what to expect if you’re looking for a job this year

featured-on-usnIf you’re planning to search for a job this year after being off the market for a while, you might be in for a rude awakening. Today’s job market is very different than ones from the past, and new job seekers are often startled to find out how conventions have changed and that what used to work can backfire today.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about what job seekers can expect now, including very long searches, the fact that it’s harder to get someone to take a chance on you, and more. You can read it here.

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. Bryce

    Here are some more things to expect, based on my experience last year:

    You’ll need to cast a wide net.
    That means going beyond the usual places like the want ads in your local paper, or even sites like Monster, to individual company sites, ads on social media, to professional organizations, to telling your barber/dentist/plumber you’re looking. In addition, you may find that the best leads come not from your nearest and dearest, but folks you don’t know all that well. In short, don’t rely on the usual sources for job leads.

    You may take some temp/freelance jobs before you find something full-time.
    When I’ve been between jobs, I’ve taken temp/freelance gigs to stay afloat and stay in the game. Those not only provided money, but also experience and less of a gap in your resume. In one case, had I not taked a temp job, I would have been between jobs for 10 months (and this was in the “roaring 2000s” too!)

    You’ll face more scrutiny.
    Expect to provide lots more detail on applications, answer lots more questions, go through more rounds of interviews, and take more tests and simulations. That’s because it’s more important than ever to hire the right people, or at least not hire the wrong people, because the costs, financial and otherwise, of hiring in general, and bad hires in particular, have skyrocketed.

    Any other thoughts?

    1. Yup

      “Expect to provide lots more detail on applications, answer lots more questions, go through more rounds of interviews, and take more tests and simulations.”

      Agreed. I was pretty surprised at the difference from when I’d last been job searching. I felt like there were more steps involved in the entire application process, and each step was more detailed and rigorous than I’d remembered.

  2. Coelura

    Question from this article:

    When I graduated from college (more than 20 years ago), my college career center said that for every 100 applications, I could expect 10 responses and 1 interview. For every 10 interviews (for different positions), I could expect an offer that I would consider serious.

    Now, understand that I got a degree in psychology which was looked down on in the early 90s. But, I have never thought that 20 applications would net anything substative. Is the “formula” above still a fair expectation? Or has the market gotten worse than the expectation above?

      1. Coelura

        They were talking about the form responses (thank you for your application – you are/are not under consideration). Even in the early 90s, it was rare to get any response to an application unless the company was a large organization.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Wait, so they were saying that you’d get 1 interview per 100 applications, and you’d need 1,000 applications to get a job offer? Unless you were just resume-bombing everything you saw, those stats seem overly pessimistic.

          1. Coelura

            I always thought it was pessimistic – but it did hold down my expectations. Although I’ve been laid off 5 times, the longest I’ve been out of work has only been 2 months – because I’ve maintained really strong networks (and I’m a strong performer). I have focused on my network because of the pessimistic stats the career center gave me in college.

  3. Felicia

    I get about 2 interviews for every 20 applications and I consider that really really good. I have, however, had 12 interviews in the past 6 months with no offer. I graduated in 2012 and the vast majority of my classmates are unemployed, doing unpaid internships or working retail. I think that’s normal.

    @Coelura, I’d say the only difference now is responses when you’re not being interviewed are extremely rare. And once you’ve had an interview, you’re lucky if you ever hear from them again. I’m currently waiting for responses from 3 interviews I’ve had recently, and it’s past their stated deadline, and I really don’t expect to ever hear from any of them again.

  4. Anonymous

    One thing I am noticing is a larger number of part-time positions in my field lately. I was in the middle of a job search just a year ago and this was not the case then – but it seems to be the case now as I am job searching again.

    1. Jessa

      Yes, there’s a lot more part time work because of all the new regulations about full time employees and insurance.

  5. anon

    Thank you for this article – it’s very timely. My father-in-law was laid off last November and has been struggling to find a job since. We’ve been trying to help him understand that job searching just isn’t the same as it used to be and finally got him set up with a LinkedIn profile. It took a lot of coaxing over the months, but I think he finally realizes that it’s not enough to send in a basic cover letter and a resume, and it’s even harder once you reach a certain age.

