what you need to know if your job search skills are rusty

If you’re gearing up for a job search but haven’t pulled out your resume much in the last decade, brace yourself for some changes: Job searching has changed in some significant ways in the last 10 years, both in terms of what the experience is like for candidates and in terms of which strategies are effective and which have fallen out of favor.

Here are eight of the biggest changes you should be prepared for if your  job hunting skills are rusty.

1. Hiring often takes longer now than it used to. If you’re used to companies placing an ad, interviewing candidates, and making a hire all in the space of, say, a month, you might be in for a shock: Companies increasingly are taking months to hire. Some companies still move quickly, but don’t be surprised if you hear back from companies months after you initially applied or if weeks and weeks go by before you hear back after an interview.

2. You may be asked to interview more times than in the past. Many employers are adding additional steps to their hiring process – phone interviews before meeting in person, multiple interview rounds with a wider range of interviewers (including peers and managers several levels up), requests for presentations, and skills assessments and other homework assignments.

3. Practically all applications must be submitted online now. If the last time you job hunted, you were still looking through job ads in the newspaper and mailing in your resume on thick bond paper, know that times have changed. Today the vast majority of jobs will direct you to apply online, often refusing to accept paper resumes at all. This can be more efficient (and will certainly save you on postage!), but it can also mean wrestling with ornery electronic systems that aren’t designed with candidates’ ease in mind.

4. You might be asked to disclose an uncomfortable amount of information just to get your application reviewed. Online applications regularly require applicants to share their salary history, references, and even Social Security numbers, often refusing to even accept applications that don’t include this information. And this is all before you’ve ever had a chance to talk to a human.

5. At the same time that the process has become more intense, it’s also become less personal. With companies asking candidates to invest so much time and energy in longer, more involved processes, candidates are often treated surprisingly impersonally. You may interview with a company, possibly even several times, and then not ever hear back from them with a final decision. It’s increasingly common for companies to simply not bother sending out rejections, or even to respond to direct requests from candidates for an update on where the hiring process stands.

6. You might be asked to do an initial screening by video. Some companies are asking candidates who make an initial cut to answer pre-recorded questions by video before moving them to an interview with a live person. This can be frustrating for candidates, since it means investing time in an “interview” without being able to ask their own questions or get a feel for the job or company culture.

7. Resume conventions have changed. Don’t just pull out your old resume from 10 years ago, update it with your last job and assume it’s good to go. Modern resumes have jettisoned the old-fashioned objective at the top of the page, the formerly ubiquitous “references available upon request” statement at the bottom, and the rigid rule confining you to one page. (You’re still limited to one page if you’re a recent graduate, but otherwise two pages are fine.)

8. The old advice about following up on your job application to show persistence no longer applies .If you remember being told to call to check on your application after submitting it or to stop by a company and ask to talk to the hiring manager in person, remove those strategies from your modern job-hunting playbook. These days, busy hiring managers are annoyed by aggressive follow-up, and stopping by in person risks signaling that you’re out of touch with how modern offices work.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 34 comments… read them below }

  1. Ashley*

    That last one! My dad keeps telling me I need to do this to make my application “stand out.” He’s had a very successful career so I hate ignoring his advice, but it seems from most sources that calling to follow up is no longer acceptable. I wonder if there are any exceptions to this rule?

  2. Stephanie*

    I still feel weird with a two-page resume, but the one page version does feel a tad crowded…

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      I just compare it to my SO’s academic CV and think, “Look how brief and to the point mine is!”

    2. Ekaterin*

      I feel the same way about my one-page version. I started a new job in August and subsequently cut my resume down to one page (from two, which I realize might sound weird), but I feel like it looks crowded now. On the other hand, I don’t feel the need to keep any of my grad school internships on there any longer, and that was what pushed it to two pages.

  3. ThursdaysGeek*

    It’s increasingly common for companies to not bother sending out rejections

    That doesn’t seem to be a change — in my 35 years of intermittent job searches, it has always been rare to hear back from a company. I remember being annoyed at that in the 80’s!

