what caused the shift?
The short answer: Technology and globalization drove the change. A combination of advancements such as automation, social media, mobile connectivity and artificial intelligence altered social culture and enabled globalization, which in turn progressed job search practices. Millennials and tech-savvy Gen Xers embraced these advancements and adapted nicely to the changes in the market. With globalization came the rise of virtual work teams and remote workforces, which expanded the candidate pool for employers. This, in turn, increased competition among job seekers, who must now contend with talent nationally and sometimes globally. And in a crowded job market, the quality of candidates has increased. Many more people now hold university degrees, certifications and designations because education and professional development is now more accessible to the masses due to technology.
the job seeker’s new responsibility
The one insight savvy job seekers understand is that they have a new responsibility in the current environment: to analyze and interpret how they meet job requirements. This used to be owned by employers but has now shifted to the job seeker.
As one looking for work, your role is no longer just to describe your work history in a resume and cover letter, but to make connections and convince the readers of your job application that you can succeed in the role. Like a lawyer, you must provide compelling evidence to win your case. In the courtroom, only evidence that is relevant is presented. This also applies to a job application. It’s important to tailor each application and only highlight skills and experiences directly relevant to the one specific job to which you are applying. You must make the connection for each employer, demonstrate your value and convey to the employer how they will benefit from your hiring you. The onus on the job seeker has profoundly changed and the scope of work required to land a job has grown significantly.
what employers want
Employer obligations have also changed. In the current market, the idea that employers are obligated to pay an employee fair market value for their skills and benefits is an ideal. There is no automatic expectation of raises, promotions or job stability and fewer employees stay with one employer for most of their careers.
To lower their risk of making a bad hire today, employers, like job seekers, are performing more due diligence in the hiring process. Employers do not just evaluate hard skills and work history like they used to; they weigh and value soft skills, personality traits, behavior and motivators. They strive to hire employees who will be a strong fit for their company’s values, the hiring manager’s work style and the work team’s culture. It is a tall order for any job seeker to fill. Simply put, employers don’t value the historical achievements of job seekers as they once did because past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Employers are more concerned with what you can you do for them today, your agility and ability to adapt to change and how you will help their company achieve its goals.
how to catch the attention of an employer
As noted earlier, artificial intelligence has weaved itself into the hiring process with good intentions. Applicant tracking systems and intelligent screening software are being used to automate high-volume, repetitive tasks such as resume screening and pre-qualifying candidates. Using information from a resume and cover letter, the software can learn about applicants, rank them and shortlist qualified candidates. These systems can also pull from public data sources and social media profiles. They can aggregate all this data about applicants and turn it into information that can be used for making hiring decisions. The current job market is data-driven and it is job seekers’ responsibility to provide current, relevant and accurate data about themselves if they want to have more influence on the outcome of hiring decisions.
Let’s drill down into this data-driven job search a bit more. You need to tailor your job applications by including relevant keywords, verbs, job titles, hard skills, soft skills, personality traits and dates. You will want to quantify accomplishments and results when possible and ensure your social media content is relevant and reflects your professional brand.
To compete in the marketplace, savvy job seekers are branding themselves and creating a career brand across all the platforms they use, including resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, websites, social profiles, blogs and portfolios of publications and videos. Why does this matter? The content you develop needs to differentiate you from your competition and prove you meet the requirements of a job.
what else matters?
Having an employee value proposition, being prepared for interviews, knowing the current value of your skills in the marketplace and leveling yourself in your resume and during interviews are all key to the job search. Perceptions that people have about you and fine nuances matter when it comes to standing out to a hiring stakeholder. Stating something as simple as, ‘I have 25 years of experience’ on your resume could work against you when the requirements of the job do not require you to have this amount of experience. If your LinkedIn profile isn’t up to date and the information is different from your resume, you may lose credibility and trust because the hiring stakeholder won’t know what’s true and what isn’t. Something as small as this could cause you to lose an employment opportunity.
the new world of interviewing
The world of interviewing has also changed. The interviewing stage of the hiring process can now include behavioral interviews, technical interviews, panel interviews and interviews to determine if you fit with your coworkers, manager and the company culture. You might be asked to complete a case study, a 30-60-90-day plan or do a presentation. You may be asked to record your interview at home using digitized online interview software that will assess your word choices, speech patterns and facial expressions – and this applies to both junior and senior roles in this market. I once had 11 separate interviews for a job and, to be hired, all 11 interviewers had to have consensus.
the pandemic’s impact on the marketplace
Since COVID-19 hit in early 2020, we have experienced record unemployment. For job seekers, this translates to more competition. With this excess supply, employers can raise the bar on the requirements a job seeker needs to meet to land a role. Historically, an employer might have settled for a candidate that meets 80% of job requirements. Now a company can command 120%. As a result, we are seeing workers retire sooner than planned. Some are upskilling and switching careers. Others are settling for less than their ideal job. But many are staying the course and digging deep into their well of tenacity, agility and resilience to land their ideal role.
The job seekers that are having the biggest challenge are those who haven’t adapted to new practices and who still count on their number of years of experience and work history to land them a job. There are certainly jobs that still value experience and history, but they are fewer and far between and the tactics needed to land these jobs require a new career branding campaign.
Know that for economies to succeed, a workforce needs to evolve with the changing demands of the job market. Seeking out mentors and coaches to learn the finer nuances of the job search is becoming increasingly common and countless resources are available online for job seekers to educate and upskill. It’s just a matter of learning the new rules and adapting to changes in the market.
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