    1. Vicki

      At least you had warning. My (two) recent layoffs were same-day surprises (too small to meet the requirements of the WARN Act.)

  6. Stuck in retail

    I have been looking on and off for a while for a job that will get me out of retail once and for all. The thing is I need to make more than I am making now to actually make my expenses, I have had some promising leads and interviews and the starting pay is less than what I am making where I am. So I stay, in a dead end supervisor job in a national retail chain. Frustrating!

    1. Felicia

      I have seen a lot of office jobs, generally marketing or PR that say minimum 3-5 years relevant experience, and pay minimum wage. I’ve also seen a lot of unpaid internships, or internships with a stipend that comes out to much less than minimum wage, saying minimum one year of relevant experience required.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      There’s an argument to be made that you’d be better off taking the lower paying job to get yourself out of retail, because it will eventually lead to higher paying jobs, whereas if you stay in retail, you’ll be stuck.

      Sort of like women who spend almost all their income on child care after having a baby, even though that makes it financially difficult to return to work right now, because they know that eventually that work experience will turn into higher-paying jobs and it will make staying in the workforce financially sensible over the long-term.

      1. EnnVeeEl

        I really like this, for the situation of staying in the workforce after having a baby, and basically everything else career-related – THINK LONG TERM!

      2. some1

        To your second point, there’s also the years you are eligible to earn Social Security and contribute to a 401(k) or other retirement account. You can’t get those years back. This is the biggest lesson I learned from the middle-aged women I worked with at my first job that had dropped out of the workforce to raise their kids, and half of them had no husband’s retirement account to count on.

      3. workinmom

        Unless u can’t live without income…it is waste of timewith your child you will.never.get back. Considering how poor most child care is …the cost…and for what the.glory of a crappy job? Develop entrepreneurial skills..@home those willserve U more.

    3. tangoecho5

      Why not consider taking another job if offerred if it provides better long term opportunities but combining it with a part time retail gig in the mean time? If the new job was say M-Friday with set hours you could work some extra hours in the evening or weekend to make up the pay you are losing by taking the non-retail job. I know it’s not the best solution but it’s a way to take the better job and still pay your bills until you can get enough pay from full time work to cover it all.

    4. Lindsay J

      Hey, just wondering what types of jobs you are looking at. I’m undecided about whether I actually want to leave retail/hospitality eventually – right now I love what I do and I was never happy when I worked jobs that required me to to stare at a computer all day – but I’m likely to top out as a store manager.

      However, I’ve had the same issue where I am making more here than I would elsewhere, or the job or career path just doesn’t seem appealing to me at all.

      I wonder if there is some path we’re not seeing?

  7. Susan

    Alison – the article includes a link in the “Salaries and benefits are lower” section that I’d like to read. However, it actually links to a page about what to do when you get multiple job offers. Do you know what page it’s supposed to link to?

  8. ChristineSW

    I am almost nauseous just reading that article. I’ve BEEN looking for a long time, so I can absolutely attest to many of the points listed.

    I hate to say it, but I’d add that the points are doubly-so for those in certain groups. People with disabilities (*raises hand*) and, from what I’ve heard, returning veterans face an especially difficult job search. I’m not trying to make excuses or cause a stir–that’s the reality as I see it.

  9. Anonymous

    I just got a job from out-of-state (and across the country) after applying to about 30 of them and hearing back from about 10 (for phone or Skype interviews). I was very surprised by how many employers contacted me and actually feel guilty getting a job so quickly, when so many other well-qualified candidates are struggling to find something. I haven’t started yet, so it’s hard to really tell, but it seems like it will be a good fit for me and them. We’ll see, though!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      What field are you in, and what level of your career?

      And do you think you did anything differently than most people?

      That stuff can make a difference, so it would be interesting to hear!

      1. another anon

        I’m not the OP of this thread but I moved across state lines last year so I’ll chime in. If I remember correctly I applied for about 25 jobs and got at least a phone interview for 12 positions.