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      It absolutely drives me batty…especially when I have come in and interviewed!

      I make it a point to reach out to everyone who applied though I admit this is a bit easier because you can send an automatic message to anyone not moved to the phone screen/interview stage. But anyone who reaches the phone screen stage gets at least an email from me.

      1. Christie*

        You’re a very gracious employer to close that loop, but unfortunately your practice is in the minority. I liken it to being ghosted when dating someone. Neither is fun!

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          It drives me absolutely batty and I was pretty frank with a coworker I found out wasn’t doing it!

          I can’t even count the number of times a company has come up and a friend has said something bad about their hiring process! Send an email, even if it’s a rejection, is such an easy thing to do and helps your company’s reputation.

    2. TootsNYC*

      When the field is huge, I sometimes don’t bother with any contact. I sure didn’t the time I advertising in the NYTimes and got boxes of submission!

      I get a rejection out to everyone I actually spoke with, though.

      If the field is somewhat small, I’m better than I used to be about saying, “Got your resumé; I’ll be in touch if I need you.” And I’ll have a better chance of saying, “Sorry not to interview you; I found other people who were a better match.”

    3. F.*

      Thanks to the feedback I have received here in AAM, I am now trying to acknowledge every resume that I receive. Sometimes it is just a form email saying that we are pursuing candidates who better meet our needs, but other times, I have actually gotten back to people with personalized rejection letters, especially when they didn’t meet the clearly stated minimum qualifications in the job listing or when their stated objective in their resume bore no resemblance to the position we have open. The biggest problem will be with those to whom I send an application. It will quite possibly be weeks before management decides to interview. I don’t want to string them along, nor do I want to reject them. When I receive the completed application (with only about a 30% return rate so far), I acknowledge that I received it and that we will be reviewing all applications and deciding who to interview within the next few weeks. I simply can’t be more specific than that because it is out of my hands. Applicants often blame HR for the length of time involved in the hiring process, but I know that at our small company, management is the one responsible.

  4. Adam*

    This article is coming out just in time for a friend of mine. Definitely saving this one. Thanks!

  5. techfool*

    I think it’s also become almost impossible to change fields. For instance an office manager in an accountancy firm would find it difficult to move into an insurance company even if the job descriptions read exactly the same. There’s v little flexibility, I guess with so many people looking, an employer doesn’t have to take even the smallest chance.
    And wages are extremely suppressed at the lower level. I see people being offered pay which is the same as I was earning 20 years ago.

    1. F.*

      I don’t think it is necessarily more difficult to change fields. Many of the same qualifications for an office manager in an accounting firm would be the same as for an insurance company, though the insurance company may want the office manager to have certain specialized licenses, depending on the type of insurance. In 2004, I went from financial services to legal as an administrative assistant, and in 2007 was hired at an engineering/construction inspection firm as an admin. From there I was promoted to office manager and then HR manager. It is more a question of tailoring your resume and interview skills to show how your skills translate across the industries.

    2. NJ Anon*

      I think an office manager can easily switch between fields. The same skills are required. Our OM at our nonprofit came from an engineering firm. She’s awesome!

  6. Mirilla*

    So overall employers take longer times, demand more & can’t be bothered to get back to people anxiously waiting for answers. I’d say overall this isn’t good news for the job seeker. Are we that dime a dozen so as to not expect mere courtesy? I know this is the way it is but man it’s depressing out there. My job search 6 years ago was rough but today it seems worse.

    1. AnotherFed*

      Probably doesn’t make you feel any better, but roughly 25% of candidates never get back to me to set up an interview! Ghosting seems to be the new normal…

      1. Dictionary*

        It’s not ghosting unless there was already an established steady stream of correspondence.

        Otherwise it’s just non-responsive.

