There are no two ways about it: Today’s job market can be confusing, intimidating and standoffish at times. Unless you catch just the right stroke of luck at just the right time, chances are you’ll go through a rollercoaster of triumphs and frustrations as you work through the process of tracking down your next job.
I’ve found this experience is especially pronounced for folks who haven’t had to test the employment waters for several years. Stay-at-home parents returning to the workforce, self-employed professionals (re)joining the corporate fold, long-tenured employees heading out into the market following a layoff.
If any of the above scenarios hit close to home, again, chances are your next job hunt will feel quite a bit different than what you remember from the last go-round. To help you prepare, here’s a look at some of the major shifts and what you can do when you encounter them.
The job market is now a chilly, impersonal place
These days, most niceties you might have experienced when applying for a job some time ago — be that as simple as an email acknowledging that your application was received or you haven’t been selected — have fallen by the wayside. Employers now generally respond to candidates only when they have a serious interest in moving forward. So if you’re not on the short list, it’s unlikely you’ll hear a peep. What’s more, many hiring managers have been cautioned not to provide feedback about an interview or any clues about why you weren’t selected, due to fears of legal recrimination.
For those not accustomed to this reality, and the impersonal nature of the modern market, it will often feel like your job search is taking place in a black hole. To compensate for this, I’d encourage you to stay a step ahead and avoid wasting an iota of time worrying about whether or not your submissions will be acknowledged. Distract yourself, instead, by planting tons of new seeds in the market each day, constantly adding new contacts into your pipeline and trusting that if one of your communications is on point and the company is interested, you’ll hear back.
Employer needs have become increasingly specialized
A decade or two ago, you’d ask somebody what they did for a living and they’d likely tell you they were a sales professional, a marketing professional, an IT professional — or something along those lines. Today, however, there are hundreds of distinct niches in each field, reflecting the increasingly specialized nature of corporate needs.
Now, as a savvy professional, you need to follow suit and brand yourself in a more distinctive way. Are you the sales manager who specializes in selling technology systems to small- to mid-sized businesses? The marketing leader who knows how to build buzz for new products? Or the IT manager who’s a wizard at digital transformation and at migrating manual systems to the cloud?
Simply put, unless there’s a drastic change in the way the job market continues to unfold, generalists just aren’t going to get very far in the days ahead. The people who will have the most success will be those who identify a specialized career niche, commit to it and calibrate their skills constantly to meet the changing, increasingly specialized needs of the market.
Keywords are king: The “SEO of You” is critical
Another striking change in the job market relates to the rise of data mining and keyword technology. Back in the day, it was a fairly challenging exercise for companies to turn up potential candidates — or for job hunters to access information on employers. Now we have the opposite problem. There’s so much access to data that all parties involved are drowning in it and relying on keyword searching to carry the day.
So in the same way you’d likely search online to turn up a quality roofing contractor or sushi restaurant in your area, recruiters now troll for candidates via keyword searches on job boards, resume-scanning systems and social media sites. As a result, it’s imperative to have a personal SEO strategy in place and ensure that all of the right terminology — relevant to your career and industry space — is included on your materials to maximize your chances of getting found. You may think you’ve got it on there now, but double-check. I routinely find that over 80 percent of LinkedIn profiles, for example, are missing obvious keywords related to the person’s professional field.
Project-based staffing is on the rise
Another big change in the career landscape today involves the growing gig economy — the increase in jobs that are contract in nature. You’ll find a large percentage of today’s creative professionals, for example, working in freelance roles versus holding down full-time jobs at an organization. More and more work in fields such as project management and programming seems to be impacted by this trend, too, with work set up to last for a limited duration.
For some people, this rise of project-based work will be seen as an opportunity to enjoy more flexibility. For others, it translates into an anxiety-inducing lack of security. Either way, though, it’s an important development to watch.
So if you’re in a field where the work can be broken down easily into short-term deliverables, make sure to get the word out about your capabilities far and wide and to try to always have a solid pipeline of projects brewing. Keep in mind, too, that short-term project work can very often serve as the audition that lets you show off your stuff and convince a company to bring you on board as a full-time employee.
At one level, it’s wise to always be looking for a new job
Last but not least, among the greatest shifts I’ve seen in today’s marketplace is the increased frequency of disruptive events that can affect your job with little or no advance warning. While things like mergers, acquisitions and private equity buyouts have certainly been around for years, they haven’t always been as commonplace as they are now.
So, while you should certainly enjoy your relationship with a given employer, try to avoid the tendency to get too comfortable — or to get lulled into a fall sense of security. Even if you’re working, I’d advise you to always keep a few lines in the water and be running some sort of low-level job search at all times, even if this just means updating your LinkedIn profile from time to time and maintaining healthy ties with your network. This isn’t disloyal. It’s smart.
While an opportunity may never come along that tempts you into jumping ship, you’ll be ready to move quickly and create some new options for yourself, should the need ever arise.