        I’m a researcher in the education field. One thing that helps me is that, while DC is somewhat of a hotspot, jobs in this field are available nationwide. I can work for a school district, a university, or a private firm. This is a huge help. What also helped is that I was not moving on a whim. My husband had accepted a job in the new area and had already moved. I don’t think anyone ever felt bad for me that my spouse and I were living separately, but it was a clear signal that the relocation was definitely happening and that I wanted it to happen sooner rather than later. I also focused on writing great cover letters and being a great interviewer. One thing I did NOT do is conceal my address or use a friend’s address in the new city. I made it clear that I lived somewhere else.

        1. Anonymous

          I am the OP and same here with regards to the cover letter and interviews. I made it clear when I was relocating (for me, it was happening regardless of whether I had a job lined up before) and said if it fit with their hiring timeline, I would love to be considered for the position. I started applying about 6-8 weeks before moving.

          1. De Minimis

            I was able to get a job out of state too, but it was with the federal government. However, I don’t know that they would have taken a chance on me had I not been from their state originally. I told them I wanted to be closer to my parents. They also reiterated in the interview that they would not pay relocation, and I said that was fine.

      2. Anonymous

        Oops, I posted this below, but just so it makes sense in context, I’m re-posting as a reply to your question:

        I work in procurement/purchasing but this will be a move to a different industry. I’ve been doing it for about 7 years. Really, I just used your advice for cover letters, resumes, interviews, etc. I think the reasons I was contacted relatively often are a) because I really customized my cover letters to each position and b) I was able to apply for a bigger variety of positions because I worked for a small company and wore a lot of different hats. It was mostly smaller companies who contacted me and I think bigger companies with more strictly defined roles would be less interested in me (but who knows).

      3. A.F.T. (anon for this)

        I haven’t changed jobs, but two weeks ago, I had 3 contacts from internal recruiters/1 hiring manager without really looking. (Isn’t that the way it goes? Can’t say I’ve ever gotten that much love at once, but I do generally get responses, phone screens/interviews from what I send out, targeting very specific things with a very low app rate — a handful per year. )

        The ones this month:
        1 – completely unsolicited recruiter contacted me from Linked in (match for my current title, experience, location). Status: HR phone screen done, in person HM scheduled, even though I told HR my salary range was $30K higher than what she told me. (She said she’d take that to the HM & see if she wanted to proceed, knowing I was firm on requirements.)

        2 – got my name from another hiring manager who I went to final the 2 with earlier this year, from another earlier, unsolicited Linked in outreach. Status is that he has not officially opened his position, but will contact me when he does & he feels “pretty positive” about it.

        3 – a 5 minute whim application sent through Careerbuilder (1 of 1) for a telecommuting position with a similar title, experience, & skill set, but totally different industry. I never thought they would call, but I went through a phone screen Monday & am waiting for outcome.

        I’m in the 10-15 years experience range. To keep it generic, I’ll say my field generally falls under strategy. Few people get into what I do, and most people aren’t suited to the work (personality and background), so those hiring seek out those available.

        Also, a 100% complete LI profile seems to be huge. A lot of my coworkers also get contacted through there.

        1. BCranston

          Well, that is encouraging. My stats are similar to yours, in the same generic role/group, and I have been ready to move on from my position for a good while now (lack of advancement opportunities, no money for growth, plenty of other problems with the company going forward). Might be time to update that ol’ LinkedIn profile – and given the awful day I had today, tonight sounds like a really good night to be doing that!

          Can I ask what level these positions were at?

          When I found this job a few years ago I sent out 10 applications, had 5 phone screens and 3 in person interviews, and all of them were for out of state positions. I even had to call one F100 company back to withdraw from the process because I had found something so quickly. Ah, to be that wanted again…

          It can be somewhat frustrating to find new jobs because what I do can be classified various ways and in different departments. I am now thinking of a slight career change to an in-demand field that is interesting to me, partly because I am tired of the new job hustle and would like something far more defined than what I have now.

          1. A.F.T.

            would like something far more defined than what I have now.
            I hear you on that one!

            I manage research for an operating division. (So, not that exciting, but most people don’t want to do it & when they stick Random Person in the job, they don’t do it well. The telecommuting job contacted me after failing on a local candidate search.)

            In my current position, I’m feeling squeezed from the way corporate is changing some processes. I was not frustrated enough to make any moves on my own because I work with a fantastic team and my job is rare (good when someone needs you – they find you and there aren’t many “yous” to choose from, bad when you’re initiating a search), but now that the gate is open. . .