    2. Cucumberzucchini*

      I think that’s rather harsh. The people managing hiring may be doing that on-top of there other job responsibilities. Last time I was hiring a bunch of people I was also overworked/overscheduled with my core job duties and received 100s of applicants for each job posting. It would have been impossible for me to get back to every applicant. I did respond to those I interviewed but it wasn’t about not caring about the applicants, it was just unmanageable with everything else I was doing.

      1. F.*

        I second that about having many other job responsibilities. I AM the HR department at our company. I do everything HR related, from benefits administration to onboarding new employees to exit interviews to negotiating benefits with providers to disciplinary matters, etc. And lots and lots of research. Replying to candidates is only one of many, many things that make up my day. The only way I will follow up with a candidate that is not going to be interviewed is through email, usually sent out at 6:00 a.m. No email, no response. I do not have nearly enough time to play phone tag or take phone calls from candidates wanting to know every little detail about a job opening, especially when I don’t even know the details, thanks to management’s indecision.

    3. OriginalYup*

      It’s a pendulum. Right now, it’s an employer’s market in practically every field so they’re setting the pace and requirements. Good ones are courteous and thoughtful about their process; bad ones are getting away with stuff. At a certain point, it will swing back to be employee’s market in many fields and you’ll articles about how candidates aren’t showing up for interviews or replying to offers because they have so many options, or which crazy perks are being used to attract and retain top tier candidates. (At that point, good candidates will be courteous and thoughtful to the companies they’re interacting with, and bad ones will get away with stuff because they can.)

  7. InsideTheBox*

    I would add that U.S. job seekers be prepared to produce two forms of ID. For anyone who hasn’t had to switch jobs post 9/11 and the patriot act, it can apparently be a shocker to need to produce your Social Security card or Birth Certificate.

    I say apparently because I am a millennial and this has been my employment reality but my boomer co-worker who left the company after 25 years complained for several days about how ridiculous it was that she needed to dig out her S.S. card or bring a Birth Certificate for her new job.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      Umm… that’s nothing new. I’ve needed to provide my Social Security card for every job I’ve had since I started working in the 80s. You need it to fill out the tax forms for payroll. Your former co-worker just didn’t remember doing it 25 years ago. (Besides Boomers used to have to show a birth certificate to get into the movies, so some things are easier now. My source is my Boomer mother, YMMV.)

    2. Mpls*

      Yeah that’s an I-9 form and those are not new (where you either need 1 document from column A or a document each from columns B and C), though these are not for tax purposes. Instead they are for proof of citizenship or ability to work in the US if the company is ever audited.

      Your boomer colleague may have just squeaked by not needing one, or it was so long ago that they legitimately forgot they had to do it.

      1. F.*

        Just to clarify, there is a list of items in each column of the I-9 that are acceptable forms of ID, and it is illegal for the employer to specify which ones the employee must present. I am also a (young) boomer, and I have always had to show my social security card and driver’s license.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          I once worked with someone who used her passport. For some reason, it was the only form of ID she routinely had handy. I guess she wanted to be ready to leave the country at a moment’s notice…

          1. De Minimis*

            I always suggest employees use the passport if they have one, it meets all the form’s requirements.

            We have another new hire and she’s sent a scan of her documents and I need to check for sure but I don’t think I have what we need for the form.

  8. Alis*

    I’d like to send this to my mother, who still attempts to persuade my 27 year old hairstylist sister to “walk in”to the DMV and drop off her resume at the counter. CRINGE!!!

    1. Dream Job*

      I would reiterate about the idea of it being an “employer’s market” is more than likely true in many more white collar industries where several careers have been devalued by outsourcing and independent contractors. But I have been hiring as a kitchen manager for a few years now, and it is just extremely hard to find qualified candidates in what used to be a simple job to recruit for. Sometimes it is about many candidates being overqualified, and those who seem interested are just not good enough.

  9. Jonno*

    So wait, instead of “references available upon request”, what DO you put? Surely not the actual references. Do you just cut that out altogether?

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      You just leave it out. When you think about it, it makes sense. Why wouldn’t you provide references upon request? It’s kind of a useless statement.

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