            At the same time, while these opportunities are here, if they weren’t I might be looking at a different field, too, because after years of fighting the same fires, I’m tired.

  10. Sharon

    Re: the timing issue, I agree that this is true. It can make it really difficult for planning a strategic job change though, because you never know if it will take you one month or one year to find a new job!

    And regarding the issue of applying online – also very true. The one thing that you didn’t say but probably should is that even if you attend a job fair, these days they just tell you to apply online. I’ve heard that from many people lately. It makes attending a job fair kind of a waste of time, if you ask me. Isn’t the whole purpose of one to get seen and chat with a hiring manager and apply right then and there? So having to go home and apply online just puts you into the hopper with everybody who didn’t attend the fair.

    1. Lindsay J

      Yeah, I’ve often thought this about job fairs. My school had one with some nice employers, and my fiance and I went to one in DC when he was looking for federal jobs. It was always pretty much chat with a recruiter for 5-10 minutes and then apply online. I guess if you made a particularly favorable impression on the person there AND that person had anything to do with hiring it might be of help but generally it wasn’t.

      He did put one paper application in for the US Supreme Court police (who do not have any sort of online presence as far as I can tell and at the time did not have any openings on USAJobs) and he got through their hiring process to the point of being on the waiting list, but as it’s a small agency with limited openings each year he never got hired on. But he never would have even applied without going to the job fair, seeing their booth, and talking to the recruiter so we did benefit from going to that one.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I think that’s one reason it’s good to go, especially if the fair is a bit more targeted. You always see a company you might not have thought of, or didn’t know about.

  11. Anonymous

    I work in procurement/purchasing but this will be a move to a different industry. I’ve been doing it for about 7 years. Really, I just used your advice for cover letters, resumes, interviews, etc. I think the reasons I was contacted relatively often are a) because I really customized my cover letters to each position and b) I was able to apply for a bigger variety of positions because I worked for a small company and wore a lot of different hats. It was mostly smaller companies who contacted me and I think bigger companies with more strictly defined roles would be less interested in me (but who knows).

  12. Anonymous

    This is a great article. I’d also add “your resume and cover letter are not as good as you think they are, and it’s worth paying a professional to help you.”

    1. RB

      I’m wary of that. I’ve seen terrible, cookie cutter resumes that people have paid “professionals” for. There are several excellent resources online, especially this one, that can result in a better resume for free.

      1. Anonymous

        I agree. Plus, I think I’d feel a bit weird getting jobs or interviews based on someone ELSE’S skill at presenting me, rather than my own!

        1. Anonymous

          I think the advice I’ve gotten here on AAM are just as good, if not better, than paying a professional (when you can’t guarantee the quality of the professional you pay for). I hate to say my resume and cover letters are the best thing ever, but I get enough interviews to know that they’re not a problem.

      2. Lindsay J

        Yeah, I would say that it is worth having a hiring professional you trust read it over for you, and looking for ways to improve it on your own. I wouldn’t recommend paying for “resume writing” services, though.

        1. JoAnna

          I am also wary of hiring a resume writer… I had a very high level candidate that we were very interested in making an offer to. It ended up coming out that he in fact did not have any of the degrees listed on his resume, when approached about the disparity he indicated a recruiter told him to do it that way… He lost the job…There are also some really terrible cookie cutter resumes and speaking in 3rd person on a resume makes me automatically annoyed by a candidate…

          I think having a good head on your shoulder and having friends with good writing skills review your resume is really helpful and exponentially more valuable than someone transferring your information into a different format.

          1. AgilePhalanges

            Wait, it’s one thing to blame someone else for the formatting of your resume being bizarre, but they recommended it, but a recruiter told him to LIE about his education, and he did? Whether the part about the recruiter is true or not, the person LIED on their resume. Wow.

  13. Newly Hired

    I lost my job December 1… about a week after I got pregnant.

    The good: I got hired in April, despite being visibly showing and their knowing I would need to take leave.

    The bad: I had to take a 25% pay cut (right when I really need the money, because baby) and I am deeply worried that my salary will never recover.

    I applied for 93 positions, according to the spreadsheet I kept (for, among other reasons, reporting correctly to state unemployment). The only companies I ever heard back from were the three where I knew someone on the inside. And my resume and cover letter, while there is always room for improvement, are both actually rather good. (I follow the guidelines. I read the advice. And I am a writer and editor for a living and have been a hiring manager in the past.)

    It’s just tough out there. Demanding, 50-hour positions requiring 3-7 years of experience going at $32k, in Washington DC. Still an employer’s market.

      1. Newly Hired

        Now, communications. I started out as an admin who transitioned to HR 7-8 years ago, and then was a full-time writer for a few years. Together they add up into comms and social media.

  14. Ali

    This worries me. I am somewhat job searching, and I’d like to leave my current field. But it seems like I’m just not going to be able to win on the market…still…because of lack of experience in a new field. It looks like the only way I’ll be able to make any headway is to try to volunteer in a new field so I have the experience on my resume. Not that I dislike volunteering, but it sucks to have to add something on top of a full-time, energy-draining, job. (I work non-traditional hours.)

  15. VictimOfJustice

    There is one that that wasn’t mentioned because nobody mentions it. If you’ve ever been arrested or convicted and there is a record of it anywhere on the internet you will NEVER WORK AGAIN.

    There is rampant discrimination against anyone with a criminal record. And rampant invasion of privacy.

    So there it is. And yeah its ugly.

    1. blu

      I think this is a very broad statement and isn’t really true. There are a number of factors that come in to play like the seriousness of the crime, how long ago was the crime committed, what is the field your trying to enter, who is the employer. Additionally, an arrest is not the same as a conviction.

  16. Anonymous

    While this article is probably true generally speaking, if you are in a profession that is in demand, you may have people actually reaching out to you regarding opportunities.

  17. TP

    As someone who’s been job hunting for at least two years now, I can attest to these points. I’m currently employed and have been at my job for seven years. When I started my search, if you told me it would take me this long to find another job, I would have scoffed at you and said you were crazy. I’ve had in total, 10 interviews (phone and in-person) so far, made it to the next step for two different positions and no offer. About to go on interview number 11 next week. At this point, I’m just banking on the fact that this cannot go on forever (right, I hope?). It’s a different world out there and a hell of a lot more difficult than the last time I looked. I also think hiring tends to be subjective as people like to hire people like them, which complicates the process even more for you as the searcher.

      1. TP

        A lot, but not sure exactly how many to date. I should keep track, but I haven’t been diligent about it. My search has been pretty focused, mainly in higher ed with the occasional hospital or for-profit.

        1. Elizabeth West

          Spreadsheet, spreadsheet, spreadsheet. That is soooo helpful.

          Because I kept track both when I searched in 2004/2005, I was also able to avoid reapplying at some companies that were definite No ways the last time around (some because they didn’t hire me and some because they seemed really bad).

  18. Twister

    I am currently job searching and I have been told from my friends and family that I should apply for positions in every entity out there: corporate, nonprofit, government, etc. I am unsure if skills in government jobs translate well to jobs in the corporate environment. In this hard job market, I am told that I need to apply to almost any jobs that I can qualify in with my degree and experience. But I have a feeling that I should stay a little bit more focus in my job search. What do you all think?

    1. Newly Hired

      I say, stay focused in skill set (whatever you do — analysis, communications, etc) but go big and broad in type of organization you apply to do it with.

    2. Coco

      You probably have more transferable skills than you realize. Things like writing, computer acumen, communication, working with numbers, etc will work in all industries.

      If you are currently employed, you have some latitude to do a focused job search. If you are unemployed and just need the money, I would cast a wider net.

    3. TP

      Like other posters, I say focus on skill set, but research different industries and companies to see what roles exist there and apply to ones that fit best. I find in this job market that applying to anything and everything is not always a great strategy, but also depends on where you are in your career.

  19. Sabrina

    *sigh* I probably should have just bought booze instead of spending my money going back to school

  20. AnotherAlison

    Here’s an example of why it’s hard to get interviews. . .

    A friend passed on a resume to me today (for my company, no specific position, not my dept. . .could I help?)

    The candidate had about 9 years of great experience in engineering and two masters degrees in engineering. However, none of his experience or degrees were applicable to our type of work. His last degree was finished in 2012, and his focus wasn’t my industry, so to me it’s a red flag that he’s come to our city because his wife’s family is here (I have some outside info), and my industry is the biggest employer of engineers here. There’s no burning desire to work in our field, and there was no cover letter to show how his experience translated, which, of course, AAM would recommend.

    Best I could do was to tell him to apply online, because I don’t know him and can’t risk my own reputation by forwarding a candidate without the right experience, even if he would probably make a great employee because he’s smart and talented in engineering. (His work was much more technically challenging than ours, and I question how he would like our work long-term.) I’d imagine he’s 50-50 at best on getting passed from HR to the hiring manager.

    1. AnotherAlison

      submitted too soon. . .

      Point was, you have to make the sale in your resume and cover letter. Unless you’re a purple squirrel in the field you’re applying to, sending in that resume without a cover letter explaining why you’re applying and what you’ll bring to solve their problems is not going to be effective (even if you were a rock star doing something else).

      1. Anonymous

        Wait, he has two masters degrees yet he has no ‘burning desire’? He has a family; his burning desire is to take care of them with the three degrees he’s earned. Seriously?

        1. Rana

          I think you missed two important clauses there, Anonymous:

          1) “none of his experience or degrees were applicable to our type of work

          2) ” There’s no burning desire to work in our field

          Being madly passionate about Field X does you little good if you’re applying for work in Field A.

  21. Rich

    I just read this article, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that it is completely on the nose. I myself am currently living some of the challenges Allison mentions, and this is some feedback for anyone seeking jobs who reads this:

    “Sending a lot of resumes” and being “lucky to receive an answer” are perfectly worded: in the past year alone, I have applied for over 200 positions, and I may be rounding up if I say I’ve heard back from fifty.

    With regard to people taking chances on you, this is also completely accurate. Trying to start in a new field, like teaching, is murder when your resume has been mostly retail management. And even connections from the past won’t necessarily be as forthcoming to help you as they may have been in the past.

    And no, the degree does not necessarily help you anymore. I think my recent Master’s actually makes my resume look intimidating for positions outside of the education industry.

    1. Anonymous

      I’ve been debating taking my masters degree off my resume altogether. I have worked during that time so there would be no gap but is that kosher?

    2. Rana

      “Trying to start in a new field… is murder…”

      Yup. That’s why I eventually gave up and went freelance, not that doing so is exactly a bed of roses, either.

  22. Steve G

    I just tried to look for a new job and it was totally horrible….I applied to a bunch of jobs I am totally qualified for and got zero response. Worse, thanks to glassdoor, I can see what the round-a-bout salary would be for most of the jobs I applied for….and they don’t look like they pay more than I make now. In fact, I’m seeing alot of salaries $10K -$15K less. It is really sad. But rents in NYC keep going up, which amazes me.

  23. Rich

    This was a great article. I can cosign every bullet point item you wrote. I’m feeling it myself even though I know the game from both sides!

  24. Molinnj

    On an unrelated note- Alison- I heard you on Marketplace while I was driving home from work tonight. Job well done on the office kitchen/missing silverware commentary. It was nice to put a “voice” with a great “blog writer”!

  25. Anon

    I think the biggest sufferers are people who ‘just did the job’. As one of them, I have no scintillating achievements, although I have always been a valued member of every team(reliable, competent, usually intelligent contribution). This unfortunately does not translate into a cover letter or resume of any consequence, and so dozens of apps, no response.
    Rather a hard place to be in.

    1. anonymous

      Oh, yes. I feel your pain. I’m in the same spot. Been looking for a new job off and on for SIX YEARS!

      For now, I’m hanging on to the very dead-end job that’s the reason for this. What other choice do I have?

      Good luck!

  26. Anon

    I think your job search really depends on your experience level, your location, and industry. It took me two years to find a new writing/editing job in Colorado (luckily I was employed but it did take a very long time). I am relocating to DC and got a new job after a few months involving several phone interviews and one in-person interview (and the company paid for my flight too). I applied to 15 positions in all. I was expecting it to be much worse, so take heart — it may not be as terrible as people say.

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